Puyi, also known as Pu Yi, was China’s last Emperor and the 12th and final Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, as well as the second-to-last Khan of Mongolia. He was only aged three when enthroned as emperor of Qing dynasty on the death day of his predecessor, Guangxu Emperor, in 1908 amidst a court governed by Manchu conservatives with a growing unrest and rebelliousness among populace. His reign as Xuantong Emperor and Khevt Yos Khan in China and Mongolia came to an end in February 1912, when he was forced to abdicate due to the ‘Xinhai Revolution,’ effectively ending both the imperial system and Qing rule in China. General Zhang Xun, a Qing Dynasty supporter, attempted to restore him to the throne during the Manchu Restoration of 1917. Puyi fled Beijing in secret in 1925 and relocated to the Japanese Concession of Tianjin, where he reigned as Emperor of Manchukuo, a puppet state of the Imperial Japanese Empire, from 1934 until 1945. Puyi was imprisoned for ten years as a war criminal when the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949. He then became a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the National People’s Congress.
Childhood and Adolescence
Puyi was born in the Prince Chun Mansion in Beijing, Qing Empire, on February 7, 1906, to Zaifeng, Prince Chun, and Guwalgiya Youlan. Puyi was the grandson of Yixuan, Prince Chun, and the great-grandson of Daoguang Emperor.
He was the youngest of nine siblings, with three younger brothers and seven younger sisters.
Enthronement of Puyi
Following the death of Guangxu Emperor (first son of Yixuan, Prince Chun) on November 14, 1908, Empress Dowager Cixi, who was on her death bed and breathed her last the next day, ascended to the throne with the title of Xuantong Emperor.
Cixi ruled China for over half a century, first as regent of her son, Tongzhi Emperor, and then as regent of Guangxu Emperor.
Puyi’s father was made Prince Regent, and his coronation ceremony was performed in the Hall of Supreme Harmony on December 2, 1908.
Puyi was startled by his sudden enthronement, which took place away from his family and accustomed surroundings, in the midst of strangers. He was taken to the Forbidden City by his wet nurse, Wang Wen-Chao, who was the only person who could console him to some measure.
He had a very different childhood than other children because he was an emperor. Adults in his life, generally strangers, would treat him as if he were an emperor, with men kneeling down in kowtow as he passed. With time, he realized he could indulge in any of his desires without restriction.
By the time he was seven, his ruthlessness and desire to wield authority, which included torturing and beating innocent eunuchs and firing air-guns at anybody he pleased, had turned him into a sadistic boy emperor. The small boy in him, on the other hand, would still enjoy a puppet performance and nurse Wang’s breasts while sleeping at night.
He had a traditional Confucian education and was required to see and report to his “mothers,” five former imperial concubines led by Empress Dowager Longyu, on a regular basis.
He despised his “mothers” for preventing him from meeting his biological mother until he was 13 years old, and he particularly despised Longyu for plotting and banishing Wang when he was eight years old on the pretext that Puyi was old enough to need a wet-nurse.
Abdication by Constraint
Several revolts and uprisings occurred during the ‘Xinhai Revolution,’ which lasted from October 10, 1911, to February 12, 1912, resulting in the end of 2000 years of imperial rule in China and the establishment of the Republic of China (1912-1949).
On February 12, 1912, Puyi was forced to abdicate the throne, making him the final emperor of the Qing Dynasty, which governed China for 267 years.
Prime Minister Yuan Shikai negotiated a deal with the regal court in Beijing and the southern China Republicans, which resulted in Longyu’s endorsement of the “Imperial Edict of the Abdication of the Qing Emperor” on February 12, 1912.
Certain guidelines were included in the “Articles of Favourable Treatment of the Great Qing Emperor after His Abdication” agreed with the fledgling Republic of China on December 26, 1914.
Allowing Puyi to keep his regal title and live in the Forbidden City (temporarily) until relocating to the Summer Palace; and receiving an annual stipend of 4,000,000 silver taels from the Republic of China, which was never completely paid and was phased down after a few years.
The restoration that is only temporary
General Zhang Xun launched an unsuccessful attempt to restore Puyi to the throne in the Manchu Restoration of 1917 that saw Puyi enthroned from July 1 to July 12 of that year.
The time witnessed what was regarded as the first aerial bombardment in East Asia when a Republican plane dropped a tiny bomb over the Forbidden City.
Expulsion from the Forbidden City and Life in the Forbidden City
Sir Reginald Johnston, Puyi’s new professor, who arrived in the Forbidden City on March 3, 1919, was his first experience with a foreigner. Johnston not only taught him several courses, but he also introduced him to “new style” Chinese literature and magazines, which inspired him to write anonymous poetry that were published in New China periodicals.
Johnston also introduced him to new technology such as the cinema, telephone, and bicycle. Riding bicycles became a lifetime obsession for Puyi, who was so affected by western style that he ditched his queue and began dressing in western garb, telling his eunuchs to refer to him as ‘Henry.’
In a coup d’état on October 23, 1924, warlord Feng Yuxiang took control of Beijing. On November 5, 1924, Yuxiang unilaterally altered the Articles of Favourable Treatment, removing the regal title and privileges enjoyed by Puyi. It not only reduced him to a private citizen of the Republic of China, but it also forced him to leave the Forbidden City.
Living in Tianjin
Puyi spent a few days after his exile at his father’s house and then at the Japanese embassy in Beijing before departing for the Japanese Concession of Tianjin on February 23, 1925.
The Manchukuo’s ruler
On March 1, 1932, the Japanese appointed him as the Chief Executive of Manchukuo, a puppet state of the Imperial Japanese Empire, with the reign title Datong.
He was proclaimed Kangde Emperor of Manchukuo on March 1, 1934. He ruled the country until August 15, 1945, when the Second Sino-Japanese War ended.
Yoshioka Yasunori, a prominent Kwantung Army staff officer, was assigned to Puyi as Attaché to the Imperial Household in Manchukuo during this reign. Yasunori spied for the Japanese government and used intimidation and fear to lead and control Puyi. Puyi faced multiple life attempts during this period.
Later in life, the Soviet Union occupied Manchuria in August 1945, defeating the Kwantung Army, and on August 16, 1945, as Puyi was fleeing to Japan in an aeroplane, the Soviet Red Army captured him.
After the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mao Zedong, took power in 1949 and established the People’s Republic of China, discussions between China and the Soviet Union resulted in Puyi’s repatriation to China, where he was imprisoned as a war criminal for ten years until he was proclaimed reformed.
He worked as an editor for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference’s literary department from 1964 until his death, earning roughly 100 yuan per month.
Li Wenda ghost-wrote his memoirs, ‘From Emperor to Citizen,’ in 1964.
Personal History and Legacy
He married Wanrong, the Empress consort of Puyi, on November 30, 1922. Consort Wenxiu, Tan Yuling, Li Yuqin, and Li Shuxian were his other concubines, the latter of which was a hospital nurse whom he married on April 30, 1962, at the age of 56.
On October 17, 1967, he died of complications from heart illness and kidney cancer.
Estimated Net Worth
Puyi is one of the wealthiest Emperors and one of the most popular. Puyi’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.