Manchu Emperor Xuantong / Hsuantung / Hsuan tung - 1908-1911

Manchu Emperor

P'u Yi, pronounced "Poo yee," is also sometimes spelled P'u-i, Puyi, Pu-Yi or Buyi. By the time P'u Yi was born on February 7, 1906, the Ch'ing Dynasty was in trouble. China had come to be dominated by foreign powers, mainly Westerners. The country was ruled by Dowager Empress Tzu His (or Cixi) who had imprisioned the nominal emperor, Kuang Hsu, for conspiring against her. The circumstances of the death, almost simultaneously, of the Emperor, Kuang-hsu, and of the Dowager Empress, Tze-Hsi, who had been the real ruler of the Empire, were involved in considerable obscurity. The Emperor is said to have died on the 14th of November, 1908, and the Empress on the following day. On her deathbed the empress named young P'u Yi - the son of the imprisoned emperor's brother - to succeed her. To make sure the current emperor didn't interfere in her plans, it is said, she had him poisoned.

The announcement of their decease was preceded by the publication of two imperial edicts, one of which made Prince Chun, of the royal family, Regent of the Empire, while the other named Pu-Yi, the Prince's son, three years old, as the heir presumptive to the throne. As communicated later to foreign governments, the Regent was given, by another imperial rescript, full power over the civil and military departments of government, and the entire appointment and dismissal of officials. The promised creation of a Parliament was anticipated in the prescription of his duties. The prince disliked politics, and dissidents considered him weak.

On the 2d of December the strict mourning observed at Peking was suspended briefly, to permit the ceremonies attending the ascension of the dragon throne by the child-Emperor, Pu-Yi, who, as Emperor, took the name of Hsuan-Tung.The ceremonies lasted but half an hour. "The function began by the princes of the imperial family and the high officials of the empire kowtowing to the memorial tablets of their late majesties. After this they all kowtowed in turn to Pu-Yi: Pu-Yi then offered a sacrifice before the tablets of the Emperor and the Dowager Empress. After this he was relieved of his dress of mourning and clad with much care in a diminutive imperial garment, embroidered with the imperial dragon.

The child monarch received the title of Hsuan tung and his father was appointed Regent, while the two great Viceroys, Yuan Shih kai and Chang Chih tung, were named as Grand Guardians of the Heir. With another child upon the throne the outlook was at least uncertain, but at this moment few could have predicted the events so soon to rise above the horizon.

An event of bad omen shortly after the commencement of the new reign was the dismissal of Yuan Shih kai, whose rheumatism was urged as an excuse for his compulsory retirement, but who was probably feared on account of his foreign-trained troops. In other respects the tide of reform seemed still flowing.

There are some things which are so universally anticipated that when they do happen they take everybody by surprise. It was so with regard to the Chinese Revolution. Every newspaper, every missionary, every diplomat, foretold it time and time again. Yet when the outbreak came in September, 1911, the exclamation on the lips of all was "How sudden!" In a sense it was sudden, because the explosion did not take place at the contemplated time.

There was great resentment in China against foreigners and the Manchu government, and in 1911 rebellion swept through the country, forcing Prince Ch'un to resign as regent. All through January 1912, plans were being considered for the abdication of the Imperial house. These plans were favored by Prince Ching, who was convinced of the hopelessness of reestablishing Manchu authority in the provinces. Chinese general Yuan Shih k'ai had taken over the government. He hoped to start his own ruling dynasty and suggested that P'u Yi should abdicate. Fearing the consequences if they refused, the Manchu Grand Council agreed, and on February 12, 1912, the five-year old emperor renounced his throne. He continued to live in the Forbidden City and was treated with enormous respect.

The Forbidden City was run by eunuchs, and P'u Yi didn't meet another child until he was seven when his brother and sister visited him. The children played hide and seek andhad a good time until P'u Yi noticed the color of the lining of his brother's sleeve. It wasyellow! Outraged, P'u Yi screamed at his brother, who stood at attention and said, "Itisn't yellow, sire. It is apricot, Your Imperial Majesty."Although P'u Yi was no longer emperor, everyone knelt and kowtowed to him, includinghis parents, whom he rarely saw. He became emperor at age three and didn't see his mother again until he was 10. His upbringing was supervised by four consorts of previous emperors. In his own words, "Although I had many mothers, I never knew motherly love." His real mother argued with the consorts about how to raise P'u Yi. After one of these arguments she swallowed opium and died. P'u Yi was about 13 at the time. Pu Yi's father, Prince Ch'un, visited his son every two months and never stayed for more than two minutes.

The eunuchs also treated P'u Yi with great formality. Everywhere he went in the Forbidden City he was accompanied by a huge procession. He couldn't take a simple stroll without his entourage following him with food, medicine and clothing. He had no set meal times. When he wanted to eat he commanded, "Bring the food!" andimmediately the eunuchs brought him six tables full of food: two tables of main dishes,one table of vegetables, and three tables of rice and cakes. He was "limited" to 25 dishes per meal; previous emperors had been served at least 100 dishes. The Forbidden City's cooks prepared food constantly, day and night, so that it would be ready at P'u Yi's whim. When P'u Yi was in a bad mood he ordered eunuchs flogged in his presence. Once, as an adult, he allegedly had a boy beaten for running away - and the boy died.

In 1917 when P'u Yi was 9, a warlord named Chang Hsun decided to restore him to the throne. Chang's army surrounded Peking, and P'u Yi released a decree stating that hewas the emperor once again. Leaders of the republican government accused the monarchists of using P'u Yi as a puppet, which, or course, he was. Six days after P'u Yi's restoration a plane dropped three bombs on the Forbidden City. It was the first air raid in Chinese history. P'u Yi was in his classroom when he heard an explosions. He said later, "I was so terrified that I shook all over, and the color drained from my tutors' faces." One bomb damaged a lotus pond and another injured a sedan-chair carrier. The third bomb fell amid a group of eunuchs who were gambling, but didn't explode. Then the sound of gunfire was heard approaching the Forbidden City. P'u Yi's supporters abandoned him, and once again he lost his throne.

He remained in the Forbidden City, and his life went on much as it had before. P'u Yi received an uneven education. He studied classics, history and poetry, but learned no math, geography or science. His lessons were in Chinese and Manchu. At age 13 he started studying English. The Manchus still hoped to restore P'u Yi to his throne, and they wanted him to have contact with Western powers who might be able to help them achieve their goal. So they asked a senior official of the British Colonial Office to become P'u Yi's English tutor. His name was Reginald Johnston. He wasn't really a teacher - his real job was to act as ago-between for P'u Yi and the British government. However, he did help P'u Yi learn to speak English, and he and the boy became close friends. P'u Yi was heavily influenced by Johnston and developed a fascination for Western things.

He asked Johnston to help him pick an English name for himself. Johnston gavehim a list of names of British kings, and P'u Yi chose Henry, so the "last emperor of China" is listed in encyclopedias as Henry P'u Yi. It was Johnston who first noticed that P'u Yi needed glasses. P'u Yi's advisors objected, considering glasses too Western for a Chinese emperor, but P'u Yi overruled them and wore glasses the rest of his life. As P'u Yi learned more about the world, he realized that he was a prisoner in the Forbidden City. At the age of 15 he tried to escape by bribing the guards at the gate. They took his money, then betrayed him. He never made it outside the palace walls.

When P'u Yi was 16 his advisors decided that it was time for him to marry. They gave him photos of four Manchu girls and told him to pick one. The pictures weren't clear and he couldn't really tell what the girls looked like, but he picked a 13-year old girl named Wen Hsiu. His advisors were displeased, and told him that Wen Hsiu was too ugly to beempress. At their insistence he picked another bride, a very beautiful girl his own age. She was Wan Jung, later known as Elizabeth. Elizabeth became his official wife and Wen Hsiu, his first choice, became his consort. On the night of his wedding to Elizabeth, P'u Yi panicked and fled from their bedroom; it's possible that he never consummated his marriages. He had no children. Many years later his sister-in-law, Hiro Saga, wrote that as an adult P'u Yi kept a pageboy as his concubine. Hiro also claimed that "P'u Yi once took a 12-year old girl as a consort, but the girl ran away after a few days."

In 1924 the army of another warlord, Feng Yu-hsiang, surrounded the Forbidden City. But this warlord did not want to restore P'u Yi to his throne. Feng was both a Communist and a Christian, and an enemy of the Manchus. P'u Yi was forced to leave the Forbidden City for the first time since becoming emperor. He took with him his imperial seal and a suitcase filled with precious stones. The teenaged former emperor traveled by limousine to the mansion of his father, Prince Ch'un. There one of Feng's men shook his hand and called him Mr. P'u Yi.

For the first time in his life, P'u Yi was being treated as an ordinary citizen - and he loved it. "I had no freedom as emperor. Now I have found my freedom!" he is said to have exclaimed. But he was still a prisoner, and he had not given up his dream of regaining the throne.

In 1934 the Japanese agreed to make P'u Yi the Emperor of Manchukuo. He took the reign title K'ang Teh, or "Tranquility and Virtue." At the end of the war Soviet forces invaded Manchuria. In 1950, P'u Yi was forced to return to China, where he was sent at once to a prison camp. He remained there for nine years. When P'u Yi died in 1967 it was rumored that he had been murdered by revolutionaries. But in fact he probably died of cancer. China is still Communist, and at this point it seems unlikely that its monarch will be restored.

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