I still have a dim recollection of this meeting, the shock of which left a deep impression on my memory. I remember suddenly finding myself surrounded by strangers, while before me was hung a drab curtain through which I could see an emaciated and terrifying hideous face. This was Cixi. It is said that I burst out into loud howls at the sight and started to tremble uncontrollably. Cixi told someone to give me some sweets, but I threw them on the floor and yelled "I want nanny, I want nanny", to her great displeasure. "What a naughty child" she said. "Take him away to play."
The Japanese chose as the capital of Manchukuo the industrial city of Changchun, which was renamed Hsinking. Puyi had wanted the capital to be Mukden (modern Shenyang), which had once been the Qing capital before the Qing had conquered China in 1644, but was overruled by his Japanese masters, who insisted Hsinking was to be the capital. Puyi hated Hsinking, which he regarded as an undistinguished industrial city that lacked the historical connections with the Qing that Mukden had. As there was no palace in Changchun, Puyi moved into what had once been the office of the Salt Tax Administration during the Russian period, and as result, the building was known as the Salt Tax Palace, which is now the Museum of the Imperial Palace of the Manchu State. Puyi lived as a virtual prisoner in the Salt Tax Palace, which was heavily guarded by Japanese troops, and Puyi could not leave the palace without permission. Shortly after Puyi's coronation, Prince Chun arrived at the Hsinking railroad station for a visit, and this time Wanrong promised to behave as no Japanese were involved in the ceremonies, and thus she was allowed out of the Salt Tax Palace. As Prince Chun got off the train, the Manchukuo Imperial Guards were there to greet him while Puyi was dressed in his uniform as Commander-in-Chief, wearing Japanese, Chinese and Manchukuo decorations while Wanrong wore the traditional dress of a Chinese Empress and kowtowed to her father-in-law. Puyi's half-brother Pu Ren, who was 16 at the time, followed his father to Hsinking and told Behr in an interview:
Puyi, who succeeded the Guangxu Emperor, was the eldest son of Zaifeng, Prince Chun, who was born to Yixuan, Prince Chun and his second concubine Lady Lingiya (1866–1925). Lady Lingiya had been a maid in the residence of Yixuan. Born to a Han Bannerman family, her original family name was Liu (劉), and this was changed to the Manchu clan name Lingiya when she became the concubine of Yixuan and was transferred to a Manchu banner. Zaifeng was therefore a younger half-brother of the Guangxu Emperor and the first in line to succession after Guangxu.
Puyi's mother was Youlan (1884–1921), the daughter of Ronglu (1836–1903), a statesman and general from the Gūwalgiya clan. Ronglu was one of the Leaders of the conservative faction in the Qing court, and a staunch supporter of Empress Dowager Cixi; Cixi rewarded his support by marrying his daughter, Puyi's mother, into the imperial family.
Chosen by Empress Dowager Cixi on her deathbed, Puyi became Emperor at the age of 2 years and 10 months in December 1908 after the Guangxu Emperor died on 14 November. Titled the Xuantong Emperor (Wade-Giles: Hsuan-tung Emperor), Puyi's introduction to the life of an Emperor began when palace officials arrived at his family residence to take him. On the evening of 13 November 1908, without any advance notice, a procession of eunuchs and guardsmen led by the palace chamberlain left the Forbidden City for the Northern Mansion to inform Prince Chun that they were taking away his three-year-old son Puyi to be the new Emperor. The toddler Puyi screamed and resisted as the officials ordered the eunuch attendants to pick him up. Puyi's parents said nothing when they learned that they were losing their son. As Puyi cried, screaming that he did not want to leave his parents, he was forced into a palanquin that took him back to the Forbidden City. Puyi's wet nurse Wang Wen-Chao was the only person from the Northern Mansion allowed to go with him, and she calmed the very distraught Puyi down by allowing him to suckle one of her breasts; this was the only reason why she was taken along as only she could calm Puyi down. Upon arriving at the Forbidden City, Puyi was taken to see the Dowager Empress Cixi. Puyi later wrote:
On 10 October 1911, the army garrison in Wuhan mutinied, sparking a widespread revolt in the Yangtze river valley and beyond, demanding the overthrow of the Qing dynasty which ruled China since 1644. The strongman of late imperial China, General Yuan Shikai, was dispatched by the court to crush the revolution, which he was unable to do, as by 1911 public opinion had turned decisively against the Qing, and many Chinese had no wish to fight for a dynasty which was seen as having lost the Mandate of Heaven. Puyi's father, Prince Chun, served as a regent until 6 December 1911 when Empress Dowager Longyu took over following the Xinhai Revolution.
Empress Dowager Longyu endorsed the "Imperial Edict of the Abdication of the Qing Emperor" (清帝退位詔書) on 12 February 1912 under a deal brokered by Prime Minister Yuan Shikai (a general of the Beiyang Army) with the imperial court in Beijing and the Republicans in southern China. At the crucial meeting in the Forbidden City, Puyi watched the meeting between Longyu and Yuan, which he remembered as:
Puyi soon learned that the real reasons for the Articles of Favorable Settlement was that President Yuan Shikai was planning on restoring the monarchy with himself as the Emperor of a new dynasty, and wanted to have Puyi as a sort of custodian of the Forbidden City until he could move in. Puyi first learned of Yuan's plans to become Emperor when he brought in army bands to serenade him whenever he had a meal, and he started on a decidedly imperial take on the presidency. Puyi spent hours staring at the Presidential Palace across from the Forbidden City and cursed Yuan whenever he saw him come and go in his automobile. Puyi hated Yuan as a "traitor" and decided to sabotage his plans to become Emperor by hiding the Imperial Seals, only to be told by his tutors that he would just make new ones. In 1915, Yuan proclaimed himself Emperor, but had to abandon his plans in the face of popular opposition.
In 1917 the warlord Zhang Xun restored Puyi to the throne from July 1 to July 12. Zhang Xun ordered his army to keep their queues to display loyalty to the Emperor. During that period of time, a small bomb was dropped over the Forbidden City by a Republican plane, causing minor damage. This is considered the first aerial bombardment ever in East Asia. The restoration failed due to extensive opposition across China, and the decisive intervention of another warlord, Duan Qirui.
Puyi's last surviving younger half-brother Puren (b. 1918) adopted the Chinese name Jin Youzhi and lived in China until his death in 2015. In 2006 Jin Youzhi filed a lawsuit in regards to the rights to Puyi's image and privacy. The lawsuit claimed that those rights were violated by the exhibit "China's Last Monarch and His Family".
As the only person capable of controlling Puyi, Johnston had much more influence than his title of English tutor would suggest as the eunuchs began to rely upon Johnston to steer Puyi away from his more capricious moods. When the 14 year-old Puyi had some western-style clothing purchased to wear from a theater company, Johnston flew into a rage, saying that Puyi was wearing cheap clothing unworthy of an Emperor, and had Puyi buy expensive clothes from a western-style department store, telling Puyi "If you wear clothes from a second-hand shop, you won't be a gentleman, you'll be ..." with Puyi noting he was unable to finish his sentence. Under Johnston's influence, Puyi started to insist that his eunuchs address him as "Henry" and later his wife Wanrong as "Elizabeth" as Puyi began to speak "Chinglish"-a mixture of Mandarin and English that was to be his preferred model of speech. Puyi recalled about Johnston: "I thought everything about him was first-rate. He made me feel that Westerners were the most intelligent and civilized people in the world and that he was the most learned of Westerners" and that "Johnston had become the major part of my soul". In May 1919, Puyi noticed the protests in Beijing generated by the May 4th movement as thousands of Chinese university students protested against the decision by the great powers at the Paris peace conference to award the former German concessions in Shangdong province together with the former German colony of Qingdao to Japan. For Puyi, the May 4th movement, which he asked Johnston about, was a revelation as it marked the first time in his life that he noticed that people outside the Forbidden City had concerns that were not about him.
In 1921, it was decided by the Dowager Consorts (the four widows of the emperors before Puyi) that it was time for the 15-year-old Puyi to be married, although court politics dragged the complete process (from selecting the bride, up through the wedding ceremony) out for almost two years. Puyi saw marriage as his coming of age benchmark, when others would no longer control him. He was given four photographs to choose from. Puyi stated they all looked alike to him, with the exception of different clothing. He chose Wenxiu. Political factions within the palace made the actual choice as to whom Puyi would marry. The selection process alone took an entire year.
On 21 October 1922, Puyi's wedding to Princess Wanrong began with the "betrothal presents" of 18 sheep, 2 horses, 40 pieces of satin and 80 rolls of cloth were marched from the Forbidden City to Wanrong's house accompanied by court Musicians and cavalry. Following Manchu traditions where weddings were conducted under moonlight for good luck, an enormous procession of palace guardsmen, eunuchs, and Musicians carried the Princess Wanrong in a red sedan chair called the Phoenix Chair from her house to the Forbidden City under a full moon. Wanrong was taken to the Palace of Earthly Peace within the Forbidden City, where Puyi sat upon the Dragon Throne and Wanrong kowtowed to him six times to symbolize her submission to her husband.
Puyi finally decided to expel all of the eunuchs from the Forbidden City to end the Problem of theft, only agreeing to keep 50 after the Dowager Consorts complained that they could not function without them. After expelling the eunuchs, Puyi turned the grounds where the Hall of Supreme Harmony had once stood into a tennis court, a sport that he and Wanrong loved to play. Wanrong's brother Rong Qi recalled: "But after the eunuchs went, many of the palaces inside the Forbidden City were closed down, and the place took on a desolate, abandoned air." After the Great Kanto earthquake on 1 September 1923 destroyed the cities of Tokyo and Yokohama, Puyi donated jade antiques worth some £33,000 to pay for disaster relief, and which led to a delegation of Japanese diplomats to visit the Forbidden City to express their thanks. In their report about the visit, the diplomats noted that Puyi was highly vain and malleable, and could be used by Japan, which marked the beginning of Japanese interest in Puyi.
Puyi's name is romanized in English as either "Puyi" or "Pu-yi". This naming is in accordance with the Manchu tradition of avoiding the use of a person's clan name and given name together, but is in complete contravention of Chinese tradition, whereby the given name of a ruler was considered taboo and ineffable. Using a former emperor's personal name (or even using a Chinese character from the name) was a punishable offense under traditional Chinese law. However, after Puyi lost his imperial title in 1924, he was officially styled "Mr. Puyi" (Mr. Pu-yi; simplified Chinese: 溥仪先生; traditional Chinese: 溥儀先生; pinyin: Pǔyí Xiānsheng) in Chinese. His clan name "Aisin Gioro" (simplified Chinese: 爱新觉罗; traditional Chinese: 愛新覺羅; pinyin: Àixīnjuéluó; Wade–Giles: Ai-hsin-chüeh-lo) was seldom used.
In February 1925, Puyi moved to the Japanese Concession of Tianjin, first into the Zhang Garden (張園), and in 1927 into the former residence of Lu Zongyu known as the Garden of Serenity (simplified Chinese: 静园; traditional Chinese: 静園; pinyin: jìng yuán). A British Journalist, Henry Woodhead, called Puyi's court a "doggy paradise" as both Puyi and Wanrong were dog-lovers who owned several dogs who were very spoiled while Puyi's courtiers spent an inordinate amount of time feuding with one another. Woodhead stated that the only people who seemed to get along at Puyi's court were Wanrong and Wenxiu, who were "like sisters". Tianjin was, after Shanghai, the most cosmopolitan Chinese city, with large British, French, German, Russian and Japanese communities. As an Emperor, Puyi was allowed to join several social clubs that normally only admitted whites. During this period, Puyi and his advisers Chen Baochen, Zheng Xiaoxu and Luo Zhenyu discussed plans to restore Puyi as Emperor. Zheng and Luo favoured enlisting assistance from external parties, while Chen opposed the idea. In June 1925, the warlord Zhang Zuolin visited Tianjin to meet Puyi. "Old Marshal" Zhang, an illiterate former bandit, ruled Manchuria, a region equal in size to Germany and France combined, which had a population of 30 million and was the most industrialized region in China. Zhang kowtowed to Puyi at their meeting and promised to restore the House of Qing, which was made conditional on Puyi making a large financial donation to his army. As Zhang walked with Puyi to his car at end of their meeting, he noticed a Japanese spy who had followed Puyi and said in a very loud voice "If those Japanese lay a finger on you, let me know and I'll sort them out", which was Zhang's way of warning Puyi in a "roundabout way" not to trust his Japanese friends. Zhang fought in the pay of the Japanese, but by this time his relations with the Kwantung Army were becoming strained. In June 1927, Zhang captured Beijing and Behr observed if Puyi had more courage and returned to Beijing, he might have been restored to the Dragon Throne.
In 1928, during the Great Northern Expedition to reunify China, troops loyal to a warlord allied with the Kuomintang sacked the Qing tombs outside of Beijing after the Kuomintang and its allies took Beijing from the army of Marshal Zhang who retreated back to Manchuria. The news that the Qing tombs had been plundered and the corpse of the Dowager Empress Cixi had been desecrated greatly offended Puyi, who never forgave the Kuomintang as he held Chiang Kai-shek personally responsible for the sacking of the Qing tombs, while at the same time, the sacking of the Qing tombs also showed his powerlessness. During his time in Tianjin, Puyi was besieged with visitors asking him for money, which included various members of the vast Qing family, old Manchu bannermen asking for financial help, journalists prepared to write articles calling for a Qing restoration for the right price, and eunuchs who had once lived in the Forbidden City and were now living in poverty. Puyi himself was often bored with his life, and engaged in maniacal shopping to compensate, recalling that he was addicted to "buying pianos, watches, clocks, radios, Western clothes, leather shoes and spectacles".
Puyi's court was prone to factionalism and his advisers were urging him to back different Warlords, which gave him a reputation for duplicity as he negotiated with various Warlords, which strained his relations with Marshal Zhang. At various times, Puyi met General Zhang Zongchang, the "Dogmeat General", and the Russian emigre General Grigory Semyonov at his Tianjin house; both of them promised to restore him to the Dragon Throne if he gave them enough money, and both of them kept all of the money he gave them to themselves. Puyi remembered Zhang, the "Dogmeat General" as "an universally detested monster" with a face bloated and "tinged with the livid hue induced by opium smoking". Semyonov in particular proved himself to be a talented con-man, claiming as an ataman to have several Cossack Hosts under his command, to have 300 million roubles in the bank, and to be supported by American, British and Japanese banks in his plans to restore both the House of Qing in China and the House of Romanov in Russia. Semyonov claimed that he was only asking for Puyi's financial support because of a temporary cash flow Problem, and promised that once his Cossacks took Beijing he would repay all of the money Puyi loaned him. Puyi gave Semyonov a loan of 5,000 British pounds, which Semyonov never repaid. Another visitor to the Garden of Serenity was General Kenji Doihara, a Japanese Army officer who was fluent in Mandarin and was a man of great charm who manipulated Puyi via flattery, telling him that a great man such as himself should go conquer Manchuria and then, just as his Qing ancestors did in the 17th century, use Manchuria as a base for conquering China.
The Empress Wanrong was firmly against Puyi's plans to go to Manchuria, which she called treason, and for a moment, Puyi hesitated, leading Doihara to send for Puyi's cousin, the very pro-Japanese Eastern Jewel, to visit him to change his mind. Eastern Jewel, a strong-willed, flamboyant, openly bisexual woman noted for her habit of wearing male clothing and uniforms, had much influence on Puyi. In the Tientsin Incident during November 1931, Puyi and Zheng Xiaoxu traveled to Manchuria to complete plans for the puppet state of Manchukuo. Puyi left his house in Tianjin by hiding in the trunk of a car. The Chinese government ordered his arrest for treason, but was unable to breach the Japanese protection. Puyi boarded a Japanese ship, the Awaji Maru, that took him across the East China Sea, and when he landed in Port Arthur (modern Lüshun) the next day, he was greeted by the man who was to become his minder, General Masahiko Amakasu, who escorted him to the train that took them to a resort owned by the South Manchurian Railroad company. Amakasu was a fearsome man who told Puyi how in the Amakasu Incident of 1923 he had the feminist Noe Itō, her lover the anarchist Sakae Ōsugi, and a six-year-old boy, Munekazu Tachibana, who happened to be there, strangled to death as they were "enemies of the Emperor", and he likewise would kill Puyi if he should prove to be an "enemy of the Emperor". The American Historian Louise Young described Amakasu as a "sadistic" man who enjoyed torturing and killing people. Behr commented that Amakasu's boasting about killing a six-year-old boy should have served to enlighten Puyi about the sort of people he had just allied himself with. Chen Baochen returned to Beijing where he died in 1935.
On 20 April 1932, the Lytton Commission arrived in Manchuria to begin its investigation to establish if Japan had committed aggression or not. Puyi was interviewed by Lord Lytton, and recalled thinking that at the time that he desperately wanted to ask Lytton for political asylum in Britain, but as General Itagaki was sitting right next to him at the meeting, he told Lytton that "the masses of the people had begged me to come, that my stay here was absolutely voluntary and free". After the interview, Itagaki told Puyi: "Your Excellency's manner was perfect; you spoke beautifully". The diplomat Wellington Koo, who was attached to the Lytton Commission as its Chinese assessor received a secret message saying that "... a representative of the imperial household in Changchun wanted to see me and had a confidential message for me". The representative, posing as an antique dealer, who "... told me he was sent by the Empress: She wanted me to help her escape from Changchun. He said she found life miserable there because she was surrounded in her house by Japanese maids. Every movement of hers was watched and reported". Koo said he was "touched", but he could do nothing to help Wanrong escape, which her brother Rong Qi said was the "final blow" to her, leading her into a downward spiral. Right from the start, the Japanese occupation had sparked much resistance by guerrillas, whom the Kwantung Army called "bandits". General Doihara was able in exchange for a multi-million bribe to get one of the more prominent guerrilla Leaders, the Hui Muslim general Ma Zhanshan to accept Japanese rule, and had Puyi appoint him Defense Minister. Much to the intense chagrin of Puyi and his Japanese masters, Ma's defection turned to be a ruse, and only months after Puyi appointed him Defense Minister, Ma took his troops over the border to the Soviet Union to continue the struggle against the Japanese.
The Showa Emperor wanted to see if Puyi was reliable before giving him an imperial title, and it was not until October 1933 that General Doihara told him he was to be an Emperor again, causing Puyi to go, in his own words, "wild with joy", though Puyi was disappointed that he was not given back his old title of "Great Qing Emperor". At the same time, Doihara informed Puyi that "the Emperor [of Japan] is your father and is represented in Manchukuo as the Kwantung army which must be obeyed like a father". Right from the start, Manchukuo was infamous for its high crime rate, as Japanese-sponsored gangs of Chinese, Korean and Russian Gangsters fought one another for the control of Manchukuo's opium houses, brothels, and gambling dens, with the Russian gangs having a particular interest in going after Jewish businessmen in Manchukuo for extortion and kidnapping. There were nine different Japanese or Japanese-sponsored police/intelligence agencies operating in Manchukuo, who were all told by Tokyo that Japan was a poor country and that they were to pay for their own operations by engaging in organized crime. The Italian adventurer Amleto Vespa remembered that General Kenji Doihara told him Manchuria was going have to pay for its own exploitation. In 1933, Simon Kaspé, a French Jewish Pianist visiting his father in Manchukuo, who owned a hotel in Harbin, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered by an anti-Semitic gang from the Russian Fascist Party. The Kaspé case become an international cause célèbre, attracting much media attention around the world, ultimately leading to two trials in Harbin in 1935 and 1936, as the evidence that the Russian Fascist gang who had killed Kaspé was working for the Kempeitai, the military police of the Imperial Japanese Army, become too strong for even Tokyo to ignore. In Asia, the rule of law is seen as one of the marks of "civilization", which is why the Japanese and Manchukuo media had spent so much time disparaging the chaotic and corrupt legal system run by the "Young Marshal", Zhang Xueliang; Puyi was portrayed as having (with a little help from the Kwantung Army) saved the people from the chaos of the rule by the Zhang family. Manchukuo's high crime rate, and the much publicized Kaspé case, made a mockery of the claim that Puyi had saved the people of Manchuria from a lawless and violent regime.
On 1 March 1934, he was crowned Emperor of Manchukuo, under the reign title Kangde (Wade–Giles: Kang-te; 康德) in Changchun. A sign of the true rulers of Manchukuo was the presence of General Masahiko Amakasu during the coronation; ostensibly there as the film Director to record the coronation, Amakasu served as Puyi's minder, keeping a careful watch on him to prevent him from going off-script. Wanrong was excluded from the coronation: her addiction to opium, anti-Japanese feelings, dislike of Puyi and growing reputation for being "difficult" and unpredictable led Amakasu to the conclusion that she could not be trusted to stay on-script. Though submissive in public to the Japanese, Puyi was constantly at odds with them in private. He resented being "Head of State" and then "Emperor of Manchukuo" rather than being fully restored as a Qing Emperor. At his enthronement, he clashed with Japan over dress; they wanted him to wear a Manchukuo-style uniform whereas he considered it an insult to wear anything but traditional Manchu robes. In a typical compromise, he wore a Western military uniform to his enthronement (the only Chinese Emperor ever to do so) and a dragon robe to the announcement of his accession at the Temple of Heaven. Puyi was driven to his coronation in a Lincoln limousine with bullet-proof windows followed by nine Packards, and during his coronation scrolls were read out while sacred wine bottles were opened for the guests to celebrate the beginning of a "Reign of Tranquility and Virtue". The invitations for the coronation were issued by the Kwantung Army and 70% of those who attended Puyi's coronation were Japanese.
After his return to Hsinking, Puyi hired an American public relations executive, George Bronson Rea, to lobby the U.S. government to recognize Manchukuo. In late 1935, Rea published a book, The Case for Manchukuo, in which Rea castigated China under the Kuomintang as hopelessly corrupt, and praised Puyi's wise leadership of Manchukuo, writing Manchukuo was "... the one step that the people of the East have taken towards escape from the misery and misgovernment that have become theirs. Japan's protection is its only chance of happiness." Rea continued to work for Puyi until the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but he failed signally in lobbying Washington to recognize Hsinking. At the second trial relating to the long-running Kaspé case in Harbin in March–June 1936, the Japanese prosecutor argued in favor of the six defendants, calling them "Russian patriots who raised the flag against a world danger-communism." Much to everyone's surprise, the Chinese judges convicted and sentenced the six Russian Fascists who had tortured and killed Kaspé to death, which led to a storm as the Russian Fascist Party called the six men "martyrs for Holy Russia", and presented to Puyi a petition with thousands of signatures asking him to pardon the six men. Puyi refused to pardon the Russian Fascists, but the verdict was appealed to the Hsinking Supreme Court, where the Japanese judges quashed the verdict, ordering the six men to be freed, a decision that Puyi accepted without complaint. The flagrant miscarriage of justice of the Kaspé case, which attracted much attention in the Western media, did much to tarnish the image of Manchukuo and further weakened Puyi's already weak hand as he sought to have the rest of the world recognize Manchukuo.
In 1936, Ling Sheng, an aristocrat who was serving as governor of one of Manchukuo's provinces and whose son was engaged to marry one of Puyi's younger sisters, was arrested after complaining about "intolerable" Japanese interference in his work, which led Puyi to ask Yoshioka if something could be done to help him out. The Kwantung Army's commander General Kenkichi Ueda visited Puyi to tell him the matter was resolved as Ling had already been convicted by a Japanese court-martial of "plotting rebellion" and had been executed by beheading, which led Puyi to cancel the marriage between his sister and Ling's son. During these years, Puyi began taking a greater interest in traditional Chinese law and religion (such as Confucianism and Buddhism), but this was disallowed by the Japanese. Gradually his old supporters were eliminated and pro-Japanese ministers put in their place. During this period Puyi's life consisted mostly of signing laws prepared by Japan, reciting prayers, consulting oracles, and making formal visits throughout his state.
In June 1937, some members of the Manchukuo Imperial Guards who were off-duty fell into a trap when they objected to Japanese colonists jumping the queue for rowing boats in a Hsinking park, leading to a brawl. The Kempeitai had expected this and were waiting; they arrested the Imperial Guardsmen, who were then beaten and forced to strip naked in public, and finally convicted by the courts of "anti-Manchukuo activities". As a result, the Manchukuo Imperial Guard lost their right to bear any weapons except for pistols. To further add to the message, Amakasu told Puyi that the Manchukuo Prime Minister, Zhang Jinghui, a man who Behr called "a venal, cringing Japanese flunky", and whom Puyi despised, should be his role model. In July 1937, when the Sino-Japanese war began, Puyi issued a declaration of support for Japan. In August 1937, Kishi wrote up a decree for Puyi to sign calling for the use of slave labour to be conscripted both in Manchukuo and in northern China, stating that in these "times of emergency" (i.e. war with China), industry needed to grow at all costs, and slavery would have to be used to save money. Driscoll wrote that just as African slaves were taken to the New World on the "Middle Passage", it would be right to speak of the "Manchurian Passage" as vast numbers of Chinese peasants were rounded up to be taken to work as slaves in Manchukuo's factories and mines. Starting in 1938 until the end of the war, every year about a million Chinese were taken both from the countryside of Manchukuo and from northern China to work as slaves in the factories and mines of Manchukuo.
In May 1938, Puyi was declared a god by the Religions Law, and a cult of emperor-worship very similar to Japan's began with schoolchildren starting their classes by praying to a portrait of the god-emperor while imperial rescripts and the imperial regalia become sacred relics imbued with magical powers by being associated with the god-emperor. Puyi's elevation to a god was due to the Sino-Japanese war, which caused the Japanese state to begin a program of totalitarian mobilization of society for total war in Japan and the places ruled by Japan. His Japanese handlers felt that ordinary people in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan were more willing to bear the sacrifices for total war because of their devotion to their god-emperor, and it was decided that making Puyi into a god-emperor would have the same effect in Manchukuo. After 1938, Puyi was hardly ever allowed to leave the Salt Tax Palace, while the creation of the puppet regime of President Wang Jingwei in November 1938 crushed Puyi's spirits, as it ended his hope of one day being restored as the Great Qing Emperor. Puyi became a hypochondriac, taking all sorts of pills for various imagined aliments and hormones to improve his sex drive and allow him to father a boy, as Puyi was convinced that the Japanese were poisoning his food to make him sterile. Puyi believed that Japanese wanted one of the children that Pujie had fathered with his Japanese wife Lady Saga to be the next Emperor, and it was a great relief to him that their children were both girls (Manchukuo law forbade female succession to the throne).
In 1940 Wanrong, also known as "Elizabeth Jade Eyes", engaged in an affair with Puyi's chauffeur Li Tiyu that left her pregnant. To punish her, as Wanrong gave birth to her daughter, she had to watch much to her horror as the Japanese doctors poisoned her newly born child right in front of her. Afterwards, Wanrong was totally broken by what she had seen, and lost her will to live, spending as much of her time possible in an opium daze to numb the pain. Puyi had known of what was being planned for Wanrong's baby, and in what Behr called a supreme act of "cowardice" on his part, "did nothing". Puyi's ghostwriter for Emperor to Citizen, Li Wenda, told Behr that when interviewing Puyi for the book that he could not get Puyi to talk about the killing of Wanrong's child, as he was too ashamed to speak of his own cowardice.
In December 1941, Puyi followed Japan in declaring war on the United States and Great Britain, but as neither nation had recognized Manchukuo there were no reciprocal declarations of war in return. During the war, Puyi was an Example and role model for at least some in Asia who believed in the Japanese Pan-Asian propaganda. U Saw, the Prime Minister of Burma, was secretly in communication with the Japanese, declaring that as an Asian his sympathies were completely with Japan against the West. U Saw further added that he hoped that when Japan won the war that he would enjoy exactly the same status in Burma that Puyi enjoyed in Manchukuo as part of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, saying that as an Asian it was his fondest wish that Japan would do everything that it had done in Manchukuo in Burma. The American Historian Gerhard Weinberg sarcastically wrote that U Saw and the rest of Burmese nationalists who saw the Japanese as liberators from the British were not endowed with "great intelligence" as U Saw enjoyed far more power as Prime Minister under the British than Puyi did as Emperor under the Japanese, but they got their wish to have what was done to people of Manchukuo done to their own people, observing: "The use of military and civilian prisoners for bayonet practice and assorted other cruelties provided the people of Southeast Asia with a dramatic lesson on the new meaning of Bushido, the code of the Japanese warrior."
Puyi himself complained that he had issued so many "slavish" pro-Japanese statements during the war that nobody on the Allied side would take him in if he did escape from Manchukuo. In June 1942, Puyi made a rare visit outside of the Salt Tax Palace when he conferred with the graduating class at the Manchukuo Military Academy, and awarded the star student Takagi Masao a gold watch for his outstanding performance; despite his Japanese name, the star student was actually Korean and under his original Korean name of Park Chung-hee would go to become the dictator of South Korea in 1961. In August 1942, Puyi's concubine Tan Yuling fell ill and died after being treated by the same Japanese doctors who murdered Wanrong's baby. Puyi testified at the Tokyo war crimes trial of his belief that she was murdered, saying "The glucose injections were not administered. There was much to and from activity that night, Japanese Nurses and doctors speaking with Yoshioka, then going back to the sickroom." Puyi kept a lock of Tan's hair and her nail clippings for the rest of his life as he expressed much sadness over her loss. Puyi refused to take a Japanese concubine to replace Tan and, in 1943, took a Chinese concubine, Li Yuqin, the 16 year-old daughter of a waiter. Lady Saga later observed that when Li had arrived at the Salt Tax Palace, she was badly in need of a bath and delousing. Puyi liked Li, but his main interest continued to be his pageboys, as he later wrote: "These actions of mine go to show how cruel, mad, violent and unstable I was."
For much of World War II, Puyi, confined to the Salt Tax Palace, believed that Japan was winning the war, and it was not until 1944 that Puyi first began to get an inkling that Japan was losing the war when the Japanese press began to report "heroic sacrifices" in Burma and on Pacific islands while air raid shelters started to be built in Manchukuo. Puyi's nephew Jui Lon told Behr: "He desperately wanted America to win the war." Big Li in an interview with Behr said: "When he thought it was safe, he would sit at the piano and do a one-finger version of the Stars and Stripes." In mid-1944, Puyi finally acquired the courage to start occasionally tune in his radio to Chinese broadcasts and to Chinese-language broadcasts by the Americans, where he was shocked to learn that Japan had suffered so many defeats on land, sea, and the air since 1942. The commander of the Kwantung Army, General Tomoyuki Yamashita, left Manchukuo for the Philippines in July 1944 and told Puyi at their final meeting: "I shall never come back", predicting that he would die for the Emperor in the Philippines. Yamashita was the famous "Tiger of Malaya" who had taken Singapore in 1942, inflicting one of the greatest defeats ever suffered by the British Empire, and his gloomy prediction about his pending defeat and death in the Philippines was unsettling to Puyi.
Many of the claims in From Emperor to Citizen like the statement that it was the Kuomintang who stripped Manchuria bare of industrial equipment in 1945-46 rather than the Soviets together with an “unreservedly rosy picture of prison life” are widely known not to be true, but the book was translated into foreign languages and sold well. Behr wrote:
In 1946, he testified at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo, detailing his resentment at how he had been treated by the Japanese. At the Tokyo trial, Puyi became involved in a lengthy exchange with defense counsel Major Ben Bruce Blakeney about whether he was kidnapped in 1931 or not, which forced Puyi to perjure himself by saying that the statements in Johnston’s 1934 book Twilight in the Forbidden City about how he had willingly become Emperor of Manchukuo were all lies. When Blakeney mentioned that the introduction to Twilight in the Forbidden City described how Puyi had told Johnston that he had willingly gone to Manchuria in 1931, Puyi perjured himself by saying he was not in contact with Johnston in 1931, and that Johnston made things up for "commercial advantage". The Australian judge, Sir william Webb, the President of the Tribunal, was often frustrated with Puyi's testimony, and chided him numerous times. At one point, when Puyi said "I have not finished my answer yet", causing Webb to say "Well, don't finish it". Behr described Puyi on the stand as a "consistent, self-assured liar, prepared to go to any lengths to save his skin", and as a combative witness more than able to hold his own against the defense lawyers. Puyi was greatly helped as with the exception of Major Blakeney, no one at the trial had actually read Twilight in the Forbidden City or the interviews Woodhead had conducted with him in 1932, which gave Puyi much room to distort what had been written about him or said by him. Puyi greatly respected Johnston, who was a surrogate father to him, and he felt guilty about the way he had repeatedly on the stand in Tokyo called Johnston a dishonest man whose book Twilight in the Forbidden City was full of lies, causing him to pray for the Buddha to ask for atonement for sullying Johnston's name.
The Soviets took him to the Siberian town of Chita. He lived in a sanatorium, then later in Khabarovsk near the Chinese border, where he was well treated and allowed to keep some of his servants. As a prisoner in a spa in Khabarovsk, Puyi spent his days praying to the Buddha, expected the prisoners to treat him as an Emperor and slapped the faces of his servants when they displeased him. By listening to Chinese language broadcasts on Soviet radio, Puyi was aware of the civil war in China, but seemed not to care. The Soviet government repeatedly refused requests from the Republic of China to extradite Puyi; he had been indicted on charges of high treason by the Kuomintang government, and the Soviet refusal to extradite him almost certainly saved his life, as Chiang Kai-shek had often spoken of his Desire to have Puyi shot. Puyi's cousin Eastern Jewel was captured by the Kuomintang and publicly executed in Beijing in 1948 after she was convicted of high treason. Not wishing to return to China, Puyi wrote to Joseph Stalin several times asking if he might be granted asylum in the Soviet Union, and that he be given one of the former tsarist palaces to live out his days.
When the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong came to power in 1949, Puyi was repatriated to China after negotiations between the Soviet Union and China. Puyi was of considerable value to Mao, as Behr noted: "In the eyes of Mao and other Chinese Communist Leaders, Pu Yi, the last Emperor, was the epitome of all that had been evil in old Chinese society. If he could be shown to have undergone sincere, permanent change, what hope was there for the most diehard counter-revolutionary? The more overwhelming the guilt, the more spectacular the redemption-and the greater glory of the Chinese Communist Party". Furthermore, Mao had often noted that Lenin had Nicholas II, the last Russian Emperor, shot together with the rest of the Russian imperial family, as Lenin could not make the last tsar into a communist; making the last Chinese Emperor into a Communist was intended to show the superiority of Chinese communism over Soviet communism. Puyi was to be subjected to "remodeling" to make him into a Communist. Behr observed that the Chinese Communist system was brutal, as millions of people were executed as "kulaks", "traitors" and "landlords" during Mao's first years in power, but it had a very different approach to crime from the West, quoting from Jean Pasqualini's book Prisonnier de Mao: "Prison is not prison, but a school for learning about one's mistakes". Pasqualini wrote that the aim of remodeling in China was "not so much to make you invent nonexistent crimes, but to make you accept your ordinary life, as you led it, as rotten and sinful and worthy of punishment ... self-accusation is one of the masterpieces of the penal system ... the prisoner takes care to build the case against himself as skillfully as he can ... When a prisoner has finally produced a satisfactory statement the government holds a document with which, depending on the emphasis of interpretation, it can sentence him to virtually any desired number of years. It is the prosecutor's dream".
Puyi had never brushed his teeth or tied his own shoelaces once in his life, and now for the first time was forced to perform the simple tasks that always had been done for him, which he found very difficult to do. The prisoners often laughed how Puyi struggled with even brushing his teeth. Much of Puyi's "remodeling" consisted of attending "Marxist-Leninist-Maoist discussion groups" where the prisoners would discuss their lives before being imprisoned for hours on end. As part of his "remodeling", Puyi was confronted with ordinary people who had suffered under the "Empire of Manchukuo", including those who had fought in the Communist resistance, both to prove to him that resistance to the Japanese had been possible and to show him what he had presided over. When Puyi protested to Jin that it had been impossible to resist Japan and there was nothing he could have done, Jin confronted him with people who had fought in the resistance and had been tortured, and asked him why ordinary people in Manchukuo resisted while an Emperor did nothing. As part of confronting war crimes, Puyi had to attend lectures where a former Japanese civil servant spoke about the exploitation of Manchukuo while a former officer in the Kempeitai talked about how he rounded up people for slave labor and ordered mass executions. At one point, Puyi was taken to Harbin and Pingfang to see where the infamous Unit 731, the chemical and biological warfare unit in the Japanese Army had conducted gruesome experiments on people. Puyi noted in shame and horror: "All the atrocities had been carried out in my name". Puyi by the mid-1950s was overwhelmed with guilt and often told Jin that he felt utterly worthless to the point that he considered suicide. Puyi was told by Jin to express his guilt in writing, which Puyi later recalled he felt "that I was up against an irresistible force that would not rest until it found out everything". Sometimes, Puyi was taken out for tours of the countryside of Manchuria. On one, he met a farmer's wife whose family had been evicted to make way for Japanese settlers and had almost starved to death while working as a slave in one of Manchukuo's factories. When Puyi asked for her forgiveness, she told him "It's all over now, let's not talk about it", causing him to break down in tears. At another meeting, a woman described the mass execution of people from her village by the Japanese Army, and then declared that she did not hate the Japanese and those who had served them as she retained her faith in humanity, which greatly moved Puyi. On another occasion, Jin confronted Puyi with his former concubine Li in meetings in his office, where she attacked him for seeing her only as a sex object, and saying she was now pregnant by a man who loved her.
On 10 March 1956, Jin confronted Puyi in a meeting in his office with his siblings, where his sisters spoke of their happiness with their new lives working as schoolteachers and seamstresses. Puyi was helped with his "remodeling" when the other prisoners began to blame him for everything that happened in Manchukuo, which was a debit for them as in the Chinese system, one is supposed to confess to one's own guilt rather than blaming others; Puyi by contrast by assigning all the guilt to himself won himself Jin's favor. In late 1956, Puyi acted in a play The Defeat of the Aggressors about the Suez Crisis, playing the role of a left-wing Labour MP who challenges in the House of Commons a former Manchukuo minister playing the British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd about Britain's reasons for attacking Egypt. Puyi enjoyed the role and ad libbed several lines in English, shouting "No, no, no! It won't do! Get out! Leave this House!". Sometimes, Puyi acted in plays about his life and Manchukuo, and in one theatrical production, playing a Manchukuo functionary, Puyi kowtowed to a portrait of himself as Emperor of Manchukuo. During the Great Leap Forward, when millions of people starved to death in China, Jin chose to cancel Puyi's visits to the countryside lest the scenes of famine undo Puyi's growing faith in communism. Behr wrote that many are surprised that Puyi's "remodeling" worked, with an Emperor brought up as almost a god becoming content to be just an ordinary man, but he noted that "... it is essential to remember that Puyi was not alone in undergoing such successful 'remolding'. Tough KMT generals, and even tougher Japanese generals, brought up in the samurai tradition and the Bushido cult which glorifies death in battle and sacrifice to martial Japan, became, in Fushun, just as devout in their support of communist ideals as Puyi".
Puyi came to Beijing on 9 December 1959 with special permission from Mao Zedong and lived for the next six months in an ordinary Beijing residence with his sister before being transferred to a government-sponsored hotel. Puyi had the job of sweeping the streets, and got lost on his first day of work, which led him to tell astonished passers-by: "I'm Puyi, the last Emperor of the Qing dynasty. I'm staying with relatives and can't find my way home". One of Puyi's first acts upon returning to Beijing was to visit the Forbidden City as a tourist, where he pointed out to other tourists that many of the exhibits were the things he had used in his youth. He voiced his support for the Communists and worked at the Beijing Botanical Gardens. Working as a simple gardener gave Puyi a degree of happiness that he had never known as an Emperor, though he was notably clumsy. Behr noted that in Europe people who played roles analogous to the role Puyi played in Manchukuo were generally executed; for Example, the British hanged william Joyce ("Lord Haw-haw") only for being the announcer on the English-language broadcasts of Radio Berlin, Italian Communist guerrillas shot Benito Mussolini, and the French executed Pierre Laval, so many Westerners are surprised that Puyi was released from prison after only nine years to start a new life. Behr wrote that the Communist ideology explained this difference, writing: "In a society where all landlord and 'capitalist-roaders' were evil incarnate, it did not matter so much that Puyi was also a traitor to his country: he was, in the eyes of the Communist ideologues, only behaving true to type. If all capitalists and landlords were, by their very nature, traitors, it was only logical that Puyi, the biggest landlord, should also be the biggest traitor. And, in the last resort, Puyi was far more valuable alive than dead". In early 1960, Puyi met Premier Zhou Enlai, who told him: "You weren't responsible for becoming Emperor at the age of three or the 1917 attempted restoration coup. But you were fully to blame for what happened later. You knew perfectly well what you were doing when you took refuge in the Legation Quarter, when you traveled under Japanese protection to Tianjin, and when you agreed to become Manchukuo Chief Executive." Puyi responded by merely saying that though he did not choose to be an Emperor, he had behaved with Savage cruelty as boy-emperor and wished he could apologize to all of the eunuchs he had flogged during his youth.
In the 1960s, with encouragement from Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, and the public endorsement of the Chinese government, Puyi wrote his autobiography Wode Qian Bansheng (Chinese: 我的前半生; pinyin: Wǒdè Qián Bànshēng; Wade–Giles: Wo Te Ch'ien Pan-Sheng; literally: "The First Half of My Life"; translated into English as From Emperor to Citizen) together with Li Wenda, an Editor at the People's Publishing Bureau. The ghostwriter Li had initially planned to use Puyi’s “autocritique” written in Fushun as the basis of the book, expecting the job to take only a few months. He found the “autocritique” used such wooden language as Puyi confessed to a career of abject cowardice, noting over and over again that he always done the easy thing rather than the right thing in the most leaden prose possible, that Li was forced to start anew to produce something more readable as he interviewed Puyi, taking him four years to write the book. In this book (as translated into English and published by Oxford University Press), Puyi made the following statement regarding his testimony at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal:
At the age of 56, he married Li Shuxian, a hospital nurse, on 30 April 1962, in a ceremony held at the Banquet Hall of the Consultative Conference. From 1964 until his death he worked as an Editor for the literary department of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, where his monthly salary was around 100 yuan. One yuan in the 1960s was equivalent to about 40 cents USD. Li recalled in a 1995 interview that: "I found Pu Yi a honest man, a man who desperately needed my love and was ready to give me as much love as he could. When I was having even a slight case of flu, he was so worried I would die, that he refused to sleep at night and sat by my bedside until dawn so he could attend to my needs". Li also noted like everybody else who knew him that Puyi was an incredibly clumsy man, leading her to say: "Once in a boiling rage at his clumsiness, I threatened to divorce him. On hearing this, he got down on his knees and, with tears in his eyes, he begged me to forgive him. I shall never forget what he said to me: 'I have nothing in this world except you, and you are my life. If you go, I will die'. But apart from him, what did I ever have in the world?".
From 1963 onward, Puyi regularly gave press conferences praising life in the People’s Republic of China, and foreign diplomats often sought him out, curious to meet the famous “Last Emperor” of China.
Mao Zedong started the Cultural Revolution in 1966, and the youth militia known as the Red Guards saw Puyi, who symbolised Imperial China, as an easy target of attack. Puyi was placed under protection by the local public security bureau and, although his food rations, salary, and various luxuries, including his sofa and desk, were removed, he was not publicly humiliated as was Common at the time. The Red Guards attacked Puyi for his book From Emperor to Citizen because it had been translated into English and French, which displeased the xenophobic Red Guards and led to copies of the book being burned in the streets. Various members of the Qing family, including Pujie, had their homes raided by the Red Guards, but Zhou Enlai used his influence to protect Puyi and the rest of the Qing from the worst abuses inflicted by the Red Guard. Jin Yuan, the man who had "remodelled" Puyi in the 1950s, fell victim to the Red Guard and became a prisoner in Fushun for several years, while Li Wenda, who had ghostwritten From Emperor to Citizen, spent seven years in solitary confinement. But by now, Puyi had aged and his health began to decline. He died in Beijing of complications arising from kidney cancer and heart disease on 17 October 1967 at the age of 61.
Wanrong's younger brother Rong Qi remembered how Puyi and Wanrong, both teenagers, loved to race their bicycles through the Forbidden City, forcing eunuchs to get out of the way, and told Behr in an interview: "There was a lot of laughter, she and Puyi seemed to get on well, they were like kids together." In 1986, Behr interviewed one of Puyi's two surviving eunuchs, an 85-year-old man who proved reluctant to answer the questions asked of him, but finally stated about Puyi's relationship with Wanrong: "The Emperor would come over to the nuptial apartments once every three months and spend the night there ... He leave early in the morning on the following day and for the rest of that day he would invariably be in a very filthy temper indeed." Reginald Johnston arranged for the Marquis of Extended Grace Zhu Yuxun, a descendant of the Ming dynasty Imperial family, to visit Puyi in the Forbidden City in September 1924, which was the first time the heirs of both the deposed Ming and Qing dynasties came face to face.
Puyi later commented about his childhood that: "Flogging eunuchs was part of my daily routine. My cruelty and love of wielding power were already too firmly set for persuasion to have any effect on me." The British Historian Alex von Tunzelmann wrote that most people in the West know Puyi's story only from the 1987 film The Last Emperor, which downplays Puyi's cruelty considerably, as the real boy-emperor was far more vicious than his cinematic counterpart, which creates misunderstandings that the young Puyi was merely very spoiled.
In accordance with the laws of the People's Republic of China at the time, Puyi's body was cremated. His ashes were first placed at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, alongside those of other party and state dignitaries. (This was the burial ground of imperial concubines and eunuchs prior to the establishment of the People's Republic of China.) In 1995, as a part of a commercial arrangement, Puyi's widow transferred his ashes to a new commercial cemetery named Hualong Imperial Cemetery (华龙皇家陵园) in return for monetary support. The cemetery is located near the Western Qing Tombs, 120 km (75 mi) southwest of Beijing, where four of the nine Qing emperors preceding him are interred, along with three empresses and 69 princes, princesses and imperial concubines.
Behr wrote based on his interviews with Puyi's family and staff at the Salt Tax Palace that it appeared Puyi had an "attraction towards very young girls" that "bordered on pedophilia" and "... that Pu Yi was bisexual, and – by his own admission – something of a sadist in his relationships with women." Puyi was very fond of having handsome teenage boys serve as his pageboys and Puyi's sister-in-law Hiro Saga noted he was also very fond of sodomizing them. Lady Saga, who was somewhat homophobic, wrote in her 1957 autobiography Memoirs of A Wandering Princess:
During this period, Puyi was known for his kindness, and once after he accidentally knocked down an elderly lady with his bicycle, he visited her every-day in the hospital to bring her flowers to make amends until she was released. Puyi objected to Pujie's attempt to reunite with Lady Saga who had returned to Japan, writing to Zhou asking him to block Lady Saga from coming back to China, which led Zhou to reply: “The war’s over, you know. You don’t have to carry this national hatred into your own family.” Behr concluded that: “It is difficult to avoid the impression that Puyi, in an effort prove himself a ‘remolded man’, displayed the same craven attitude towards the power-holders of the new China that he had shown in Manchukuo towards the Japanese.”