Biography of Great Survivor P'U-Yi Part 2

About the Chinese emperor P'U-Yi, biography and history of the man who went from emperor to citizen.


For five years, from 1912 to 1917, P'u-Yi lived inside the walls of the Forbidden City, blissfully ignorant of the crosscurrents of political change blowing through China. In 1915, when President Yuan tried to solidify his power by trading Chinese sovereignty to the Japanese in exchange for their support of his regime, the republican armies revolted, throwing China into a state of chaos and thrusting P'u-Yi onto center stage again. A Chinese warlord named Chang Hsun attempted to restore order by reinstating the monarchy with himself as chief adviser to the boy emperor. But P'u-Yi's Manchu advisers objected to allowing a Chinese into their inner circle. The republicans meanwhile rallied around President Yuan's successor, Li Yuan-hung, and with the aid of China's only warplane attacked Peking and routed Chang Hsun's troops. In his memoirs P'u-Yi recalled hearing bombs burst over his school, the Palace for the Cultivation of Happiness, and seeing the streets littered with pigtails-those plaited symbols of Manchu loyalty which Chang Hsun's army had cut off and thrown away in retreat.

On July 12, 1917, less than two weeks after the restoration, P'u-Yi abdicated the dragon throne for the second time in his young life. Again his life was spared by the republican armies, still eager to maintain Manchu support in the face of growing external threats from Japan.

With the sudden end of the restoration P'u-Yi returned to the role he was born to-that of hollow emperor. Through his teenage years he was tutored by a Britisher named Reginald Johnston, who succeeded to a great degree in westernizing the boy. He persuaded him to cut off his own queue, send the eunuchs out of the Forbidden City, and take on the name of Henry, after King Henry VIII of England.

In 1922, sensing that his son was getting bored and restless with his life, Prince Ch'un arranged to have the emperor take a wife. Since the republic had changed things from the days when the most beautiful women in the land were brought before the emperor for his selection, P'u-Yi had to make his choice from photographs. He picked a woman named Wen Hsiu, but she was rejected by his court, which chose Wan Jung (or Elizabeth Yuang), the daughter of a rich and powerful family. Because the emperor had already looked favorably upon Wen Hsiu, it was determined that no other man would be worthy of her, so she was given to P'u-Yi as a consort. His wedding night with Wan Jung was a disaster. P'u-Yi's biographer, Arnold C. Brackman, suggests that his political impotency reflected sexual impotency as well. All those years in the company of eunuchs and the womanless Johnston, says Brackman, encouraged homosexual tendencies in the young emperor.

Outside the bedchamber things didn't fare much better for the Manchu dynasty. In 1924 another round of civil war erupted in China, this time with an antimonarchist general gaining the upper hand and driving P'u-Yi and his family out of the Forbidden City and into the welcoming arms of the Japanese. The Japanese protected the royal family until they overran Manchuria in 1931. They renamed it Manchukuo and tried to legitimize their blatant aggression by installing P'u-Yi as emperor.

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