Aisin-Gioro Puyi (in Chinese: 愛新覺羅·溥儀) ¹ (February 7, 1906 - October 17, 1967) was the Xuantong Emperor (宣統皇帝) of China between 1908 and 1924 (ruling emperor between 1908 and 1912, and non-ruling emperor between 1912 and 1924), the tenth (and last) emperor of the Manchu Qing Dynasty to rule over China. Posthumous name: Xundi (遜帝). No temple name as yet.² Later between 1934 and 1945 he was the Kangde Emperor (康德皇帝) of the Japanese-controlled state of Manchukuo. In the People's Republic of China he was a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference from 1964 until his death in 1967 under the Chinese name Aixinjuelo Puyi.
He is more simply known in English as Puyi, which is in accordance with the Manchu tradition of never joining clan's name and given name together, but is in complete contravention with the old Chinese and Manchu rule whereby the private given name of an emperor is taboo and ineffable. The use of the given name Puyi after the overthrow of the empire was thus a political claim, a way to desecrate the old order. Indeed, after Puyi lost his imperial title in 1924 he was officially styled "Mr. Puyi" (溥儀先生) in China. His clan's name Aisin-Gioro was seldom used. Puyi is also widely known as the Last Emperor (末代皇帝). He is also known to have used the name "Henry", a name allegedly chosen with his English language teacher, Scotsman Reginald Johnston, in reference to King Henry VIII of England. However, the name Henry was merely used for intercourse with Westerners between around 1920 and 1932, and is never used in China.
Puyi was the eldest son of the 2nd Prince Chun (醇親王) (1883-1951), who was a younger half-brother of Emperor Guangxu (光緒皇帝) and the first brother in line after Guangxu. Puyi's paternal grandfather was the 1st Prince Chun (醇賢親王) (1840-1891) who was himself a younger half-brother of Emperor Xianfeng (咸豐皇帝), but not the next in line after Xianfeng (the 1st Prince Chun had older half-brothers that were closer in age to Xianfeng). The great-grand-father of Puyi, father of the 1st Prince Chun, was Emperor Daoguang (道光皇帝). Puyi was in a branch of the imperial family with close ties to Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后), who was herself from the (Manchu) Yehe-Nara clan (the imperial family were the Aisin-Gioro clan). The wife of the 1st Prince Chun was the younger sister of Cixi. She was the mother of Emperor Guangxu. However, the 2nd prince Chun was not her son. He was the son of the second concubine of the 1st Prince Chun, the Lady Lingiya (1866-1925), a Han Chinese maid at the mansion of the 1st prince Chun whose original Chinese family name was Liu (劉) and was changed into the Manchu clan's name Lingyia when she was made a Manchu, which was required in order to become the concubine of a Manchu prince. Cixi married the daughter of her brother to Emperor Guangxu, who became after Guangxu and Cixi's death the Empress Dowager Longyu (隆裕太后) (1868-1913). As for the 2nd Prince Chun's wife (and Puyi's mother), the 2nd Princess Chun (1884-1921), she was the daughter of the Manchu general Ronglu (榮祿) (1836-1903) from the Guwalgiya clan, one of the leaders of the conservative faction at the court, and a staunch supporter of Cixi whom she rewarded by marrying his daughter into the imperial family.
Chosen by Cixi on her deathbed, Puyi ascended to the throne at age 2 years 10 months in December 1908 following his uncle's death on November 14. His father, the 2nd Prince Chun served as a regent until December 6, 1911 when Empress Dowager Longyu took over in the face of the Xinhai Revolution.
Empress Dowager Longyu signed the "Act of Abdication of the Emperor of the Great Qing" (《清帝退位詔書》) on February 12, 1912, following the Xinhai Revolution, under a deal brokered by Yuan Shikai with the imperial court in Beijing and the republicans in southern China: by the "Articles of Favourable Treatment of the Emperor of the Great Qing after his Abdication" (《清帝退位優待條件》) signed with the new Republic of China, Puyi was to retain his imperial title and be treated by the government of the Republic with the protocol attached to a foreign monarch. He and the imperial court were allowed to remain in the northern half of the Forbidden City (the Private Apartments) as well as in the Summer Palace. A hefty annual subsidy of 4 million silver dollars was also granted by the Republic to the imperial household (never fully paid and abolished after just a few years).
In 1917, the warlord general Zhang Xun (張勛) restored Puyi on his throne for twelve days from July 1 to July 12. Beijing male residents hastily bought some false queues (long plaits) to avoid punishment at the cutting of their queues in 1912. During those 12 days, one small bomb was dropped over the Forbidden City by a republican plane, causing minor damage. This is considered the first aerial bombardment ever in Eastern Asia. The restoration failed due to large opposition across China, and the decisive intervention of other warlord general Duan Qirui (段祺瑞). In mid-July, the streets of Beijing were strewn with thousands of false queues as hastily discarded as they had been bought.
In the end of October 1924, the staunch republican warlord Feng Yuxiang (馮玉祥) seized Beijing with his troops and organized a coup, deposing president Cao Kun (曹錕). On November 4, 1924, Feng Yuxiang had the government revise the Articles of Favorable Treatment: the revised articles stated that Puyi was losing his imperial title and henceforth becoming a regular citizen of the Republic of China. The next day, November 5, Feng's troops surrounded the Private Apartments of the Forbidden City and forced Puyi to sign the revised articles. Puyi and the small imperial court were expelled from the Forbidden City that same day.
Puyi took up his abode at the Northern Residence (北府), the mansion of his father the 2nd Prince Chun, nearby the Forbidden City. In the beginning of 1925 he escaped the surveillance of Feng's soldiers and took refuge at the Japanese Legation. The Japanese organized his flight to the Japanese concession in Tianjin where he lived in a large mansion until 1932.
On March 1, 1932, he was installed by the Japanese as the ruler of the puppet state of Manchukuo under the reign title Datong (大同). In 1934 he was officially crowned the emperor of Manchukuo under the reign title Kangde (康德).
At the end of World War II, he was captured by the Russians (1945) and turned over to the Chinese Communists in 1950. He spent ten years in a reeducation camp and was declared reformed and became a supporter of the Communists. Afterwards, he was made a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference from 1964 until his death in 1967. He wrote an autobiography (我的前半生 - "The previous half of my life", translated in English as From Emperor to Citizen) in the 1960s and died in Beijing of cancer during the Cultural Revolution.
His life was portrayed in Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Last Emperor. Although the film contained some elements of dramatic license, it is considered to be a plausible portrayal of his life.
In both his autobiography and the film, Puyi is portrayed as a largely innocent pawn controlled by more powerful people. Some historians are skeptical about this account: Puyi had a strong interest in minimizing his own role in history, because any admission of active control would have led to his execution.
In 1962, he married for the fifth time to Li Shuxian (李淑賢).
Puyi was 61 years old at the time of his passing. He was childless.
In 1995, his widow was allowed to transfer his ashes to a commercial cemetery in the area of the Western Qing Tombs (清西陵), 120 kilometers/75 miles southwest of Beijing, where four of the nine Qing emperors preceding him are interred, along with 3 empresses, and 69 princes, princesses, and imperial concubines. In accordance to the laws of the People’s Republic of China, Puyi’s body was cremated, unlike the bodies of his ancestors, which were interred whole.
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¹ Aisin-Gioro is the clan's name in Manchu, pronounced Àixīn Júelúo in Mandarin; Pǔyí is the Chinese given name as pronounced in Mandarin.
² In 2004 the descendants of the Qing imperial family have conferred a posthumous name and temple name upon the late Puyi. Posthumous name: Mindi (愍帝). Temple name: Gongzong (恭宗). It remains to be seen whether these names will be accepted by the Chinese public.