Puyi (February 7, 1906–October 17, 1967) of the Manchu Aisin-Gioro ruling family was the last Emperor of China between 1908 and 1924 (ruling as the Xuantong Emperor (宣統皇帝) between 1908 and 1911, and non-ruling emperor between 1911 and 1924), the twelfth emperor of the Qing Dynasty to rule over China.
He was married to the Empress Gobulo Wan Rong under the suggestion of the Imperial Dowager Concubine Duan-Kang. Later, between 1934 and 1945, he was the Kangde Emperor (康德皇帝) 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 Aixinjueluo Puyi. His abdication being a symbol of the end of a long era in China, he is widely known as the Last Emperor (末代皇帝).
Puyi's paternal grandfather was the 1st Prince Chun (1840–1891) who was himself a son of the Daoguang Emperor and a younger half-brother of Xianfeng Emperor, but not the next in line after Xianfeng (the 1st Prince Chun had older half-brothers that were closer in age to Xianfeng). Xianfeng was succeeded by his only son, who became the Tongzhi Emperor (r.1861-1875).
Tongzhi died without a son, and was succeeded by Guangxu Emperor (r.1875–1908), the son of the 1st Prince Chun and his wife, who was the younger sister of Empress Dowager Cixi. Guangxu died without an heir.
Puyi, who succeeded Guangxu, was the eldest son of the 2nd Prince Chun (1883–1951), who was the son of the 1st Prince Chun and his second concubine, the Lady Lingiya (1866–1925). Lady Lingiya was a maid at the mansion of the 1st Prince Chun whose original Chinese family name was Liu (劉); this was changed into the Manchu clan's name Lingyia when she was made a Manchu, a requirement before becoming the concubine of a Manchu prince. The 2nd Prince Chun was, therefore, a younger half-brother of the Guangxu Emperor and the first brother in line after Guangxu.
Puyi was in a branch of the imperial family with close ties to Cixi, who was herself from the (Manchu) Yehe-Nara clan (the imperial family were the Aisin-Gioro clan). Cixi married the daughter of her brother to her nephew Guangxu, who became, after Guangxu and Cixi's death, the Empress Dowager Longyu (1868–1913).
Puyi's lesser known brother, Pu Xuezhai 溥雪齋, is an important master of the guqin musical instrument tradition and an artist of Chinese painting. Another brother, Pujie (1907-1994), married a cousin of Emperor Hirohito, Princess Hiro Saga, and changed the rules of succession to allow him to succeed his brother, who had no children. His last surviving (half-)brother Pu Ren (born 1918) still lives in China and has taken the Chinese name Jin Youzhi.
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Puyi's upbringing was hardly conducive to the raising of a healthy, well-balanced child. Overnight, he was treated as a god and unable to behave as a child. The adults in his life, save his wet-nurse Mrs. Wen-Chao, were all strangers, remote, distant, and unable to discipline him. Wherever he went, grown men would kneel to the floor in a ritual kow-tow, averting their eyes until he passed. Soon the young Puyi discovered the absolute power he wielded over the eunuchs, and frequently had them beaten for small transgressions.
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 (the great general of the army Beiyang) with the imperial court in Beijing (formerly Peking) 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. This was similar to Italy's Law of Guarantees (1870) which accorded the Pope certain honors and privileges similar to those enjoyed by the King of Italy. 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 granted by the Republic to the imperial household, although it was never fully paid and was abolished after just a few years.
On March 1, 1932, Puyi was installed by the Japanese as the ruler of Manchukuo, considered by most historians as a puppet state of Imperial Japan, under the reign title Datong (大同). In 1934, he was officially crowned the emperor of Manchukuo under the reign title Kangde (康德). He was constantly at odds with the Japanese in private, though submissive in public. He resented being "Head of State" and then "Emperor of Manchukuo" rather than being fully restored as Qing Emperor. As part of the Japanese colonialism in Manchukuo, Puyi would be living in the Wei Huang Gong during this time. At his enthronement he clashed with Japan over dress; they wanted him to wear a Manchukuoan uniform whereas he considered it an insult to wear anything but traditional Qing Dynasty robes. In a typical compromise, he wore a uniform to his enthronement and dragon robes to the announcement of his accession at the Altar of Heaven. His brother Pujie, who married Hiro Saga, a distant cousin to the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, was proclaimed heir apparent.
During Puyi's reign as Emperor of Manchukuo, his household was closely watched by the Japanese who increasingly took steps toward the full Japanization of Manchuria, just as they had done in Korea and elsewhere. When Puyi went on a state visit to Tokyo, he was flattering to the Japanese imperial family. At a review, he thanked Emperor Hirohito for "allowing" clear skies and sunshine for the event. During these empty years, he began taking a greater interest in Buddhism. However, Japan soon forced him to make Shinto the national religion of Manchukuo. Slowly, his old supporters were eliminated and pro-Japanese ministers put in their place. During this period, his life consisted mostly of signing laws prepared by Japan, reciting prayers, consulting oracles, and making formal visits throughout his kingdom.
With encouragement from Mao and then Premier Zhou Enlai, and openly endorsed by the Government, Puyi wrote his autobiography (我的前半生 — "The first half of my life", translated in English as From Emperor to Citizen) in the 1960s alongside Li Wenda, an editor of Beijing's People Publishing Bureau. In this book he regrets his false testimony from the Tokyo war crimes trial.
In 2004 descendants of the Qing imperial family have conferred a posthumous name and temple name upon Puyi. Posthumous name: Mindi (愍帝). Temple name: Gongzong (恭宗). This has not been approved by the direct line of the imperial family. However, Xùndì (遜帝) ("The Abdicated Emperor") is the posthumous name given by mainland China and Taiwan's history books to Puyi.
Puyi had several brothers, two of whom are important for the history of China and the Qing Dynasty:
In detail: In 1922, at the age of 16, Puyi married two women. His first choice for wife was Wen Xiu (1907–1950/51), whom court officials deemed not beautiful enough to be an Empress; Wen Xiu was designated as a concubine, and eventually divorced him in 1931. Puyi's second choice, a Manchu named Wan Rong (1906–1946, a.k.a. Radiant Countenance), became the Empress; she later became addicted to opium, and died in a Chinese prison.
His third wife was a Manchu, Tan Yuling, whom he married around 1937. Although only a teenager at the time of marriage, she died mysteriously five years later while being treated for an illness by a Japanese-occupation doctor.
In 1943, Puyi married his fourth wife, a 15-year-old student named Li Yuqin (1928?–2001), a Han. She divorced him in 1958. She was diagnosed with cirrhosis in 1995 and died six years later at the age of 73.