January 2, 2024 | Kyle Climans

Imperial Facts About Puyi, The Last Emperor of China

By the time Puyi became a toddler king, his empire was crumbling into ruin, and he had precious few years on his throne before revolution turned him into a fallen ruler. The damage, however, had already been done. A refined, cultured man on the outside, years of luxury and decadence had left Puyi utterly rotten at his core—and behind closed doors, his life was a nightmare.

1. He Was Born Into Power

Puyi had a charmed life from the moment he was born on February 7, 1906. Not only was he the nephew of the current Emperor of China, but his parents Prince Chun and his consort Youlan were also well-to-do movers and shakers within the Chinese court. But in the blink of an eye, the little Puyi suffered a lifelong trauma.


2. He Became A Child Emperor

In November of 1908, Puyi’s uncle passed without an heir, leaving the Chinese throne up for grabs. The powerful Dowager Empress Cixi elected Puyi—who was still less than three years old—as the new emperor. For many people, this promise of power and opulence would be a dream come true. Yet the way Puyi found out was utterly brutal.

Empress Cixi factsWikipedia

3. The Royal Family Kidnapped Him

When Puyi became a boy emperor, it was more like a kidnapping than a coronation. Without any notice or warning, palace guards marched into Puyi’s home and informed his parents he was the new ruler…and that he had to go to the royal residences in the Forbidden City immediately. And that’s not even the worst part.

Puyi facts Wikipedia

4. He Fought Against His Captors

This was shocking news: It tore the little boy from the only life he had ever known, and then baptized him into one he barely understood. Puyi immediately started screaming at the guards as they tried to pick him up, crying out that he didn’t want to leave his mother and father. His parents’ reactions, meanwhile, were gut-wrenching.

Puyi facts The Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

5. His Parents Abandoned Him

Puyi's parents barely registered their son's emotional breakdown; after all, this was his duty. Accordingly, they watched silently as the guards stuffed the toddler into a palanquin and brought him to the Forbidden City with only his wet nurse, Wang, accompanying him from his old world. It was the beginning of both a fantasy and a horror story.

Puyi facts Wikipedia

6. He Had A Deep Fear

When Puyi actually entered the Forbidden City, his life went from bad to terrifying. The Dowager Empress Cixi demanded to see him, even though she was on her deathbed. As Puyi later recalled, when he stared at the elderly Cixi’s “emaciated and terrifying hideous face,” he burst into tears and started crying for his nanny. Cixi’s reply gave awful insight into Puyi’s future.

Puyi facts The Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

7. The Palace Ignored Him

Like his own parents, the Dowager Empress stayed stone-faced about Puyi’s mental anguish. In fact, she was totally confused about why he was upset in the first place, as if it was bizarre that a two-year-old would be at all miffed about his own kidnapping. Curling her lip, Cixi only said, “What a naughty child. Take him away to play". Is it any wonder Puyi turned out so badly?

Puyi facts The Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

8. He Cried Through His Coronation

Less than a month after Puyi entered the Forbidden City, he had his official coronation ceremony. This was yet another nightmare. Although his father Prince Chun was there to carry him out on the ancient Dragon Throne, the sound of drums terrified Puyi so much that he started bawling again. The only comfort his father could give was: “Don't cry, it'll be over soon". Well, it wasn't.

Puyi facts The Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

9. He Was A Little Brat

Besides the early trauma of his reign, Puyi was also spoiled rotten. Every day, his ceremonial eunuch servants would prepare him meals full of every imaginable delicacy, and he would receive swathes of custom-made, unique clothing, since an emperor never wore clothing more than once. Yeah, this coddling was a recipe for disaster.

Empress Wanrong factsWikipedia

10. He Lost His Mother

As Puyi grew up, his lavish world somehow became more controlled, not less. He didn’t see his own mother for seven full years, and in that time his only confidant or even friend was his old wet nurse, Wang, who became all but his adoptive mother. As it turned out, Puyi was in desperate need of an authority figure, because his dark side had started showing...

Puyi facts The Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

11. He Turned Cruel

At some point during his time as Emperor, Puyi cottoned on to the fact that he had absolute power, and it corrupted him in the most horrific ways imaginable. He went mad with it, and took a particular interest in humiliating his eunuchs whenever the opportunity arose. First, he had them beat for even the smallest infractions…but his tastes soon grew bloodier.

Puyi facts The Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

12. He Was A Sadist

Puyi adored watching his eunuchs get flogged, and he spent many hours of his reign observing the “delightful” event. Whenever he grew bored of this entertainment, he also loved to fire pellets from his air gun at them. Yep, there’s no two ways about it: Puyi was a sadist. And the situation was even more terrible than most people know.

Puyi facts The Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

13. He Played A Disturbing Practical Joke

Around this time, the boy emperor found a way to marry his mean streak with childish pranks, another of his favorite pastimes. During one incident, he wanted to feed one of his eunuchs a cake made with iron fillings, all because, as he said, "I want to see what he looks like when he eats it". Thankfully, his wet nurse talked him down…this time.

Puyi facts Legend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

14. No One Could Control Him

Although films like The Last Emperor downplay Puyi’s bad behavior, his dark appetites terrorized the palace for years. After all, he was the supreme ruler, so no one could tell him no. Oh sure, his advisors begged him to stop, but as Puyi noted, "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".

Sadly, if you think that’s the beginning and end of Puyi’s bad habits, you’re very, very wrong.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

15. He Was An Eligible Bachelor

In 1922, Puyi was 16 years old, and the palace decided it was high time for him to marry. Despite, you know, him having the emotional intelligence of a gnat. The various Dowager Empresses around the Forbidden City set about finding a bride for him, and their methods were the exact opposite of romantic. Indeed, they were downright chilling.

Puyi facts Legend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

16. He Had A Bizarre Engagement

Puyi's engagement didn’t involve him writing his bride chivalrous love poems. God no. Instead, the Dowagers went through all the best families in the land and collected photographs of their daughters. Then they put the series of snaps in front of Puyi and asked him to choose his wife. No, really. And then it got excruciatingly awkward.

Puyi facts Legend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

17. He Chose An Inappropriate Bride

While looking at the spread of women in front of him, Puyi’s gaze caught on one woman in particular, and he pointed her out as his number one choice. When the Dowagers recognized the woman, their blood must have run cold. The prospect, Wenxiu, was actually just a 12-year-old girl, and the Dowagers quickly convinced Puyi to pick again. I really wish he hadn’t.

Empress Wanrong factsWikipedia

18. He Had A Very Public Engagement

Eventually, Puyi landed on the slightly more age appropriate Gobulo Wanrong, who at only 16 years old was already turning out to be a stunning beauty. The Chinese court moved fast, and announced Wanrong and Puyi’s engagement in the national papers almost immediately after his decision. But Puyi may have come to regret this…

Empress Wanrong factsWikimedia Commons

19. He Was A Modern Man

For the last few years, Puyi had grown obsessed with the “modern” West: He loved Harold Lloyd films, cut off his long "queue" of hair, and liked to ride his bicycle around the Forbidden City. But there was one particular obsession that Puyi just couldn’t shake, and as his wedding date approached, a strange desperation came over him.

The Forbidden City FactsWikimedia Commons

20. He Had A Strange Obsession

The center of Puyi’s Anglophilia was the University of Oxford, the alma mater of his beloved British tutor, Reginald Johnston. To the emperor, culture began and ended with the school, and he was intent on becoming an Oxford student. Within months of getting engaged to Wanrong, Puyi’s determination to see this dream through reached a fever pitch, so he hatched an infamous plan.

Puyi factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

21. He Tried To Give Up His Throne

Puyi woke up on the morning of June 4, 1922 intent on escaping the Forbidden City and meeting his destiny as a college student. He even planned to print an open letter to his people renouncing his title. In fact, he was so proud of this plot that he went and told Reginald Johnston everything, asking the tutor to call him a cab and come with him. Well, this backfired.

Puyi facts Legend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

22. His Mentor Betrayed Him

Johnston had half a brain in his head, so he was horrified at the folly of Puyi’s pipe dream. He crushed Puyi’s hopes with one incredibly simple move. He refused to call a taxi for the emperor. Puyi, sheltered as he was, was aghast at the idea of going into the streets of Beijing alone, and he gave up his mission immediately. Instead, he had to face that very ill-advised walk down the aisle…

Puyi facts The Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

23. He Had A Lavish Wedding Ceremony

On October 21, 1922, Puyi and Wanrong’s lengthy marriage process began. The displays included lavish “betrothal presents,” as well as a ceremony where Wanrong kowtowed to him six times to show how subservient she was (ugh). As befitting a royal, the events were full of only the finest food, décor, and guests. Except this only made Puyi’s behavior that much more embarrassing.

Empress Wanrong factsWikipedia

24. He Didn’t Care About His Wife

As we know, Puyi's horrendous childhood had rendered him pretty much incapable of emotional maturity, and he really showed it on his wedding day. He later confessed that seeing Wanrong walk into his Imperial wedding was one of the first times, “I felt at all curious about what she looked like". Oh, and it doesn’t stop there.

Empress Wanrong factsWikimedia Commons

25. He Married Two Women On The Same Day

If Puyi’s new wife thought she was his one and only, she was in for a nasty surprise. See, although Puyi had to abandon his idea of making the 12-year-old Wenxiu his Empress, he didn't completely give her up. Instead, Puyi decided to take Wenxiu as his secondary consort…and marry her on the same day as he wed Wanrong. Yikes.

Empress Wanrong factsWikipedia

26. He Had A Bedding Ceremony

As if Wanrong, Puyi, and Wenxiu’s wedding wasn’t tense enough, their wedding night was even more so. After the ceremonies, the trio went to the Palace of Earthly Tranquillity, where for centuries emperors had consummated their unions. Wanrong and Wenxiu laid down on the mattress—and that's where things took a very strange turn.

Empress Wanrong factsGetty Images

27. He Ran Away From His Wedding Night

Get this: The moment that Puyi took in his two nubile brides, he ran right out of the room. To this day, historians can’t be sure what exactly drove Puyi to flee, though many point to the teenager's bedroom immaturity as well as his host of other immaturities. However, as we’ll see later, there might have been a more scandalous reason for his disgust.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

 28. He Was Embarrassingly Needy

While Puyi was already pretty suspect as husband material, he started to make strange demands of his wife. After having grown up basically alone, Puyi was a little too delighted to have a companion in Wanrong. The immature man-child loved to bust in on her private meetings, play pranks on her, or just telephone her incessantly. Then again, there was a tender side to their relationship...

Empress Wanrong factsGetty Images

29. He Was Immature

In the months after Puyi's teenage double wedding, the Forbidden City became something like a royal playground. People often witnessed Puyi and Wanrong racing their bikes through the avenues, and the emperor even turned some of the palace grounds into a tennis court so he could play whenever he wanted. But it wasn’t all fun and games.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

30. His Wives Got Into A Massive Fight

Unsurprisingly, Puyi’s wives Wanrong and Wenxiu developed an intense rivalry with each other—and it got very high school, very fast. Upon hearing about Puyi’s preference for Wenxiu, Wanrong sent the girl scads of scathing letters. In retaliation, Wenxiu wrote back criticizing all of Wanrongs typos in the messages. Meow.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

31. He Ghosted His Wife

Puyi was completely unequipped to deal with this domestic unrest, and his reaction was cold-blooded. Despite his initial favoritism of Wenxiu, Puyi dropped her like a hot potato once she moved into the Forbidden City. He rarely visited her apartments and left her desperately alone during the long nights. But soon, he had even bigger problems.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

32. He Lost His Power

In truth, Puyi's life had began to crumble around him before his marriage. He hadn’t truly been in power since a government coup in 1912, and although loyalists made some attempts to give him back his influence, Puyi was now merely a figurehead. It wasn’t exactly a good place for a megalomaniac like Puyi to be, and it showed…

Puyi facts Legend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

33. He Turned His Wife Onto Hard Substances

Let's be real: Puyi didn't like thinking about other people's needs. Indeed, to avoid having to pay attention to his wife Wanrong, he encouraged a dark habit in her. When she started taking opium to help with headaches, Puyi pushed her along because the substance made her more “manageable". Boy oh boy, would this have tragic consequences in the long run.

Empress Wanrong factsWikimedia Commons

34. He Lived In A Ghost Town

By the 1920s, Puyi’s Forbidden City was becoming, as Wenxiu once put it, a “macabre grave". For one, Puyi’s eunuchs had been slowly pilfering priceless items from the complex, rendering it emptier and emptier. Puyi soon exiled them, and this made the city even more hollowed out. Not that Puyi would be there for much longer...

Puyi facts Legend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

35. He Was Homeless

The revolutionaries must have smelled blood in the water, and they dealt Puyi a crushing blow. The government suddenly changed its mind on the whole “letting Puyi remain a figurehead” thing and stripped away his titles. When they booted him out of the Forbidden City, they gave him and his wives just three hours to leave.

It was a head-spinning upheaval for a man used to people waiting on his every command, and I can’t say Puyi handled the transition well...

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

36. His Home Life Was Tense

As newly private citizens, the Imperial throuple moved to a well-appointed villa in the city of Tianjin called the “Garden of Serenity". It was supposed to be a fresh start, but the cracks started to show immediately: Wanrong and Wenxiu were bored out of their minds and started to compete even more violently for Puyi’s affections, forcing him to buy them identical gifts. Besides that, dark rumors were spreading…

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

37. His Bedroom Life Was Scandalous

Puyi and Wanrong were supposed to be a picture perfect royal couple, except there was one big thing missing. Even though everyone had expected them to provide an heir for the nation, Puyi and his Empress Consort never had any children together. Indeed, some historians believe that they may have never even consummated their union. And their unhappiness started to show...

Empress Wanrong factsWikimedia Commons

38. His Wife Became An Addict

Just after her royal exile, Wanrong’s opium use grew rampant, so much so that people couldn’t fail to notice. Wenxiu even believed the substance was responsible for Wanrong and Puyi’s barren union, sniping one day when she saw Wanrong indulging in the habit, “Why should you take opium? You’d better stab at your belly". And more drama was coming.

Empress Wanrong factsWikipedia

39. He Had A Public Screaming Fit

Around this time, Puyi and Wanrong began to have explosive fights, and they didn’t bother hiding it from their servants. At one point, the household butler heard them having a screaming match in the garden for hours, which included Wanrong calling Puyi a “eunuch,” likely a put down about his bedroom prowess. Except Wanrong wasn't actually the one Puyi had to worry about...

Empress Wanrong factsWikipedia

40. He Had A Bitter Breakup

In 1931, Puyi went through his worst betrayal yet. Wenxiu had long been dissatisfied with her civilian existence, and that year she completely up and left the former Emperor. She abandoned both Puyi and Wanrong to pick up the dysfunctional pieces of their relationship themselves. Forever after, Puyi called it “the treason”—and his rebound was drastic.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

41. He Became A Puppet

Just before his imperial downfall, Puyi had been in contact with the Japanese, and oh man did they get his number. The delegates noted that Puyi was not only vain, he was also malleable, and from that moment on they resolved to make use of him for their own ends. In 1931, that time finally came, and they offered Puyi a throne as a puppet king in Manchukuo.

Vain, malleable, and now going through a horrific divorce, Puyi said yes. It would be his worst mistake.

Empress Wanrong factsWikipedia

42. He Made A Great Escape

Puyi decided to set out for Manchuko—but it was a journey riddled with horrors. First, his wife Wanrong was set against the whole idea in the first place, which doesn't inspire any confidence in me. But more than that, he had to evade Chinese officials who branded him a traitor by hiding in the trunk of a car to escape Tianjin. Hmm Puyi, you think this is a bad idea?

Puyi factsGetty Images

43. He Was A Royal Prisoner

When Puyi finally did make it to Manchukuo, it was a disaster from the very beginning. The Japanese strictly controlled him and limited his powers, just to make sure he knew who was boss. When Wanrong finally followed him, they even refused to let the couple visit each other at first. Then they really hit Puyi where it hurt.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

44. Japan Wouldn’t Give Him What He Wanted Most

Puyi was salivating to become the Emperor again and reclaim his Dragon Throne, but the Japanese would do no such thing. Instead, they called him the “Head of State” and then the “Emperor of Manchukuo,” titles that aggravated the glory-hungry Puyi to no end. But again: He wasn’t the boss here, Japan was. And let me tell you, this got mortifying.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

45. He Lived In A Humiliating Home

Against Puyi’s will, the Japanese made the capital of Manchukuo the industrial city of Changchun, a place Puyi despised because it was the opposite of "luxury". Since the city didn’t even have a palace, Puyi had to move into the old Salt Tax Administration building, earning it the nickname “The Salt Tax Palace". I mean, from Puyi's point of view, yikes.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

46. He Didn’t Listen To The Warnings

In case you’re wondering, everyone was screaming at Puyi to get the heck out of Japan’s sham state and stop being their puppet; his father Prince Chun even travelled over personally to give him the same advice. But, Puyi being Puyi, the cheapest and gaudiest displays of power simply enthralled him too much. Still, something had to give.

Puyi factsWikimedia Commons

47. He Lashed Out

Eventually, Puyi grew desperately unhappy in the Salt Tax Palace, and he started taking it out on everyone but himself. The Japanese rarely allowed him to leave his home, so he spent his days flogging servants or, if he was feeling particularly cruel, denying them food—and all this for minor infractions like “irresponsible conversations". Yet, as always, he was cruelest to his wife.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

48. His Marriage Fell Apart

If 1924 was the year Puyi’s lush existence in the Forbidden City evaporated around him, then 1931 was the year the same happened to any hope for happiness in his marriage. Wanrong was desperately depressed in Manchukuo, and she tried to flee the territory several times by begging random emissaries to secret her out. When this failed, she let out her frustration in other ways.

Empress Wanrong factsWikipedia

49. His Wife Mocked Him

One day, Puyi’s relationship with Wanrong went from lukewarm to acidly bitter. His wife proved this in mortifying ways. She would often perform mocking impressions of her husband for the servants, imitating his jerky movements and wearing a version of his signature glasses. In short, it was all careening out of control—and heading toward a tragic end.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

50. His Became His Worst Nightmare

In the middle of this misery, Puyi retreated further into his fantasies. In fact, he was so self absorbed, he probably didn’t see Wanrong’s treachery coming. Besides hitting the opium harder, his lonely wife started a series of affairs with two of Puyi’s aides, a man named Li Tiyu and another named Qi Jizhong. The way Puyi found out about this was shocking.

Empress Wanrong factsWikimedia Commons

51. His Wife Gave Him An Ultimatum

In 1940, Wanrong received news she couldn’t hide from her husband: She was pregnant, and the child was most definitely not Puyi’s. Nonetheless, Wanrong was determined to keep the baby. She went to Puyi, demanding that he either recognize the child as his, or else let it live outside the royal grounds in anonymity. Puyi did neither.

Empress Wanrong factsGetty Images

52. He Committed An Unforgivable Act

Instead of helping out his wife in any way, Emperor Puyi committed one of the most horrific betrayals in Chinese history. The moment the baby, a little daughter, came into the world, the Emperor ignored Wanrong’s wishes entirely. Instead, he had his aides snatch the girl from her mother’s bosom and then kill the newborn. And he wasn’t finished.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

53. He May Have Told A Huge Lie To His Wife

According to one version of events, Puyi never even told Wanrong about the true fate of her baby. Right after she gave birth, he whisked her away to the hospital without her daughter. When she came back, he lied and said that he was having an outside nanny look after the newborn. Thing is, this option is so much better than what really might have happened…

Empress Wanrong factsWikipedia

54. He Forced His Wife Into Near Madness

Other sources claim that instead of keeping the truth from Wanrong, Puyi mercilessly let it all hang out. The Empress’s response was gut-wrenching. Riddled with grief over the loss of her innocent child, some people say Wanrong gave in completely to opium, existing in a numbed state for the rest of her life. Except…Puyi made sure that life wouldn’t last much longer.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

55. He Refused To Divorce

Although it seemed like the once-royal couple couldn’t sink deeper, there is yet another detail to their tragedy. They simply couldn't leave each other. Puyi considered divorcing Wanrong, but was afraid of the civil unrest it might cause. Wanrong, for her part, also considered leaving countless times, but simply couldn’t give up her aristocratic life. And so they met their dark fates as husband and wife.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

56. He Declared War…And No One Listened

In December 1941, WWII took off, and the world around Puyi ignited in conflict. Following the lead of the Japanese, Puyi declared war from Manchukuo on the United States and Britain. However, because nobody recognized Manchukuo as a true state, he spent most of these years out of the international fray. Until, that is, the very end—when everything exploded.

Empress Wanrong factsGetty Images

57. He Lost His Throne Again

In 1945, Puyi reaped what he sowed...and the results weren’t pretty. The enemy Soviets violently invaded his new kingdom, forcing the Last Emperor of China to abdicate his throne...again. But this only put him in more danger. The Soviets were out for blood, and Puyi knew he needed to flee. Still, this is where his story goes from eyebrow raising to operatic levels of tragedy.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

58. His Palace Became Haunted

It took Puyi a breathlessly long time to decide how to escape. For endless days, he stayed holed up in the Salt Tax Palace with Wanrong, his new concubine Li Yuqin, and other family members. Nonetheless, most of his aides and servants had already fled to save their own hides, while Puyi's personal minder took his own life with a cyanide pill. When Puyi finally did pack his bags, his nightmare began.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

59. He Went On A Runaway Train

Late in the night of August 11, 1945, Puyi took the sorry remainder of his court and boarded a train out of the city along with his most valuable possessions. It was a grim journey: At every station, Japanese colonists clamored for the safety of the train, begging and weeping to be let on. At every station, guards turned them away.

Meanwhile, all Puyi heard was news of Japan’s defeat at the hands of the Soviets, until the Emperor of Japan finally announced the surrender. The game was up—but that’s exactly when Puyi got the most dire news yet.

Puyi factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

60. His Luck Almost Ran Out

As a goodbye present, Soviet forces had bombed many of the train stations across the countryside, leaving Puyi stranded and his train low on coal. With that, he returned to Changchun with his tail between his legs, and began plotting a different escape route via airplane. To get on, he’d have to commit an unbelievable act.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

61. He Abandoned His Wife

See, while Puyi eventually found a way to charter a flight out of the crumbling country, there was just one enormous problem. The flight couldn't fit everyone, and his advisor convinced him he would need all of his men and none of his women. So, if you can believe it, Puyi cruelly left his wife Wanrong behind. Their goodbye was infamous.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

62. He Was Heartless

Wanrong accompanied her husband to the airport to say farewell, and Puyi, never one to relish in emotional moments, really outdid himself that day. As he abandoned his wife in a hostile country, he later snidely remembered that she spent the time “blubbering". It would be the last they’d ever see each other—and Wanrong’s fate was nearly unspeakable.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

63. His Wife Was A Captive

In January of 1946, Chinese guerrillas picked Wanrong up and threw her behind bars. To make matters worse, Wanrong was still addicted to opium, and only had a preciously small stash left. After months in an isolated cell, the former Empress of all China started experiencing harrowing withdrawal symptoms, becoming increasingly frail and unfettered to reality. And yet somehow, it only got worse.

Empress Wanrong factsGetty Images

64. He Ruined His Wife’s Life

In the last days of her life, Puyi’s sins hung heavy over Wanrong’s head. Because everyone knew she was the former Empress, Wanrong’s cell became a public arena for people from miles around the country to drop in and watch her like a zoo animal. This was mortifying enough, but then she suffered a complete mental breakdown…

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

65. His Wife Suffered Unimaginably

For days on end, Wanrong would hallucinate her better years as Puyi's consort, thrashing around and demanding more opium, clothing, food, and baths. Her most tragic utterance, though? One day, Wanrong was so delirious, she began keening and screaming for her long-lost daughter that Puyi had killed. The end was near.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

66. He Didn’t Mourn His Empress

Wanrong’s end was as ugly as they come. On June 20, 1946, she finally expired from malnutrition and the effects of her withdrawal. When Puyi heard about Wanrong’s passing, his response was so disturbing it’s impossible to forget. When someone told him the news a full three years later, he was reportedly emotionless.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

67. There Was One Thing He Couldn’t Talk About

It’s undeniable that Puyi was a horrific husband and all-around terrible person to Wanrong, but despite his coolness at her passing, there are traces of a bottomless, unfathomable remorse inside him for her. In an interview for his memoir Emperor to Citizen, he absolutely refused to discuss the slaying of Wanrong’s newborn child.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

68. He Got His Comeuppance

When Puyi left Wanrong in the dust that day, he earned whatever karma came for him—and it didn’t take long. Literally while en route to his freedom, the Soviet Red Army stopped Puyi’s plane, detained him, and kept him prisoner in a small Siberian town for years. But what went on inside those walls was probably surprising…

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

69. He Couldn’t Face Reality

Although Puyi was now under Soviet control, he still couldn’t relinquish the idea that he was a supreme ruler. The Soviets kept him in relative comfort in a sanatorium, and even allowed him to have servants. Well, they gave an inch, and Puyi took a mile. He demanded his fellow inmates call him emperor, and was infamous for slapping his servants if they angered him in any small way.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

70. He Barely Escaped With His Life

Puyi had fallen far and fast from his days as a boy king, but there was an ironic twist to his fate. At the time of his Soviet captivity, China was desperate to extradite him so they could execute him for high treason. The Soviets stubbornly refused, which almost certainly saved Puyi’s life. When Puyi finally did return to China, it began the last and strangest chapter of his life.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

71. He Had A Big Change Of Heart

In 1949, the Soviets finally struck a deal when Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party came into power, sending Puyi back to his native land after years of exile. By now, instead of executing him, the communists had a different plan: They wanted to convert the Emperor of China into a comrade to prove their political worth. Most bizarrely of all—it worked.

Khrushschev With Mao Zedong In ChinaGetty Images

72. He Couldn’t Take Care Of Himself

Puyi eventually did convert to communism, but it took an immense toll on his body. In order to “remodel” him, Chairman Mao’s men threw the emperor into yet another prison, and this one was no cake walk. For the first time in his life, people expected Puyi to take care of himself, which included basic tasks like brushing his teeth and tying his shoes, which he had never done before. And that wasn’t all.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

73. He Faced His Sins

There was no one left in Puyi’s life to kowtow to him anymore, and his other inmates frequently ridiculed him for how useless he was. Besides this, his guards forced him to face all his wrongdoings as a ruler, confronting him with the families and landscapes he had helped destroy in his despotism. However, they saved their most brutal attacks for his private life.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

74. His Concubine Got Revenge

Puyi never fully faced a reckoning for his hand in Wanrong’s fate, but the Communists did track down his old concubine Li Yuqin—one of the women he had left alongside Wanrong—and allowed her to get a bitter revenge. In a one-on-one session, Li screamed at Puyi for treating her as a mere object. Serves him right, to be honest.

Puyi factsWikipedia

75. He Came To A Reckoning

These years of Puyi’s life wrought a change on the emperor that no one could have predicted. From cruel and flippant, Puyi became remorseful and overcome with grief. He had spent a good long while apparently learning from his errors. And when Puyi went into the public a decade later, people couldn’t believe their eyes.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

76. He Transformed Into A Normal Man

In December 1959, Puyi left his “remodelling” camp and lived in Beijing as a completely normal citizen. Astonishingly, he even got a job as street sweeper. Still, people can only change so much. On the first day, he lost his way and had to tell people, "I'm Puyi, the last Emperor of the Qing dynasty. I'm staying with relatives and can't find my way home".

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

77. He Had A Strange Homecoming

As an average citizen, Puyi also made a heartbreaking homecoming. One of the first things he did was return to the Forbidden City, this time as a tourist instead of an emperor. While there, he helped lead his fellow tourists around, showing them different exhibits, which were actually just his own possessions he hadn’t seen in years. As uncanny as this was, more was around the corner.

World’s Most Iconic Buildings factsWikimedia Commons

78. He Took Another Wife

In 1962, Puyi married again, this time to hospital worker Li Shuxian, Perhaps the most miraculous thing about their relationship is that it was perfectly normal, and they stayed with each other until Puyi passed. Puyi supported himself as a literary editor and worked on his memoir, which would become From Emperor to Citizen. Still, there was one piece of his old life Puyi could never shake.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

79. He Was Clumsy

Until his dying day, Puyi was incredibly clumsy. As one observer put it, he "invariably forgot to close doors behind him, forgot to flush the toilet, forgot to turn the tap off after washing his hands, had a genius for creating an instant, disorderly mess around him". Quite plainly, Puyi had never learned to pick up after himself, and the habit stuck.

Empress Wanrong factsWIkipedia

80. He Had A Little-Known Side

Despite Puyi’s difficulties adapting to normal life, he did have a side to him few people got to see. In his later years, he was fundamentally kind, and he actually liked to take care of people when they fell ill. One day when he knocked over an old lady and injured her, he made sure to visit her in the hospital until she got better.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

81. He Gave Himself An Arrogant Nickname

As proof of how much hope they had for their future—and how far they had to fall—Puyi and Wanrong took up the Westernized names “Henry” and “Elizabeth” when they were first expelled from the Forbidden City. Why hopeful? Because Puyi intended to be as great as King Henry VIII, and he wanted Wanrong to be like Queen Elizabeth I.

Anne Of Cleves factsThe Tudors (2007–2010), Showtime Networks

82. His Passing Was The End Of An Era

By 1966, with the coming of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the tide turned on Puyi, and the younger communists began to show him scorn. Yet the former emperor always did know how to make a well-timed exit: On October 17, 1967, Puyi passed at the age of 61 after suffering kidney cancer and heart complications. At one point in time, he would have received a lavish burial; now, he got a simple cremation.

Empress Wanrong factsShutterstock

83. He Neglected His Wife

Puyi's bedroom relationships with Wanrong were suspect at best. As one of his eunuchs reluctantly confessed years later, he would only visit her room once every three months, and would "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". Likewise, whenever the eunuchs witnessed Puyi with Wanrong in a private moment, their physicality “lacked passion". So what was going on? Well…

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

84. He Had Forbidden Desires

Even people closest to Puyi believed that he had desires for men; as one eunuch said in a veiled reference, Puyi preferred the “land-way” to the “water-way” when it came to his romances. This must have been an incredibly difficult situation for Puyi to be in during the early 20th-century…but that doesn’t make his next moves forgivable.

Empress Wanrong factsThe Last Emperor (1987), Columbia Pictures

85. He Had Violent Tastes

When Puyi got to show his true colors in the bedroom, his worst tendencies came back with a vengeance. He was still the power-hungry little boy he had always been. Puyi openly admitted that he was sadistic in his relationships with women, and this extended in awful ways into his relationships with men, too. He frequently employed teenage pageboys, and one of the members of his court claimed he often mistreated them.

Puyi factsLegend of the Last Emperor (2014–2015), Zhejiang Great Wall Television

Sources:  1, 2, 3


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