The Last Emperor of China
As the figure was depicted in the book, “Cixi was a complex and able woman, though also tough-minded and ruthless when she considered it necessary” (Spence, 209). There was no doubt that Cixi, as the most powerful person in the end of Qing dynasty, made significant historic influences on China, even the world. Contrarily, as the last emperor of China, Puyi did not make any big influence on Qing dynasty and the history of modern China. However, his life was dramatic. His experiences were unusual. He witnessed the fall of Qing dynasty, the founding of Republic of China governed by Kuomingtang (the Nationalist Party) and the Republic of China governed by Communist Party. He experienced WWII, second Sino-Japanese War and Chinese Civil War. Puyi witnessed the history of modern China. Although Puyi was the emperor of China, Puyi didn’t seize the real power of the country for a single day. History made a big joke on Puyi. The only thing he could do is to accept the reality.
In 1800s, western industrial and political revolution was spreading worldwide. Western countries went to China, trying to expand their influences and power within the biggest country in the East. However, China retains a feudal society that has existed for over 2,000 years. Finally, the Europeans had to open the big market through war. The various domestic and foreign tensions rose in China rapidly. Later, “civil unrest and local conflicts between competing warlords were widespread” (Movie). Puyi was summoned to be the emperor in such a turbulent time when he was only two years old. He had no choice and he was not able to make choice when history came and granted the throne onto him. However, because of Cixi’s absolute political power, Puyi remained isolated in his Palace in Beijing, the Forbidden City, in his childhood. “No parents were allowed to accompany. Puyi was terrified by the Palace and lived his childhood naively.
During the period that Puyi was isolated in his Palace, Sun Yat-sen founded the Republic of China, while Yuan Shikai declared himself the emperor, which rose a number of provinces rebels and arms against Yuan. Puyi was protected by the British embassy, where his teacher Johnston “was not bounded by Chinese traditions and introduced the boy emperor to western technology and thinking. Puyi was shocked by the outside amazing world. He wanted to experience for himself” (Movie). Compared with the conservative Manzu people, “Puyi was brave to cut his pigtail in feudal time” (Movie) and his plan was to go abroad and study.
A battle between rival warlords resulted in the arrest of the President of the Republic. The general declared that there would be no peace as long as the Emperor of Ching remained in the Forbidden City. “Puyi, then, had no choice but left the Forbidden City to outside the world” (Movie). Now, he could choose either to accept the situation or to fight to regain his empire. Puyi wished to regain his power as an emperor in the first half of his life. “He asked his teacher Johnston for help to go to Britain but was refused” (Movie). The Japanese finally accepted and cultivated Puyi because he was still the symbolic head of the Manchu. Puyi became the head of Japanese puppet state. Witnessing the invasion of Japanese army to China, “Puyi reluctantly accepted the offer to be the leader of Manchu Nation, which is separated from China and created by Japanese” (Movie). He naively thought that Japanese would recognize his authority and power of the emperor of China. “As the executive ruler, in theory, Puyi can exercise legislative, administrative and jurisdictional authority to appoint government officials and to command the army and air forces. But he quickly discovered that the real power rested in the General Affairs, which is directly controlled and stopped by the Japanese army” (Movie). Puyi gradually realized that his throne was pointless without Japanese recognition. However, as a nominal emperor without any power and army. The only thing he could do is obedience.
As the defeat of fascists, the Soviet Union joined the war against the Japanese. Puyi was arrested by the Soviet Union. “Although Puyi went to the Soviet Union as a prisoner, he was satisfied with the life there” (Movie). He once asked Stalin if he can stay in the Soviet Union permanently. From Puyi, we could see the historical necessity of the fall of Qing dynasty. Compared with regaining his power as a Manchu emperor without any supports, Puyi preferred to live the rest of his life comfortably.
During the period that Puyi was prisoned in the Soviet Union, Kuomingtang was defeated by the Communists. The People’s Republic China was founded. Puyi was not dare to go back to his country. Although he has had no real power in his life, he committed too many criminals because he did not and was not able to do anything. “Conspiring with the Japanese to revive the feudal Manzhu dynasty, signing treasonous treaty with the enemy, willingly complying with Japanese wishes and endorsing policies and laws, endangering lifes, participating in anti-communist agreements, supporting the war of aggression and destroying evidence and attempting to abscond to Japan”(Movie), any of these crimes would be reasonable enough to have him executed. However, Mao indicated that although Puyi committed serious crimes, it made no sense to execute him. “It was far more useful to reeducate him to serve the people” (Movie). Puyi was protected by Chairman Mao and Premier Zhou’s amnesty. Puyi was also recommended to write something of his life for the next generations. Mao and Zhou also arranged for him to be elected into a prestigious National Committee. As Puyi said, he had no freedom and power in the first half of his life as the most powerful person in the country as an emperor; however, in the new China, it was his first time to feel free and had right to vote for his country as one of millions of Chinese. “In the past half of my life, I had always been served and reliant on others. Today, in the latter half of my life, I am proud self-reliant worker” (Movie).
Spence didn’t use too many words to introduce Puyi, who played a negligible role in modern China history. However, Puyi witnessed the most significant and influential history of modern China. Although Puyi was the last emperor of China, it makes no sense to force him to be responsible for the fall of Qing dynasty. Puyi was made by history. Puyi’s words also provide us valuable information to review China’s history and Qing dynasty. I’d like to use Premier Zhou’s words to finish my discussion of Puyi: “you were two years old when you were summoned to be the emperor; you should not be responsible for those things happened in that time; however, you should be responsible for your own country in the time of the puppet state of Manchu”.