Thursday, April 26, 2012

Royal Profile: Prince Pu-Chieh of China

His Imperial Highness Prince Aisin-Gioro Pu-Chieh was born on April 16, 1907 to Prince Chun (Zaifeng) and the Lady Youlan. He is mot well known for being the younger brother of the last Emperor of China. As a child he was taken to the Forbidden City to be a playmate of his brother who had never met another child in his life before that time. Prince Pu-Chieh was taught to treat his brother with extreme deference and was quite happy and relieved to see that he was, in fact, a “normal” child. In his memoir the Emperor relates playing hide-and-seek with his brother and a sister only to become outraged when he noticed Prince Pu-Chieh was wearing a yellow gown -a color reserved for the Emperor alone. Most people know of this incident due to its inclusion in the famous film about “The Last Emperor” but too much can be made of it. The two brothers developed a very close bond and remained devoted to each other for the rest of their lives with very few problems ever arising between them.

Both boys lived very sheltered lives within the Forbidden City and were allowed to do nothing for themselves. Both dreamed of escaping and going abroad to see the world. As they grew older they began to plan for this eventuality. Since he had more freedom to come and go than his brother, Prince Pu-Chieh was tasked with smuggling valuable items out of the Forbidden City to save up for the day when they could effect their getaway. Of course, nothing came of the plan and Prince Pu-Chieh was still with his brother when a republican general evicted them from the Forbidden City, forcing them to relocate, ultimately to the Japanese concession in Tientsin. An informal alliance was already being formed between those around the Emperor and the Japanese who were the only ones willing to help and who were about the only Asian power that was an independent monarchy and still considered monarchy of paramount importance. To some extent it was only natural that the two would come together.

Anything involving the Emperor was delicate but Prince Pu-Chieh was someone who was free to move about, had yet to really establish a role for himself and so was a better candidate for solidifying ties between the Japanese and the Qing Dynasty. Prince Pu-Chieh learned Japanese from a well-connected tutor the Emperor selected for him and he began to enquire about going to Japan to study, perhaps even to attend the Imperial Japanese Army Academy. He was told this would not be possible right away but that another school could certainly be found to give Pu-Chieh the proper educational preparation. The only potential complication was that in 1924 the Prince had married the Manchu Princess Tung Shih-hsia. However, as the two had no children it was not considered a totally “solidified” marriage as most would understand it and so would not prevent him from going off on his own.

So, in 1929, Prince Pu-Chieh was, with the permission of his brother, sent to Japan to be educated. He attended Gakushuin Peers’ School, an institution for educating the sons of Japanese nobles and he was talented enough to be admitted to the Imperial Japanese Army Academy from which he graduated as an officer in July of 1935. By that time the Japanese had already helped establish the Empire of Manchukuo over which the last Qing Emperor was reigning as Emperor Kang Teh. After his graduation from the Japanese military academy, Prince Pu-Chieh joined his brother in Manchukuo and the Japanese authorities began discussing with the Emperor the marriage of his brother to a Japanese lady of appropriate rank to further strengthen the ties between them. The Emperor agreed and the Kwantung Army (the Japanese military presence in Manchuria) provided a selection of appropriate brides for Prince Pu-Chieh to choose from. Like his brother before him, he had to choose his wife simply from looking over a collection of photographs. His choice was a distant relative of the Japanese Imperial Family, Lady Hiro Saga. As it turned out, he had made a very fine choice.

Prince Pu-Chieh returned to Japan to collect his bride-to-be and on February 2, 1937 they held their formal engagement ceremony at the Manchukuo embassy in Tokyo. On April 3 the two were married at the Imperial Army Hall in Kudanzaka, Tokyo. In the fall the newlyweds moved to Hsinking (Changchun) in Manchukuo to be near the Emperor. Part of the reason for the Japanese insistence on this marriage was because the Emperor had no children and so, in Manchukuo at least, Prince Pu-Chieh was heir to the throne. They were determined that by this marriage the future Imperial Family of Manchukuo would be a mixture of Manchu and Japanese royal bloodlines. Because of all of these political considerations it would be easy to dismiss the marriage of Prince Pu-Chieh and Princess Hiro Saga as being merely for show; all form and no substance. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The two were extremely devoted to each other and their commitment remained steadfast throughout the years and all the political turmoil (including a world war) that was soon to come. Prince Pu-Chieh truly loved his wife and she him.

In Manchukuo, Prince Pu-Chieh did his best to assist his brother and promote Manchu-Japanese friendship. Because of his position and military training he was appointed to the (largely ceremonial) post of commander of the Imperial Guard. In 1939 he became a father for the first time when Princess Hiro Saga gave birth to their daughter, HIH Princess Huisheng. A son, it was hoped, would follow, but this was not to be. In 1941 another baby was born, another daughter, HIH Princess Yunsheng. Prince Pu-Chieh was proud of his family and devoted to them, however, he also continued his military training, even after the onset of World War II, returning to Japan for a short time in 1944 to attend the Army Staff College. The worsening war situation necessitated his return to Manchukuo where, in the final days of the war, after the U.S. had already dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, the Soviet Union broke their non-aggression pact and invaded in August 1945. The Imperial Family was split up with the Empress and Princess Hiro Saga and the children trying to reach Japan via Korea and the Emperor and Prince Pu-Chieh trying to reach Japan by airplane, hoping to avoid the communists at all cost and surrender themselves to the Americans who would possibly treat them with more fairness.

Unfortunately, the evacuation was not fast enough and Prince Pu-Chieh was captured along with the Emperor and his entourage before their plane could take off. They spent the next five years in prison in Siberia before, in a new show of Sino-Soviet friendship, they were handed over to the Communist Chinese government in 1950. With his brother he was held at the Fushun War Criminals Prison to undergo “reeducation through labor”. During his years of confinement he learned in a letter from his wife in Japan that his eldest daughter had been murdered. Whether the indoctrination he received worked or if the Prince was putting on an act for the authorities, we will never know, but the official story is that Prince Pu-Chieh was a model prisoner even, toward the end of his term, writing propagandistic plays extolling the “New China” and ridiculing her enemies. After he was released he was reunited with his wife, Princess Hiro Saga, in 1961 who had faithfully waited for him and left her own country to live in China with him. The two resumed their married life as if no time at all had elapsed. Like the rest, Prince Pu-Chieh joined the Chinese Communist Party and was given a number of minor government positions as a show of how the Maoist system could “reform” anyone.

Princess Hiro Saga died in 1987 and the grief of Prince Pu-Chieh was clearly evident in the media coverage of her funeral. Previously that year he had served as an advisor on the famous film “The Last Emperor”, the first time the Chinese government allowed foreign film crews inside the Forbidden City. HIH Prince Aisin-Gioro Pu-Chieh died on February 28, 1994 at the age of 86.


  1. Both Pu Yi and Pu Chieh could be criticised for allowing themselves to be used as propoganda tools, for the Mao dictatorship. But both men faced a certain death sentence if they had not co-operated. I have always liked to believe that despite paying lip service to Maoist claptrap, both the Emperor and his brother remained loyal to the Q`ing dynasty, in their hearts.

    1. I would like to think so as well, and there's really no way of knowing. However, even if they were (or thought they were) being sincere, I still cannot hold it against them. They would not be the first to succumb to the psychological pressure to sympathize with their captors and both were subjected to years of brainwashing. Both said the Communists were fair, considerate and helpful -but of course they would not have been allowed to say anything else. Mao wanted to use them as living symbols of the Maoist version of "New Soviet Man" and if they proved unsatisfactory they would certainly have been killed.


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