Because of his age, the little emperor was watched over by his adopted mother, Empress Dowager Longyu and his father who served as regent on his behalf. Opinion varies considerably on Prince Chun, encouraged by the fact that he was quite adept at being acceptable to the powers-that-be at all times. Some view him as a potential reformer, others as a hopeless reactionary. Regardless though, he had relatively little time at the helm of the Chinese Empire before the outbreak of the republican revolution in 1911. The revolt happened almost by accident and was led by the American educated Sun Yat-sen who received the aid of the notorious General Yuan Shihkai. This general had already betrayed the previous emperor, betrayed PuYi and would ultimately betray Sun Yat-sen when after being given the presidency in return for convincing the Qing Dynasty to abdicate he declared himself emperor and tried to found a new dynasty. The Qing were quickly overwhelmed, intimidated and through the persuasion of Yuan Shihkai convinced that they had to come to terms with the revolution in order to survive.
During this period PuYi led a rather uneventful life. There were occasional ceremonies for him to participate in, dignitaries to be received and of course his education at the hands of the mandarins, particularly his tutor Chen PaoShen who was to be one of his closest advisors throughout much of his life. It is interesting to note how many of the republican officials treated the Emperor. China, especially during this period, was a place where everyone tried to keep all bases covered as to whom might one day be in a position to benefit them. When republican officials would come to the Forbidden City on some errand they would often enter in western clothes, deliver their speech on behalf of the republic in a dignified manner and then leave again, don traditional robes, come back in and bow down to address the Emperor as a private individual. There was a constant dance between the imperial court, the republican government and the military warlords who held most of the actual cards, each one paying lip service to the other for momentary support and looking for a chance to gain political power with the little emperor caught in the middle.
|General Chang Hsun
Inside the Forbidden City life went on under the usual routine for PuYi. In the hope of gaining foreign aid and to give the Emperor a more western education a British official named Reginald F. Johnston was employed as tutor to the Emperor. He befriended his pupil and would remain a defender of the last Emperor for the rest of his life, even after certain political problems arose during the 1930's between Britain and some other friends of the last Emperor. It was with Johnston that PuYi chose a name for himself from a list of British monarchs, picking Henry in reference to Henry VIII and so became known by many in the English-speaking world as Emperor Henry of China. In 1922 it was decided that, as he was 16 years old, it was high time for the Emperor to marry. He was given a number of candidates to choose from, but his first choice, the Princess Wen Xiu, was deemed too ugly by the courtiers and so Princess Wan Jung was chosen for the job of wife and Empress with Wen Xiu coming along as concubine.
To be continued in Part II...