Friday, November 2, 2012

Understanding the Last Emperor, Part II

Continued from Part I

Married life made the Emperor feel more like his own man and shortly thereafter he decided that if he could not rule China he would at least rule the Forbidden City in line with his own ideas. He had, especially through the influence of Johnston, become something of a radical liberal by the standards of the staunch Chinese traditionalists. He wanted reform and modernization and shocked the court when he cut off his queue and appointed a new chamberlain, Cheng Hsiao-hsu, and attempted a crackdown on the black market sale of antiques from the palace. When he met resistance on this front from those entrenched at court, particularly the eunuchs who had been his only constant companions since childhood, he expelled the eunuchs from the Forbidden City. This was quite an undertaking considering the ancient and powerful position of the eunuchs and the fact that there were still roughly 1,200 of them living in the Forbidden City. What would have come of this new effort to create his own society inside the palace walls we will never know. In 1924 another warlord seized Peking. This time it was a Communist, who ironically also claimed to be a Christian, named General Feng Yuxiang, who ordered PuYi and the entire court to evacuate the Forbidden City immediately.

PuYi considered several destinations to relocate to but eventually settled in the foreign section of Tientsin, specifically in the Japanese legation. Here he had more freedom than he had ever enjoyed in the traditional confines of the Forbidden City and preferred the modern conveniences and cosmopolitan atmosphere he had never known before. He was generally treated with great respect by the representatives of foreign nations, still given the respect due an emperor and was able to dress in western clothes and adopt western practices. This is something most Chinese people were doing anyway but it upset some of his more traditional courtiers who thought it beneath the dignity of the Lord of 10,000 Years to look and act like a European playboy. He also never gave up hope of restoring the Qing Empire and was in constant contact with Chinese loyalists, his Manchurian relatives and the always fickle warlords who demanded a lot of money but delivered only promises. He was also conspicuously well treated by the Japanese who convinced him that they had his best interests at heart, and as fellow believers in the superiority of monarchy and the imperial system, were entirely supportive of his restoration.

There were problems and worries for the Emperor too in Tientsin. The rest of China was engulfed in the civil war between the republican government and communist revolutionaries. In 1931 Princess Wen Xiu, tired of being the second class wife, sought and obtained a divorce from the Emperor, something unprecedented in Chinese imperial history but rather keeping with the more modern lifestyle he had adopted in Tientsin. Most significantly however was when republican troops raided and sacked the tombs of the Qing emperors. For any Chinese raised with the traditional Confucian moral code of filial piety this was a terrible outrage. PuYi was especially incensed to learn that the grave of the Empress Dowager had been desecrated and pearls from her headdress given to the wife of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to decorate the toes of her shoes. PuYi vowed to those around him to avenge this wrong and to restore the Qing and the dignity of his ancestors, declaring that if he did not do so then he was no Aisin-Gioro.

What seemed like his chance to do so came in 1932 when the Japanese, who had occupied Manchuria with little resistance from official Chinese republican forces, approached the Emperor about returning to power in his ancestral homeland. It took a little negotiation to get PuYi to go along with the idea, especially when it was made clear that this would be a new state and not a restoration of the Qing Empire. Further, PuYi was rather insulted when the Japanese insisted that he be installed first as Chief Executive rather than as a monarch. The Japanese knew that an immediate restoration of the Qing Empire would be overreaching and could be little justified to the outside world. However, there was no doubt that the Emperor was the legitimate hereditary ruler of the Manchu people and this was where a restoration had to start. Japan also knew that if this was going to be accepted by the international community, they would have to play by the rules of the day, which meant "Chief Executive" before "Emperor". The Emperor's longtime advisor Chen Pao-shen was totally opposed to the idea and favored what seemed the safer course of trying to restore the Articles of Favorable Treatment and regaining the good graces of republican China. Others, however, like Cheng Hsiao-hsu and Lo Chen-yu impressed upon him that this was an opportunity that might never come again and the Japanese promised that he would resume his imperial status at an appropriate time in the future. PuYi finally agreed to the enterprise on a trial basis and if he did not become emperor after a certain amount of time he would resign and resume his life as an exile.

PuYi was taken to Manchuria and on March 1, 1932 was formally installed as the Chief Executive of the State of Manchukuo. As the Japanese were continuing their expansion in China this attracted the attention of the League of Nations which sent a delegation to Manchuria to determine whether or not Manchukuo was a legitimate nation which reflected the will of the Manchu people or simply a puppet state of Japan. As was often the case, the commission seemed mostly concerned with the opportunities this offered for other foreign nations rather than focusing on the stated intent of their mission. Nonetheless, the commission, led by the British Earl of Lytton, eventually reported that Manchuria was and would remain Chinese though some degree of autonomy was suggested. This prompted Japan to resign from the League of Nations, deeply offended, and no further action was taken on the part of the international community. Once the Japanese were better entrenched and the Manchu government better established they agreed to restore the imperial dignity to the head of state.

In 1934 PuYi was formally enthroned as Emperor of Manchukuo, taking the reign name of Kang Teh or Tranquility and Virtue of the Great Manchu Empire. This new status did not, though, ease his relationship with the Japanese which was difficult even at the very start of his new reign. The problems were not serious but should be mentioned simply because so many claim that the Emperor was only a pliant tool of the Japanese when, in fact, they two did not always agree completely on everything. For example, PuYi could not bear the idea of being enthroned in anything but the traditional robes of a Chinese emperor. The Japanese, on the other hand, insisted that he wear Manchukuo military uniform. This was, after all, Manchukuo and not the Qing Empire and this might cause difficulty with those who wanted a distinct and independent Manchuria, remaining apart from China. In the end it was agreed that PuYi would be enthroned in uniform but wear traditional regalia when he announced his accession to Heaven at a recently constructed earthen altar. PuYi was, nonetheless, filled with hope for the future, especially after a formal visit to Japan where he was warmly received by Emperor Hirohito. He announced that Japan and Manchukuo were partners and friends and that he intended to produce an heir to secure the succession.

The Japanese, however, were not too enthusiastic about his talk of Japan and Manchukuo being partners, insisting on being treated as the actual power in the country which they were. Many in Japan did not see this as unreasonable and no different from the way the British, for example, interacted with client monarchies in the Empire of India. There were also those in Japan who disagreed and wanted a true and equal partnership between the Manchu and Japanese nations. Most western powers, not surprisingly, dismissed Manchukuo as no more than a Japanese puppet state, particularly after the start of World War II in the Pacific. Some countries did open diplomatic relations with Manchukuo such as of course Japan, the Kingdom of Italy and Nazi Germany as well as General Franco in Spain, Marshal Petain of the Vichy regime in France, Pope Pius XI, the pro-Japanese Republic of China under Wang Qinghui (the only Chinese republicans to recognize the restoration of their former emperor), El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and surprisingly the Soviet Union as well as a few others. 

Emperor "Henry" was never successful in producing an heir however and he was obliged to designate his brother, Prince Pu Chieh, as his successor who was married to the Japanese Princess Hiro Saga but even she bore only daughters. In 1939 the Emperor took another wife which also caused some friction with the Japanese who wanted him to take a Japanese wife. This also illustrates a hole in the logic of biased westerners who insist that the Japanese were full of racial bigotry against other Asians. They wanted to cement their alliance with a royal marriage, something very traditional and, to put it in a western context, no one at the time would have considered for a minute having a British princess married to a King of the Zulus for example. This was also nothing new as, at that time, the Crown Prince of Korea had also taken a Japanese wife and she very much adopted the Korean people as her own. Still, the Emperor of Manchukuo resisted the idea of having a Japanese bride and so, once again, another compromise was worked out by which PuYi married a Han Chinese girl named Tan Yuling. She was educated by the Japanese-operated school system, which made her acceptable to them, and was only a teenager so the Emperor hoped she would be politically innocent.

To be concluded in Part III...

1 comment:

  1. There are several words to describe this blog, but I will only use one. OUTSTANDING.



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