Last emperor betrayed by mother

By Malcolm Moore

A Chinese historian believes he has unravelled the mystery of child ruler's abdication from Dragon Throne.

The palace in the Forbidden City is a tourist attraction. Above, the young Puyi in  The Last Emperor . Photo / AP
The palace in the Forbidden City is a tourist attraction. Above, the young Puyi in The Last Emperor . Photo / AP

It has taken more than 100 years to come to light, but the web of intrigue and corruption that toppled China's last emperor has finally been pieced together by a Chinese historian.

Plucked from home before his third birthday and declared a living god, Puyi was taken wailing and screaming to the Forbidden City to continue more than 2000 years of imperial rule.

But just a few years later in 1912, as China boiled with revolution, his adoptive mother, the Empress Dowager Longyu, signed abdication papers forcing him from the Dragon Throne.

Ever since, students of the end of the imperial dynasty have puzzled over why she appeared so willing to do so. Now Jia Yinghua, a 60-year-old historian and former government official, has discovered the answer: she was bribed with 20,000 taels, or 771kg, of silver and warned she might be beheaded if she refused.

"What happened is so sensitive it has taken more than 100 years before it can be revealed," said Jia, who assembled his latest work, The Extraordinary Life of the Last Emperor, from the secret archives at Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leadership compound, and interviews with relations of the imperial courtiers.

Puyi, whose life was immortalised in the film The Last Emperor by Bernardo Bertolucci, is still a figure of public fascination in China. "He was unique," said Jia. "He lived through three dynasties. The entire tumult of China's last century can be summed up in him. He went from emperor to gardener, and in his last years he hung a picture of himself with Chairman Mao on his bedstead."

Indeed the key moments of Puyi's life strike a familiar chord even today, making some of the details of his biography still too sensitive to be published in China.

"The time of his abdication was a time of corrupting and buying government officials," said Jia.

The imperial court in the last days of the Qing dynasty was a shadow of its former self. Foreign countries, particularly the UK, had humbled the Qing in battle, carved out rich territories and extracted huge payments.

Outside the Forbidden City, uprisings were sweeping the land as citizens called for a republic.

In order to stabilise the situation, the court appointed Yuan Shikai, a general with influence over a powerful northern army, to be prime minister.

But according to Jia, Yuan was determined to remove the last emperor from power, by cajoling, threatening and then bribing key figures at court.

After abdicating, Puyi briefly became a puppet ruler for the Japanese in a corner of northeast China that they had conquered.

After the Communist Party came to power, Puyi was treated cordially by Chairman Mao and allowed to live out his days in Beijing. He died in 1967.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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