Emperor Xuantong (1909 – 1912)

Xuantong or Puyi, as he was commonly known, was the 12th and final ruler of the Qing Dynasty. He ruled as Emperor Xuantong from 1909 till 1912. He was the son of Prince Chun – Emperor Guangxu’s brother and nephew of Empress Dowager Cixi, who governed the Chinese Empire for many years prior.

Puyi was picked to succeed the throne by Empress Dowager Cixi on her death bed. He was only 2 years and 10 months old when he was chosen as the next ruler. In the time that he spent as the emperor, he was still in infancy – he had to be carried to the throne by his father during the coronation ceremony. Puyi’s stint as Emperor Xuantong was very brief because three years later, in 1912 he was abdicated due to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty.

He was briefly restored to the throne in 1917 by warlord Zhang Xun who wished to pledge loyalty to the Empire, however the restoration failed due to mass opposition all over China and an attack by another warlord Duan Qirui. Puyi was eventually expelled from the Forbidden City palace in 1924 by warlord Feng Yuxiang.

In 1932, Puyi was appointed by the Empire of Japan to become the emperor of the puppet state of Manchukuo. He resented this fact, as he wanted instead to be fully restored as the Qing Emperor of China. This would never come to fruition due to the events of WWII, and the eventual Communist Revolution in China. After testifying in the International Military Tribunal for aiding the Japanese invasion force against his will, he was sent to the Fushun War Criminals Management Centre in Liaoning until his reform and release in 1959. Upon his return to Peking, he embraced Mao Zedong’s Communist reforms, and worked as an editor in the literary department for the Communist Party’s official publication.

He lived in Peking with his wife Li Shuxian until his death in 1967 as a result of heart disease and kidney failure. His legacy lives on in China as the “Last Qing Emperor”, as well as his auto-biography titled “From Emperor to Citizen”, which details his testimony at the Tokyo War Crimes trial.


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