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The photograph below reminded me of the 1987 biopic of “Henry” Pu-yi, The Last Emperor of China and the twelfth and final ruler of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty. This is not a post about the film but it is a short bio of the Son of Heaven, as the last emperor was known.

He was two years old when he ascended the throne. The Xinhai Revolution overthrew the dynasty (1912) when he was six and established a new republic. The Imperial household was allowed to stay in the residential palaces in the Forbidden City. They receive a generous allowance from Republic of China. 

After his confused marriages (1922), Henry began to take control of the Household Department. He described “an orgy of looting” which involved “everyone from the highest to the lowest” of servant eunuchs. Consequently  the Palace of Established Happiness burned to the ground 1n 1923. Henry suspected arson to cover theft. He overheard conversations that made him fear for his life so he expelled the eunuchs from the Forbidden City. 

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eunuch of the imperial court of the last dynasty, Peking, 1949

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eunuch of the imperial court of the last dynasty, Peking, 1949

A year later, he was expelled from the Forbidden City himself and lost his imperial title in yet another coup. The disgruntled former emperor fled to Japanese-controlled Tianjin. There he and his advisers conspired with the Japanese to overthrow the current Chinese government and restore the Qing Dynasty. The best the politically unsavvy Henry Pu-yi could muster was to be named the Emperor of Manchukuo, a Japanese puppet state in northeastern China, from 1932 to 1945.  

The rest of his life is (not too favorably) explained in a TIME piece entitled: 

The Last Emperor’s Humble Occupation 

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NOTE: I don’t know if the eunuch shown here was a looter or what he did with himself between 1923 and 1949 when Henri Cartier-Bresson took this photograph.

 

 

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