For over 2000 years, China was ruled by an emperor. Chinese chose their emperors strategically, and this mostly happened after a vote of no confidence was passed or when the emperor dies. When the current emperor passed on, typically his oldest son would be the heir of the throne. This, however, wasn’t always the case. Sometimes, political conflicts would arise over who should become emperor, and there are times when this would lead to war with any rivals.
When it comes to the title, the Chinese word for ‘Emperor’ is ‘Huangdi’ which was used across the country. While that was the main title, the Chinese used several words to refer to their emperor, some of which were ‘His Holy Highness’, and ‘the Lord of 10,000 years. The words of the Chinese emperor were seen as final and were considered sacred. Also, the people of China believed that the emperor was under the mandate of heaven. That means if they didn’t do a good job, the title was stripped away from them.
That said, the first Chinese emperor was Zheng, who proclaimed himself Qin Shi Hang, which meant the first sovereign emperor of the land. He ruled the Qin dynasty from 221 to 206 BC. Now that we understand the regime background in China and have acquainted ourselves with the first emperor of China, who is the last? Read on to find out!
Who is the last emperor of China?
The last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, who is also the last emperor of China is known as Aisin-Gioro Puyi. He lived through the fall of his empire, World War II, and the 2nd Sino-Japanese War, the founding of the Peoples Republic of China, and the Chinese Civil War.
He was born on the 7th of February 1906, to Prince Chun of the Asian-Gioro clan of the Manchu royal family, one of the most influential families in China. He had tight family ties with the de facto ruler of China, who was Empress Dowager Cixi at the time. When the Guangxu Emperor, his uncle, died of arsenic poisoning in 1908, he was selected by the empress as the new emperor. At the time, he was a very little boy; but because the empress died the next day, her word was final.
When was the last emperor of China?
In 1912, specifically on February 12, Puyi was forced to abdicate. This happened after Sun Yatsen’s republican revolution. Immediately after, they established a provisional government to replace his regime. This governmental shift significantly ended 2,000 years of imperial rule and 267 years of Manchu rule in China.
Why was the last emperor of China overthrown?
Unfortunately, emperor Puyi retired about three times during the period between 1912 and 1945. In 1912, the primary reason for his abdication was the outbreak of the Chinese Revolution of 1911. His government saw that the general situation was coupled with the temptation and coercion of Yuan Shikai and other leaders, so he felt threatened and chose to abdicate. During this time, he lost the power of the emperor but still retained the prestige of the emperor. Based on this background, we can say that the first abdication in 1912 wasn’t necessarily real abdication.
In 1917, Puyi abdicated again in the small court and did the same in 1945. During world war II, Japan invaded and occupied about 3 provinces in the eastern parts of China. There was a crazy uproar in the international community during that year because they thought that Japan disrupted the international order that was stabilized after World War I. Following multiple condemnation notices and questioning, Japan decided to support the puppet regime in the Northeast to ease the pressure of international public opinion. The best puppet for this was Puyi.
This further enabled Puyi to reestablish the Manchukuo regime and regain his title. Because he was under Japan’s mercy, when Japan was defeated in 1945, Puyi lost his power and had to announce his abdication again. The only difference is that this time around, it was a lot more embarrassing following the Chinese document (an abdication edict) that officially overthrew him.
What happened to the last emperor of China?
Towards the end of World War II, emperor Puyi was imprisoned by the Russians, and he was taken back to China in 1950 for thorough trials as a war criminal. The communists did not want to kill him, so they preferred to make him a communist through several years of reeducation. At this time, he had to learn more about revolution.
In 1959, he was pardoned, and he chose to start over his life in Beijing, China. He pursued research as a new career in the institute of literature and history, which was a popular sector under the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference. During this time, he wrote his autobiography that was published in 1965.
Afterward, he became a revolutionary hero and was treated as such and was under protective custody until the time of his death.
Puyi has five wives.Puyi’s first concubine was Erdet Wenxiu, second wife Wanrong, third Tan Yuling, fourth wife Li Yuqin, and fifth Li Shuxian.
Wenxiu (20 December 1909 – 17 September 1953), also known as Consort Shu and Ailian , was a consort of Puyi, the last Emperor of China and final ruler of the Qing dynasty. She was from the Mongol Erdet Clan and her family was under the Bordered Yellow Banner of the Eight Banners.
Wanrong ( November 1906 – 20 June 1946), also known as Xuantong Empress, of the Manchu Plain White Banner Gobulo clan, was the wife and empress consort of Puyi, the Xuantong Emperor of China. She was titular Empress consort of the Qing dynasty from 1922 until abolition of the monarchy in 1924.She was also Empress consort of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo from 1934 until abolition of the monarchy took place in 1945. She was posthumously honoured with the title Empress Xiaokemin.
During the Soviet invasion of Manchuria at the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1945, Wanrong was captured by Chinese Communist guerrillas and transferred to different locations before she was settled in a prison camp in Yanji, Jilin. She died in prison in June 1946 and her remains were never found. On 23 October 2006, Wanrong’s younger brother, Runqi, conducted a ritual burial for her in the Western Qing tombs.
Tan Yuling, Noble Consort Mingxian (born Tatara Yuling; 11 August 1920 – 14 August 1942), was a concubine of China’s last emperor Puyi. She married Puyi when the latter was the nominal emperor of the puppet state of Manchukuo during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Her given name “Yuling” is sometimes transliterated into English as “Jade Years”.
Yuling was born to the prosperous Tatara clan in Beijing. Her father Zhaoxu was a high-ranking warlord who administered the area around Beijing and Tianjin, and her mother, Lady Ok, was a high-ranking Korean courtesan from Hamhung. Yuling’s two aunts were in the Guangxu Emperor’s harem as Consort Jin and Consort Zhen. Even after the Qing Dynasty fell, the Tatara clan continued to be very prosperous, but they changed their names to Tan, to avoid being discriminated for their Manchu ethnicity.
In early 1937, when Tan was still attending a middle school in Beijing, she was chosen to be a wife of Puyi and she travelled to Manchukuo’s capital Hsinking (Changchun). On 6 April, she married Puyi in the Hsinking palace and was given the title of Imperial Concubine Xiang. She became very close to Puyi after their marriage and in time, she became Noble Consort Xiang and became the manager of the Imperial Harem, as Empress Xiaokemin was not in favour anymore. Yuling reviled the Japanese.
Tan died in 1942 while being treated for cystitis, in less than a day after her Japanese doctor gave her an injection. The circumstances surrounding her death were suspicious because Tan was said to have resented the Japanese for being controlling over Puyi. Kwantung Army staff officer Yoshioka Yasunori, who was an attaché to the Manchukuo imperial household, once urged Puyi to take a Japanese bride, but Puyi had already married Tan, so he ignored Yoshioka. Yoshioka was said to be unhappy about this. Following Tan’s death, Puyi was again pressed by Yoshioka to choose a Japanese spouse, but he refused.
Puyi granted Tan the posthumous title of Noble Consort Mingxianand held a funeral for her in Banruo Temple in Hsinking. After the fall of Manchukuo in 1945, following the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, Puyi ordered Tan’s remains to be cremated and the ashes sent to her relatives in Beijing. Puyi kept a photograph of Tan with him until his death in 1967.
Li Yuqin (15 July 1928 – 24 April 2001), sometimes referred to as the “Last Imperial Concubine” , was the fourth wife of China’s last emperor Puyi. She married Puyi when the latter was the nominal ruler of Manchukuo, a puppet state established by the Empire of Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Li Shuxian (4 September 1924 – 9 June 1997), was the fifth and last wife of Puyi, the last emperor of the Qing dynasty in China.
She was a Han Chinese and a former hospital worker. In 1959, after ten years in prison, Puyi was pardoned. The pair were introduced to one another by a friend in 1962 and wed that same year. Premier Zhou Enlai greeted their marriage. They had no children. She accompanied Puyi to his last days.
Where was the last emperor of China buried?
Puyi, who was China’s last emperor died in the October of 1967. He was only 61 at the time and succumbed to kidney cancer. Immediately after he died, his ashes were placed in a cheap wooden basket, but 13 years later, he was recognized as a revolutionary hero and given a resting spot among all the other revolutionary martyrs in Babaoshan Cemetery. After another 15 years of societal reform, he was moved to the Western Qing tombs.
Puyi, started as an emperor when he was about two to three years old. His regime was quite adventurous and had multiple events going on at the time. At one point, he was overthrown by the Nationalists of China, then he became a puppet rule with Japan’s support. Also, he was incarcerated as a war criminal by Russia, and from an emperor, he ended up as a gardener. Even so, he had a revolutionary send-off through the royal mourning hall and the driving of his remains in a Japanese limousine.
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