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.
The Emperor hoped he would finally have the opportunity to prove himself as an independent ruler but he was hampered by the degree to which Manchukuo depended on Japan for security and economic development. As Japan was the primary source of investment in Manchukuo, they naturally had the most influence in the country. Both then and in the years since this has been exaggerated to ridiculous proportions. However, because Japan was the primary source of support for the new regime and because the Emperor desired to show solidarity with Japan during times of increasing difficulty, the Emperor signed into law many directives to show that Manchukuo stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Japan. Some of these, such as Japanese being made the official language taught in Manchukuo schools, have since caused a great deal of unfair criticism to be heaped on the Emperor. However, in every government position it was a Manchu who held the top ministerial role with the Japanese being restricted to the position of deputy ministers. Many critics hold Manchukuo and Japan to an unfair standard in this regard, ignoring other countries which acted similarly. The United States, for example, recognized the independence of The Philippines after World War II but still imposed many conditions to give American interests a favored position and to maintain American military forces in the country.
Enemies of the Empire of Manchukuo, in and outside the country, worked tirelessly to spread fear and paranoia about the Japanese presence in the country. Especially after the start of World War II any person who died or left the country was immediately accused of having been assassinated by the Japanese. Even the Emperor’s consort, Tan Yuling, who died in 1944 is an example of this. Despite the lack of any evidence at all that she died of anything but natural causes it is still widely held, whether outright or through innuendo, that she was murdered by Japanese doctors after opposing their influence in Manchukuo. What is certain is that the Japanese officials always treated the Emperor with the utmost respect and, though he later expressed misgivings, the Emperor gave his full support to Japan and the “holy war” for Greater East Asia and showed this support by proclaiming Shinto as the official state religion of Manchukuo. And yet, the Emperor himself was not immune from the fear-mongering going on throughout the country. Concerns about security became causes for suspicion and in time the Emperor himself became very worried about his safety and constantly consulted Buddhist oracles and delved into divination to try to protect himself. Empress Wan Jung dealt with the situation by becoming addicted to opium, a fact which particularly distressed the Emperor as his mother had died of an opium overdose when he was young.
In actuality, the life of the Emperor had in a way regressed to what it had been like for him as a boy in the Forbidden City, only with a change in handlers. He signed what documents the Japanese put before him, he followed their advice on who he was to meet and what he was to say and was not allowed to leave the palace unless the trip had been cleared by the Japanese and he was accompanied by an official escort. Today this is all portrayed in the most negative light possible, yet is little different from the role of any constitutional monarch and, indeed, was not terribly dissimilar to what life was like for the Emperor of Japan at the same time. There was a war going on and it would not be the first or only time that progress toward greater independence for a client state was put on hold because of an on-going conflict. Moreover, the conflict was increasingly going against Japan and by extension for Manchukuo. Japanese security around the Emperor and his own paranoia only increased as the defeat of Japan loomed closer. This is unfortunate because the Emperor was legitimately popular among the native Manchu people, if for no other reason than that he was one of their own. Even those who grumbled about the Japanese being too heavy-handed still felt sympathy for their Emperor in whom they saw a brief vision of their former glory and status. And though things were far from ideal, it was lost on no one that without Japan the restoration would never have hapened at all, and if they were defeated the restored monarchy was surely doomed. When the end finally came PuYi hoped to fly to Japan where he could surrender to the Americans, but unfortunately for him, he was overtaken by the Russian invasion, captured and placed under house arrest in the Soviet Union for five years. Having long held the Communists to be the worst of all revolutionary, republican groups, he was certain that his fate was sealed.
His fear turned out to be misplaced. The Russians, for their own part, cared very little about him. The Soviet Union had, after all, originally recognized Manchukuo as a legitimate country and had only declared war on Japan at the last minute, after the atomic bomb had been dropped and Japan was all but defeated, in order to grab territory and extend their influence in the Far East. The actual state of mind of the former Chinese Emperor, at this period, is hard to estimate. He made gushing overtures to Joseph Stalin about how his mind had been liberated by reading Karl Marx, yet at the same time he named a cousin to be his successor in the imperial line. Was he genuinely being changed or was he simply throwing himself at the mercy of the powers that be as he had done before with the Chinese republic? He had, after all, testified at the war crimes trials in Tokyo in 1946 and claimed that he had been kidnapped by the Japanese, used against his will as their instrument and pleaded his total opposition to these people to whom he had once expressed his deepest thanks, loyalty and admiration to. Which stance represents his true beliefs? Only PuYi himself could say for sure and his story changed constantly. He was hardly in a position to be perfectly honest with anyone.
Whatever his feelings about Marxist doctrine he certainly did not want to go back to China and fall into Red Chinese hands, certain that he would face death at their hands. The Soviets soon grew uncomfortable keeping him and realized they could not use him to their benefit. So, as a gesture of friendship to the government of Chairman Mao Tse-tung who had recently seized power; even standing triumphantly over the gates of the Forbidden City announcing that the world had stood up, and turned over the despised former monarch to them in 1950. PuYi and his entourage were returned to Manchuria and incarcerated in the Fushun prison for war criminals. He underwent a constant battery of communist indoctrination and reeducation through labor. Famously, he had to learn to dress himself, tie his own shoes, make his own bed, wash his own clothes; all of which he had no idea how to do since he had never had to do anything for himself. He was a tragic figure, especially at that time, being a man who had never known real personal freedom except perhaps for his few years in Tientsin, and yet even the comfort of his previous prisons denied him of any independence and self worth because of his pampering.
In time, PuYi overcame his fear of being killed. The Communists had decided that he would be more useful to them alive than as a traditionalist martyr. Across China, as in most every Communist country, there was an effort to create a “new man” who would see no class distinctions, who would idolize the party, revere the Chairman and march lock-step with the dictates handed down by the absolutist government, even in terms of dictating thoughts and opinions. They saw in PuYi the chance for a great propaganda coup, that they could “reform”, as they called it, the Emperor himself, the man once called the Son of Heaven and the Lord of 10,000 Years, as an ordinary working communist. Unfortunately, they were successful in this, though it took ten years to do it. It is hard to say how much individualism he ever had and the Communists have always been masters at denying the value of any individual and by the time of his release PuYi was praising his Communist captors, scorning his imperial background, voicing shame for his great crimes and thanking the Communist government for their charity, benevolence and wisdom.
Chairman Mao officially pardoned PuYi who returned to Beijing and became a simple worker at the Botanical Gardens. Having abandoned his wives in Manchukuo, Empress Wan Jung died in Communist prison in 1946 and his surviving concubine divorced him, the government played matchmaker to see him married to a nurse, also a member of the Communist Party of course, who he stayed with for the rest of his life. PuYi served on the Chinese People‘s Political Consultative Conference from 1964 and wrote his memoir, “From Emperor to Citizen” in which he recounts the story of his life, remarking on how very wicked he and his compatriots were in his time as Emperor and lavishing praise on the Communists for saving his life and helping him to see the truth and be apart of their remaking of China into a much better country than it had ever been before -as he had been duly taught. The life of the last Emperor of China finally came to an end in 1967 when he died in a hospital in Beijing from cancer. At this time, China was at the height of the horrific Cultural Revolution and rumors began that he had been assassinated by Red Guards. The truth, as with much of his life, may never be known. The Cultural Revolution was a reaction against all things traditional, and as the former Emperor PuYi inherently represented the old China, yet as a reborn Communist he also represented the new China and it would seem a little late to kill him. Interestingly, that night the sky turned brown and eerie from a Mongol sand storm that was quite unheard of at that time of year. The strange light and sounds caused many elder Chinese especially to guess that the “last dragon” had flown into the clouds.
Initially, after his death, PuYi was cremated and buried in a Communist Party cemetery alongside government elites and older graves of imperial concubines and eunuchs. Later, in 1995, his widow moved his body to a private cemetery near the old Qing dynasty tombs, paid for by a Hong Kong businessman who admitted that he hoped the presence of the last Emperor would help boost his sales for plots. He also stated that he planned to build a larger memorial for the Emperor and his later wives as a sort of tourist attraction. The Aisin-Gioro, never very taken by PuYi’s last wife, were reportedly extremely upset about this action. Even in death, it seems, PuYi is still being used as an instrument for the cause of others.