From Son of Heaven to Commoner: Puyi, the Last Emperor of China

26.8.2016 - 13.2.2017

Jointly presented by
Leisure and Cultural Services Department
Jilin Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau

Jointly organized by
Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence
The Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression

Permanent Galleries No. 1-5,
Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence

A watershed in the history of modern China, the 1911 Revolution brought an end to the imperial rule of the Qing dynasty and triggered the birth of the Republic of China. Together with the great social changes of that era, it also forced the last emperor of China, Aisin-Gioro Puyi, to lead a completely different life than the one he would have expected, a life that nevertheless became extraordinary in its own right. Puyi had not yet reached the age of three when he succeeded the Tongzhi Emperor and the Guangxu Emperor in 1908 and began his reign as the Xuantong Emperor, the tenth member of his clan to sit on the throne since his ancestors first ruled over China in 1644.

The 1911 Revolution eventually overthrew the Qing dynasty. Empress Dowager Longyu issued the Imperial Edict of the Abdication of the Qing Emperor in 1912. Under the Articles of Favourable Treatment of the Great Qing Emperor, Puyi was allowed to retain his imperial title and to continue his life in the Forbidden City. In the Beijing coup of 1924, however, warlord Feng Yuxiang tore up the agreement with the Qing court and expelled the last emperor from the palace. Puyi and his royalist followers then moved to Tianjin, where he lived for the next seven years.

In an attempt to restore his reign, Puyi betrayed the sovereignty and economic interests of northeastern China when he collaborated with Japan and agreed to be installed as the ruler of its puppet state of Manchukuo in 1932. After the end of the Pacific War in 1945, Puyi was regarded as a war criminal and was imprisoned first in Russia and then at the Fushun War Criminals Management Centre, where he received lengthy retraining and guidance. After his release, a transformed Puyi led the rest of his life as a commoner of the People's Republic of China.

2016 marks the 110th anniversary of Puyi's birth and the 105th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution. Featuring 73 sets of exhibits, including an imported gramophone and camera from his sojourn in Tianjin, commemorative medals, memorials to the throne and the Manchukuo order of appointment as well as his personal diary and smoking utensils from his time as a commoner in contemporary China, this exhibition showcases the life of Puyi, which reflected not only the vagaries of the 20th century, but also the social changes and upheaval that China underwent in this period. We hope that visitors to the exhibition will leave with a greater understanding of the life of Puyi and the history of modern China.