Chosen by Empress Dowager Cixi on her deathbed, Puyi (溥儀) became emperor at the age of 2 years and 10 months in December 1908 after the Guangxu Emperor died on 14 November. Titled the Xuantong Emperor (Wade-Giles: Hsuan-tung Emperor), Puyi’s introduction to the life of an emperor began when palace officials arrived at his family residence to take him. The toddler Puyi screamed and resisted as the officials ordered the eunuch attendants to pick him up. His father, Prince Chun, became Prince Regent (摄政王).
In 1911, the people of China revolted against the Qing Dynasty. The Republic of China took over as the government of China. In 1912, Puyi was forced to give up his throne (also called “abdicate his throne”) and no longer had any power. The government allowed him to keep his title. Puyi and the imperial court were allowed to remain in the northern half of the Forbidden City (the Private Apartments) as well as in the Summer Palace. A hefty annual subsidy of four million silver taels was granted by the Republic to the imperial household, although it was never fully paid and was abolished after just a few years.
In 1917 the warlord Zhang Xun restored Puyi to the throne from July 1 to July 12. Zhang Xun ordered his army to keep their queues to display loyalty to the emperor. During that period of time, a small bomb was dropped over the Forbidden City by a Republican plane, causing minor damage. This is considered the first aerial bombardment ever in East Asia. The restoration failed due to extensive opposition across China, and the decisive intervention of another warlord, Duan Qirui.
On October 23, 1924, a coup led by the warlord Feng Yuxiang took control of Beijing. The “Articles of Favourable Treatment” were unilaterally revised by Feng on November 5, 1924, abolishing Puyi’s imperial title and privileges, and reducing him to a private citizen of the Republic of China. Puyi was expelled from the Forbidden City that same day.
In February 1925, Puyi moved to the Japanese Concession of Tianjin. On 1 March 1932, Puyi was installed by the Japanese as the Chief Executive of Manchukuo, a puppet state of the Empire of Japan, under the reign title Datong.
At the end of World War II, Puyi was captured by the Soviet Red Army on 16 August 1945 while he was in an aeroplane fleeing to Japan.When the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong came to power in 1949, Puyi was repatriated to China after negotiations between the Soviet Union and China.
When Mao Zedong started the Cultural Revolution in 1966, Puyi was placed under protection by the local public security bureau and, although his food rations, salary, and various luxuries, including his sofa and desk, were removed, he was not publicly humiliated as was common at the time.
He died in Beijing of kidney cancer and heart disease on 17 October 1967 at the age of 61.
The movie The Last Emperor (Italian: L’ultimo imperatore) is a 1987 British-Italian epic biographical film about the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China, whose autobiography was the basis for the screenplay written by Mark Peploe and Bernardo Bertolucci. Independently produced by Jeremy Thomas, it was directed by Bertolucci and released in 1987 by Columbia Pictures.