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A dramatic history of Pu Yi, the last of the Emperors of China, from his lofty birth and brief reign in the Forbidden City, the object of worship by half a billion people; through his abdication, his decline and dissolute lifestyle; his exploitation by the invading Japanese, and finally to his obscure existence as just another peasant worker in the People's Republic. Written by
Martin H. Booda <firstname.lastname@example.org>
According to director of photography Vittorio Storaro in Visions of Light (1992), he used the phases of light to represent different stages of the emperor's life. Red, the color of the blood that starts the flashback and the opening doors it cuts to, represents birth. Orange is the warm color of his family and the forbidden city. Yellow is the color of the emperor's identity and the sun. Green, the color of the tutor's bike and hat, represents knowledge. The forbidden city only has the first three colors because it is a limited portion of reality. See more »
At the time when he next sees his mother, Henry Pu-yi says, "My mother has not seen me for seven years." That would make the year 1915, but it is wrong. He should say, "My mother has not seen me for four years," which makes the year 1912. In the spring of 1912, the new republican government divided the Forbidden City by constructing a wall, thus restricting the emperor's domain. Assuming that it is that dividing wall on which Pu Yi and Pu Chieh climb, one must reasonably assume that, since the wall is clearly under construction, the date is mid-1912 at the latest. If so, then Pu Yi has just turned six, not eight, and has been separated from his family for four years, not seven. See more »
Chen Pao Shen:
[as Puyi is heading off to become the Emperor of Manchukuo]
If you go you betray your country!
Emperor Pu Yi:
[pause, at a distance]
See more »
The last Emperor of China, Pu Yi, we now understand, was never anything more than a puppet. He wielded absolute power within his real realm -- a gilded cage of a palace -- but could never shape events except for tragedy to himself or to others.
We see his life as one unlikely person, the one person that one would have most expect to have been insulated, in a gigantic tragedy -- that of China between the chaotic beginning of what might have been a long reign and the destructive Cultural Revolution of Mao, with coups, warlord rule, World War II, and the Marxist Revolution culminating in the rise of Mao. One recognizes that the pathologies of imperial China never truly died, but merely took new forms in the cult of the Leader. That the scenery is beautiful and hedonism among elites is rife hardly conceals the fact that China was a political Hell.
Pu Yi, once the Emperor of the great (but decrepit) Chinese Empire, becomes Emperor of the Forbidden Palace in 1912 before he is expelled in one of many violent revolutions (this one in 1925) in China. We see him doing a few things right, like reforming the Palace bureaucracy from a den of thieves into something honorable. He gets a superb adviser in Reginald Johnston, who gave him the confidence to be a political figure -- even a good one -- in the happiest time of his life. Johnston leaves as Pu Yi is expelled from the Palace, and eventually falls under the spell of the Japanese, who rip Manchuria from China and find someone willing to rule it in an enlightened manner -- himself. The Prime Minister of his choosing is killed, and Pu Yi becomes a puppet ruler of a contemptible entity. It's just like the old days, only the intriguers are worse -- far worse. The decrepitude of the system sets in at the first moment. As Emperor he can only accede to what his Japanese overlords demand.
At the end of the war he is arrested by the Soviets because he dallies too long on unfinished business -- and after the 1949 Revolution he is sent back to China as a war criminal and traitor. Rather than being executed (as one might expect) he is sent to prison as a convict.
As a prisoner he is incarcerated with some of his former underlings -- war criminals of the Manchukuo puppet state -- who have learned to ape the ideology of their captors, and he runs afoul of those 'fellow' inmates. Ex-fascists make the most fervent communists. All in all, he simplifies and becomes a very ordinary man in a society that punished anyone who challenged anything that the regime didn't want people to challenge.
Pure puppet? Not quite. A dupe who never left when the going was good -- if the going was ever good -- and that is exactly what the Imperial role made him. In childhood the ruler of the greatest empire (in population size, that is) on Earth -- in a premature old age, a cipher. Then again, what else did most Chinese ever become in China during the first two thirds of the 20th century become -- ciphers, old before their time, wrecks of no fault of their own, just to survive.
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