Changchun, the Home of China’s Last Emperor   Leave a comment

I guess it was Steven Spielberg’s film, The Last Emperor, which got me interested in Puyi.  I remember seeing the movie thinking that this guy is amazing.  He rose to power three times, the first time when he was three years old.  And throughout his life he always seemingly finding a way to adapt to the extreme changes that war, political upheaval and social unrest can bring to the life of a career leader.  So, I made the over 7 hour train trek from Beijing to Changchun to learn more about the life of Puyi.

What I found in my visit to Puyi’s Palace in Changchun was surprising.  And at times it was depressing.  He was married five times, with two of his wives divorcing him, something unheard of in Chinese culture.  He had no children, some believing that his one son, by his Empress, was injected with a toxin when they were exiled from the Forbidden City causing a still birth.  Whatever the case, I found the room of Puyi’s family remembrances too spiritually dark to stay in, so I left.

There is a very real sentiment that Japan’s invasion of China should never be forgotten.   In fact there is a huge stone memorial in the Palace of Puyi that says just that, “Never Forget.”  Puyi’s palace is as much a testament to China’s sense of betrayal, by the Japanese and its own citizens as anything else.  The Hall of Traitors floored me.  Can you imagine?  There they stood for the world to see, the men who betrayed their country, China, with Puyi, chief amongst them.

It was easy to understand the politically motivated expressions that often accompanied the exhibits.  The Chinese government takes pride in the rehabilitation of Puyi, making him, after ten years in prison, a functioning Chinese party member.  I think there had to be some recognition of the man and his imprint on Chinese history.  There are photos of Puyi and Chairman, Mao serving as testament to that fact.  Puyi is a symbol, though tarnished, hard to ignore.  Walking the palace grounds, I could not help to wonder about Puyi’s spirit; his intellect and perseverance; and his ability to center himself time and time again, reinventing the person who he was.  I found myself admiring his strength, his courage and the fortitude it must have taken to overcome all of the obstacles he faced and grow.

There was not much more to Changchun to me than the Palace of China’s last emperor.  And in some ways the city of Changchun reflects the life of Puyi.  The city has seen many rulers, take-overs, invasions and power struggles.  It is an industrial city with a kind of grey in the air, on the buildings and even reflected in the clothes that people wore.  Its people are mostly working class.  Most of the time I ate in the downtown mall, there were wonderful inexpensive food choices there.   I got a great rate at the recently renovated Global hotel, $48 a night.  The room was spacious, clean and the hotel’s décor clean with nice dark wood paneling finishes.  Fresh flowers grace each hallway entrance, though the constant changing of the elevator floor rug to reflect the day of the week (in English) I thought was a little much.

There is a club around the corner, though it was hard to tell the kind of club it really was.  I was made to feel very welcome each night I went there.  The bartender chatted, we found a way to bridge the language gap, and the manager always gave me a complimentary fruit plate, not listening to either my words or my gestures that it was really not necessary.  But there were never any people there.  Just workers!  Hmmmmm!!!   It became my hang out for the four days I was in Changchun.  A Hennessy night-cap makes all right with the world in a place that has seen so much in its life.

Posted August 13, 2012 by Wayne

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