China // Dongbei //

The Puppet Emperor’s Palace

Changchun’s only notable attraction is the Puppet Emperor’s Palace (伪皇宫, wěihuáng gōng), in the east of the city . In 1912, at the age of 8, Puyi ascended to the imperial throne in Beijing, at the behest of the dying Dowager Cixi. Although forced to abdicate that same year by the Republican government, he retained his royal privileges, continuing to reside as a living anachronism in the Forbidden City. Outside, the new republic was coming to terms with democracy and the twentieth century, and Puyi’s life, circumscribed by court ritual, seems a fantasy in comparison. In 1924, he was expelled by Nationalists uneasy at what he represented, but the Japanese protected him and eventually found a use for him here in Changchun as a figure who lent a symbolic legitimacy to their rule. After the war, he was re-educated by the Communists and lived the last years of his life as a gardener. His story was the subject of Bernardo Bertolucci’s lavish film The Last Emperor. Like its former occupant, the palace is really just a shadow of Chinese imperial splendour, a poor miniature of Beijing’s Forbidden City.