Biographies & Memoirs





A Brief Restoration

IT WAS A PECULIARITY OF EARLY MORNING IN THE FORBIDDEN City that sometimes, even in the heart of the palace, one could hear city noises from afar. There were clear cries of the peddlers, rumbling sounds of the wooden wheels of the heavy Peking carts, and occasionally, soldiers singing. The eunuchs called this phenomenon the “city of sounds.” After I left the palace, I often recalled this “city of sounds” which has so frequently stirred in me many strange dreams and visions.

But there was another “city of sounds” which aroused in me very deep interest while I still lived in the Forbidden City. This was derived from the talk of my tutors and consisted of rumors regarding my restoration.

Restoration, in the language of the court, was also called “recovery of the ancestral heritage” and “the glorious return of the old order” or “returning the government to the Ch’ing.” Activity toward this end did not begin with my brief restoration in 1917 and did not stop with my flight to the Japanese Legation in 1924. It would be safe to say that it did not cease from the day of my abdication in 1912 until the establishment of the Manchu Imperial Regime in Manchuria (Manchukuo) in 1934 under the “protection” of the Japanese.

At first I acted out my part under the direction of my tutors. Behind them in the background were the officials of the Household Department and behind them, in turn, was my father, the former Prince Regent. Eventually I came to understand that real power, from the standpoint of achieving a restoration, was not vested in them. And in fairness to them, it must be admitted that they understood this. Comical as it may now seem, the hopes of the Forbidden City were based on the new politicians and officials who ruled in place of the great Ch’ing. The first object of these illusions was President Yuan Shih-kai himself.

The death of the Dowager Empress Lung Yu in 1913 was an occasion when the splendor of the good old days was fully restored. Yuan Shih-kai put a black band on his sleeve and ordered flags at half-mast throughout the country. He also decreed a period of mourning for 27 days for all military and civil officials and even sent the members of the National Assembly to attend the funeral. Within the Forbidden City and amidst the wailing of the eunuchs, the black court robes of the Ch’ing Dynasty and the Western formal dress of the Republic were intermingled.

Soon after this, Yuan Shih-kai surrounded the National Assembly with military and police forces and compelled it to elect him President in place of his previous position as acting president. He then wrote me a most deferential memorial in which he spoke of the gratitude of the five races of China13 for my virtues which, as he explained, compared with “the sun and moon, and also the mountains and the rivers that nurture all life in the country.”

Later, however, there was a slight change in the political wind. An official of the Republic’s Inspectorate General proposed an investigation of reports of a Ch’ing restoration and Yuan ordered this investigation referred to the Home Ministry for handling. As a result, a high Republican official, who had once lectured on the subject of returning government to the Ch’ing, was sent back to his home town under army escort. But even this could not be regarded as completely definitive in so far as Yuan’s views were concerned since he gave the exiled official 3,000 Mexican dollars14 as a farewell gift and permitted the various government departments to tend the official innumerable farewell parties.

This vague situation continued until 1916 when Frank J. Goodnow, an ex-Columbia University professor and American adviser to President Yuan, published an article saying that a republican form of government was not suitable for China. At the same time, a Society for the Preservation of Peace was organized which recommended that Yuan Shih-kai himself be elected Emperor. It was not until these two events that people began to understand what kind of restoration Yuan Shih-kai really had in mind. As a result, the atmosphere in the Forbidden City changed markedly.

One day, soon after this, Chen Pao-shen looked furtively out of the window of the Yu Ching Palace to make sure that there was no one listening. Then he pulled a note out of his sleeve and said to me: “This is a divination made according to the Book of Changes.15 Please look at it, Your Majesty.”

When I took it, I saw the following words: “Since my enemy is ill, he is not able to approach me. Auspicious!”

Chen explained that it meant that my enemy’s future was evil and unlucky and that he would be unable to endanger me. He also told me that besides consulting the Book of Changes he had scorched a tortoiseshell and consulted the milfoil16 and they had both given favorable indications too. As a result, Chen concluded, he was sure Yuan Shih-kai could not escape his fate and “would come to a bad end.”

However, activity by my tutors, as well as my father and the Household Department, to protect my position under the Articles of Favorable Treatment was not confined to consulting the oracles and making divinations. Although I was told nothing about it officially, I was not completely in the dark. To put it crudely, they made a deal with Yuan Shih-kai by which the Ch’ing House would support Yuan as Emperor if he would observe the Articles. Documents to this effect were exchanged, including an assurance in Yuan’s handwriting that he would incorporate the Articles of Favorable Treatment in his new constitution. It was even arranged that I would take one of his daughters as my Empress, but before any of these arrangements could be put into effect, Yuan died in June, 1916, after only 83 days as Emperor.

The news of Yuan Shih-kai’s death was received with great rejoicing in the Forbidden City. The eunuchs rushed about spreading the news, the High Consorts burned incense before the tutelary god, there were no lessons that day in the Yu Ching Palace, and new voices could be heard in the “city of sounds.”

“Yuan Shih-kai failed because he wanted to usurp the throne.”

“It’s not that monarchy cannot be restored; the fact is the people want their old sovereign.”

“Yuan Shih-kai was not like Napoleon III; he had no ancestry to rely upon.”

“Instead of having a Mr. Yuan as Emperor, it would be better to return to the old master.”

After Yuan’s death, Li Yuan-hung, who had previously been Vice-President, succeeded him as President with General Than Chi-jui17 as Premier. The palace sent a representative to congratulate President Li and he, in turn, returned to the palace some imperial processional weapons that Yuan had taken. Some of the Ch’ing princes and senior officials who, during the Yuan Shih-kai period, had tried to hide away were now given Republican decorations which they wore at social functions. At New Year and my birthday, the President even dispatched high officials to greet me and my father sent special foods to President Li Yuan-hung. The Household Department became very busy preparing rescripts that bestowed posthumous titles, the right to be transported in a sedan chair carried by two persons and the right to wear peacock feathers and ruby buttons.

In short, the Forbidden City became lively again and, with Chang Hsun’s18 audience with me in 1917, this particular restoration movement reached a climax.

On June 16 of this year, Chen Pao-shen, who had only recently been promoted to Grand Guardian, and Liang Ting-fen, a newly appointed tutor, arrived at the palace together. Even before they sat down, Tutor Chen said: “Today Your Majesty need not study. There will be a high official come to pay his respects to Your Majesty, and a eunuch will be here to receive your permission for this audience very shortly.”

“Who is he?”

“Chang Hsun, the former Viceroy of Kiangsi, Kiangsu and Anhwei and Governor of Kiangsu.”

“Chang Hsun? Is he the Chang Hsun who refuses to cut off his queue?”

“Yes, yes,” said Liang Ting-fen, nodding in approval. “Your Majesty’s memory is truly excellent.” Tutor Liang never missed a chance to flatter me.

According to Ch’ing Dynasty custom, no one else could be present when a high official was received by the Emperor. Therefore my tutors instructed me beforehand in what to say. Tutor Chen told me that I should praise the loyalty of Chang Hsun and should remember that Chang Hsun was High Inspecting Commissioner for the Yangtze River and had 60 battalions of troops in the region of Hsuchow and Yenchow. He said that I should ask him about the military situation and wound up his advice by repeating twice: “Chang Hsun will unavoidably praise Your Majesty. Your Majesty should remember to reply to him in a very humble way in order to show your divine virtue.”

“When a thing is too full, it cannot be filled. When one is humble, one immediately receives benefits,” added Tutor Liang.

Soon after I arrived at the Yu Ching Palace in my court robes, Chang Hsun came in. I sat on the throne and he knelt before me and kowtowed.

“Your servant Chang Hsun kneels to greet Your Majesty’s sacred feet.”

I pointed to a chair and asked him to sit down. At this time the palace had abandoned the custom of having high officials report while in a kneeling position. He kowtowed once more to thank me, and then sat down. I followed my tutors’ instructions in asking about the situation of the army in the areas of Hsuchow and Yenchow, but I did not pay much attention to his reply. I was somewhat disappointed in his looks. He wore a lightweight summer costume, his face was ruddy, he had very thick eyebrows and was fat. Had he not worn a moustache he could have passed for one of the eunuchs in charge of the imperial kitchens. I noticed, however, that he did in fact have a queue.

“Your Majesty is really gifted by the heavens,” he said, talking just as Tutor Chen had anticipated.

“I am far from being so,” I replied. “I am too young. What I know is very limited.”

“In our dynasty, the Emperor Kang Hsi [1654-1722] also ascended the throne at a very young age. He was only five.”

“How can I be compared with my ancestor? He was, after all. . .”

The following day, when Chen Pao-shen and Liang Ting-fen saw me, they told me that Chang Hsun had praised me as being wise and humble. I didn’t stop to wonder why he had come to pay me his respects or why my tutors were so elated over this audience.

Two weeks later, however, on July 1, Chen Pao-shen and Liang Ting-fen again appeared together at the Yu Ching Palace with grave expressions on their faces. It was Chen who spoke first: “Chang Hsun came early this morning. . . .”

“Has he come to pay his respects again?”

“No, it is not for that. Everything is ready, everything is arranged. He has come to bring Your Majesty back to your throne, to rule. It is the restoration of the Great Ch’ing Dynasty!”

Seeing that I was taken by surprise, Chen immediately said: “I beg Your Majesty to allow Chang Hsun to do this. He is asking for a mandate on behalf of the people; heaven has complied with the wishes of the people.”

I was stunned and confused by the startling suddenness of this happy event. In a sort of dumbfounded way, I looked at Tutor Chen hopefully so that he would say a bit more and let me know how I might be a “real emperor.”

“You need not talk too much to Chang Hsun. All you have to do is accept.”

Tutor Chen seemed to have everything well planned. “But you don’t need to promise him right away,” he continued. “At first, decline; then, later on, you can say, ‘Since it is this way, I will try to do my best.’ ”

This time, when I received Chang Hsun in audience, he explained that it had only been because the Empress Dowager Lung Yu had not wished to see the common people suffer that she had proclaimed my abdication. But, as he said, events had demonstrated that a republic was not compatible with the condition of China. “The people can achieve deliverance from their suffering only through Your Majesty the Emperor’s restoration.”

“But my age is too young and I have neither virtue nor ability,” I replied. “I don’t think I could shoulder such a great responsibility.”

Chang Hsun then began to praise me and, while listening to him mumble on, I began to think of President Li Yuan-hung. “What will we do with the President?” I asked him. “Will we give him some sort of favorable treatment too?”

“Li Yuan-hung has memorialized for permission to resign. Your Majesty the Emperor should permit him to resign according to his memorial.”

Even though I did not fully comprehend the situation, I felt sure my tutors must have completed all the arrangements so that all I need do was terminate the audience quickly. “Since things are this way” I said, “then I must do my best to take care of the situation.” With this I felt that I was again Emperor of the Great Ch’ing Empire.

After Chang Hsun left, groups of people came continuously to kowtow to me and pay their respects. Later a eunuch of the presence brought in a whole pile of imperial edicts that had already been prepared. The first of these proclaimed my return to the throne and another created a Board of Regents including Chen Pao-shen and Chang Hsun.

Old Pekingese recall how on that day the police asked all the households to hang out imperial dragon flags. The citizens who did not have any handy made them out of paste and paper. Ch’ing court robes which had disappeared for a few years appeared on the streets. It was as if the dead had stepped from their coffins in their burial robes. The press brought out extras about the restoration.

Outside of the Chien Men Gate some of the stores did a boom business. Tailors made and sold dragon flags; secondhand clothing shops found that the Ch’ing court dress became their bestselling items since the newly appointed officials all wanted them; and theatrical supply houses were besieged with requests for artificial queues made out of horsehair.

Tutor Chen was normally a very stable and studious man, and I would never have anticipated that this experienced old scholar would change so completely on the day of my restoration. His attitude regarding the treatment of ex-President Li Yuan-hung was drastic. At first, one of my other tutors, not anticipating that he would meet with a refusal, had volunteered to go and see President Li to persuade him to move out of the presidential mansion. Upon his return, he angrily told Chen that the President had refused.

Chen Pao-shen, on hearing this news, became livid with anger. He seemed to have lost control of himself. “Li Yuan-hung has dared to refuse to accept the order,” he raged. “I request Your Majesty the Emperor to bestow upon him instructions to commit suicide!”

I was startled to hear him talk this way and felt his methods were too extreme. “It is beyond my imagination why I should command Li Yuan-hung to die just after I have been restored to my throne,” I said. “After all, didn’t the Republic give me favorable treatment?”

This was the first time that Chen Pao-shen had ever received a public rebuff from me. But he was so carried away by his hatred for the President that, oblivious of everything, he raged on: “Li Yuan-hung has not only refused to resign, but he is also hanging on to the presidential residence and refuses to move! He is like a rebel or a bandit who has commited a high crime against his sovereign. How can we talk about him in the same breath as Your Majesty?”

Later, however, when he noticed that I was determined to refuse to follow his advice, he agreed to let Tutor Liang go back to the presidential palace once more in order, at least, to persuade the President’s relatives to move, but before he arrived Li Yuan-hung had already fled to the Japanese Legation with the seal of Office of President.

During this brief restoration period, Chen made a deep impression on me as a man of action. Just before the end, an imperial edict was prepared to send to Chang Tso-lin appointing him viceroy and commander of the three eastern provinces (Manchuria) and ordering him to come to my aid as soon as possible. At this time, Chang Tso-lin, who was already military governor of Fengtien (Mukden, in Manchuria), was utterly dissatisfied with Chang Hsun, who had only named him viceroy of Fengtien Province. Tutor Chen had great hopes in Chang Tso-lin’s ability to save my position. But when a search was made for the “imperial seal,” after the decree had been prepared, it was found that the key to the box containing it was in the hands of my father. If it had been necessary to send someone to fetch the key, we would have lost too much time, so Tutor Chen immediately decided to have the chain that locked the seal box broken. Actually, however, this imperial decree never reached Chang Tso-lin since the official messenger who carried it was intercepted before he reached the Manchurian border.

During the first few days of the restoration, I spent half of my time in the Yu Ching Palace. Although my studies were suspended, I was obliged to see my tutors and listen to their instructions and guidance on all state affairs. The rest of the time I read over the imperial edicts that were to be issued and the cabinet gazette, and I received the homage and kowtows of many people. There was still an opportunity, however, to watch the ants in the courtyard move from hole to hole and to ask the Imperial Stables to send round a camel for my entertainment. But it all lasted no more than four or five days. Everything changed when an airplane from Tuan Chi-jui’s Army to Punish the Rebels dropped some bombs into the palace. Then there were no longer people who came to pay their respects or kowtow to me and there were no more imperial edicts to read. Furthermore, most of the high officials who had a hand in state affairs disappeared.

On the day of the air raid I was talking to my tutor in the Imperial Study when I heard an airplane overhead and the unfamiliar sound of an explosion. I was so frightened that I began to tremble and my tutors became terrified. In the confusion, the eunuchs rushed me to the Mind Nurture Palace, as if my bedroom would be the only safe place. The High Consorts were in an even worse state—some of them hid in the corner of their bedrooms and others under tables. The whole palace was in confusion. This was the first air raid in the history of China and the first time a Chinese air force was used in the civil wars. Fortunately, the pilot did not really mean business and gave us no more than a scare with three small bombs about a foot long. One fell outside the Gate of Ancestral Veneration injuring a sedan-chair carrier; another fell into the Imperial Garden and destroyed a corner of a pond; the third fell on a roof of one of the gates along the Western Avenue and, even though it failed to explode, scared the daylights out of some eunuchs who were gambling there.

The day after my dispatch of the edict to Manchuria we could hear gunfire approaching the Forbidden City. Even Chen Pao-shen failed to show up and the palace was cut off from contact with the outside world. The next morning, however, the Household Department brought me the news of Chang Hsun’s flight to the Dutch Legation and, later in the day, my father and Tutor Chen appeared, their faces gray and drooping. When I saw the abdication decree they had prepared I was both frightened and saddened, and I wept openly.

But this abdication edict was never issued. As is so often the case, history was rewritten and all that was published was an announcement of the Household Department which was incorporated into a decree of the new President:

The Home Ministry reports that it has received the following communication from the Household Department of the Ch’ing House:

This day the Household Department received an Edict:

Formerly on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month of the third year of Hsuan Tung19 a Decree was issued by the August Empress Dowager Lung Yu in which, recognizing that the whole people were inclined toward a republic, she and the Emperor returned sovereign power to the whole country. She ordained that there should be a republic and settled that the Articles of Favorable Treatment for the Ch’ing House should be adhered to forever; for the past six years the Ch’ing House has been very well treated and has never had any intention of using the political power for its own ends; what cause could it have had for going back on its word?

But contrary to expectation Chang Hsun led his soldiery to occupy the palace on July 1. He fraudulently issued edicts and decrees and altered the state structure, thus disobeying the instructions of the Empress Dowager of the former dynasty. I, a child living deep in the Forbidden City, had no choice in the matter; in these circumstances I should have allowances made for me by the whole world. The Household Department has been instructed to request the Government of the Republic to make this generally known both within the country and abroad.

When the Ministry received this letter they thought it right to report this matter.

As it is common knowledge that Chang Hsun the traitor and usurper was the originator of the disturbances, let the details of this document be speedily proclaimed.

For general information,

Issued by the Prime Minister, July 17, 6th year of the Republic of China.

The original abdication decree, as first prepared, had recognized that I myself had “assumed power,” but in this announcement it was said that “Chang Hsun had occupied the palace and I, a minor” had been unable to do anything about it. This change in the facts was the result of collaboration between the Forbidden City and three leaders of the Peiyang clique and was executed by the new President, Feng Kuo-chang, and Premier Tuan Chi-jui. The role of the Forbidden City in the restoration was thus obliterated and new restoration activities were given little public attention.

One day, as I was riding my bicycle in the Imperial Gardens, I nearly collided with someone. For such a thing to happen in the palace could only mean that the person involved was being deliberately impolite to his sovereign, but I didn’t pay any attention. Instead, I circled around and was about to ride off when I saw the man kneel down and heard him say: “Your humble servant pays his respects to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years.”

He was wearing a purple vest of the type the eunuchs wore but, as I looked at him more carefully, I saw he had a moustache and I therefore knew he was not a eunuch. Riding in circles around him, I asked what he was doing.

“Your servant is in charge of the electricity,” he replied.

“Oh, you are in charge of that kind of thing. You were lucky I didn’t knock you over a minute ago. Why do you continue to kneel?”

“Your servant is really lucky today! I have been able to see the true dragon, the Son of Heaven. I beg the Lord of Ten Thousand Years in his celestial bounty to grant his humble servant a title.”

I could not help but laugh at his request and recalled the nickname the eunuchs had told me was reserved for the beggars at the ends of the bridges in the Peking streets.

“Very well,” I said, “I give you the title of the ‘Marquis Guarding the Bridge.’ ”20

I did not expect that my practical joke would really cause this man to go to the Household Department and ask for his “patent of nobility.” When they told him it was only a joke, he became very excited. “The saying of His Majesty the Emperor is like gold and jade,” he stormed. “How dare you people say it is a joke! This won’t do!”

Even as late as 1920, eight years after the founding of the Republic, there were still people infatuated by monarchy. There was a merchant named Wang Chiu-cheng who had made a fortune out of supplying uniforms to the Chihli clique.21 His ambition was to obtain the privilege of wearing a yellow riding jacket and he spent a considerable amount of money to achieve this. The eunuchs called him the “money scatterer.” I do not know how he arranged it, but at New Year and at every important festival he would come in with the retired officials who came to pay their respects to me and kowtow. He always brought with him thick wads of bank notes which he scattered about liberally. The eunuchs were always pleased to see him come, for it did not matter whether they merely showed him in, announced him, raised the door curtain for him, poured tea for him or just spoke a few words to him—they always got a roll of bank notes. And this is not to mention the money he spent to get into the palace itself. Later he finally achieved his goal and was granted the honor of being allowed to wear a yellow riding jacket.

Men came to the Forbidden City every day or submitted memorials from distant places for the sake of a yellow riding jacket, the right to say in their family registers that they had held a Ch’ing office, or for a posthumous title. There was even one man, known as “Lunatic Liang,” who threw himself into a pond in Peking in order to show his loyalty and win with his sodden body a posthumous memorial as “true and upright.” Later there were so many requests for posthumous titles that in order to avoid diminishing their value we had to stipulate that they would only be given to people above a certain rank. Even tighter limitations were placed on the bestowal of the right to ride a horse in the Forbidden City and the right to be carried in a two-man sedan chair as well as the granting of scrolls in my handwriting. The result was that not only the Manchu nobility but even military commanders of the Republic regarded obtaining one of these as a “signal honor.” Those of lower rank, merchants and local gentry, as well as those with neither titles nor wealth, had to be content with tablets in memory of deceased relatives, obituary cemetery stones from retired Ch’ing officials or attendance at their children’s weddings by these same officials.

Despite this sort of thing, as well as articles in the foreignlanguage press suggesting that a reversion to monarchy was not unlikely, the fact was that it was the war lords themselves, with guns in their hands, who directly controlled the fate of the Little Court. As the North China Daily Mail pointed out, “The comings and goings to places where military officials are known to congregate are not devoid of significance.”

I remember how in the second half of 1919 the Little Court had close relations with war lords other than those of the old Peiyang clique. The first of these was High Inspecting Commissioner Chang Tso-lin, the head of the Fengtien (Mukden) clique.

The palace’s dealings with Chang Tso-lin started when my father received a large sum of money from Fengtien, in northeast China where Chang Tso-lin’s power was centered, as payment for some land that had been my property. My father wrote a letter of thanks and the Household Department dispatched a high-ranking official with some antique vases and a picture from the palace collection as a present for Chang Tso-lin. Chang sent his sworn brother Chang Ching-hui, then the second in command of the Fengtien Army and later premier of Manchukuo, to accompany our envoy back to Peking and convey his gratitude.

In 1920 the Fengtien clique aligned itself with the Chihli clique (a northeast province of China proper) to defeat the Anhwei clique (East China Province) and when the Chihli chief and Chang Tso-lin entered Peking the Little Court sent an official of the Household Department to welcome them. A rumor that Chang Tso-lin was going to come to the palace for an audience precipitated a special meeting of the senior officials of the Household Department in my father’s house to discuss what presents he should be given. But Chang Tso-lin went back to Fengtien (Mukden) without visiting the palace.

In 1923 the head of the Chihli clique, Tsao Kun, bought the votes of the members of Parliament for 5,000 dollars apiece and had himself elected President. The court had only just stopped being frightened of him when another rising Chihli commander, Wu Pei-fu, attracted attention. That same year I sent lavish presents to Wu to congratulate him on his fiftieth birthday. But, as it turned out, Wu Pei-fu’s success was short-lived since, the year after his birthday, his subordinate Feng Yu-hsiang22 changed sides in the fighting between the Chihli and Fengtien cliques. And so it went, politically.

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