FROM THE TIME JOHNSTON ENTERED THE PALACE, I BECAME more and more difficult for the princes and high officials to deal with. As the month of my wedding approached, my conduct must have seemed very erratic. One day, I would ask the Household Department to spend $30,000 on a diamond, and the next day I would berate it for not being able to make ends meet and accuse it of corruption and waste. In the morning I might call in the high officials to order a thorough inspection of the antiques, paintings and scrolls and ask for a written report on the same day; and yet by afternoon I would ask for motor transportation to Fragrance Hill outside Peking. I had become tired of traditional ceremonies and had reached the point where I hated to ride in the gold-canopied yellow sedan chair. Sometimes I would accuse the eunuchs of disloyalty for some minor reason and would have them sent to the Administrative Bureau for flogging. What made the princes and high officials most uncomfortable, however, was that at one moment I would plan a reorganization of the internal affairs of the palace and a thorough investigation of its financial affairs and the next moment I would announce that I wanted to leave the Forbidden City to study abroad. They were in fear and trembling all day and their queues almost went white with worry.
Some of the princes and high officials had even considered my going abroad before I did and this was why Johnston had been sent for to teach me English. After my marriage, I received many memorials from retired Ch’ing officials proposing that I go abroad. Yet when I started to raise the question, almost everyone opposed it and the reason given most frequently was: “If Your Majesty, the Emperor, leaves the Forbidden City it will mean that you have abrogated the Articles of Favorable Treatment. Since the Republic has not revoked the Articles, why should you give them up?”
None of them, whether they sympathized with my wish to go abroad or whether they basically opposed it, whether they had already despaired of “restoring the ancestral heritage” or whether they still had hopes for it, wished to give up the Articles of Favorable Treatment. Even though the $4,000,000 annual subsidy provided for in the Articles had been shown to be an empty promise, the clause stipulating that the Emperor’s “title of dignity is to be retained and not abolished” still held good. For those who had not given up hope of a restoration it was very important that I stay on in the Forbidden City and keep the Little Court intact. For those who had lost all hope my continued presence meant a rice bowl and status.
But my way of thinking was different from theirs. First of all I did not believe that the Articles of Favorable Treatment would continue forever and I was more conscious than anyone else of the precariousness of my position. The new outbreak of civil war, the retreat of the war lord Chang Tso-lin to the Northeast, the fall of President Hsu Shih-chang and the assumption of the Presidency by Li Yuan-hung made me feel that the danger was imminent. A real question in my mind was whether these new political figures would kill me. I was not thinking of favorable or unfavorable treatment. Even though the status quo might be maintained, who could predict amidst the ever-changing political and military environment which war lord or politician would come out on top? Who could know what kind of military man would come to power tomorrow or what kind of politician would form a cabinet the following day? I gathered from many people, especially from Johnston, that there was not a single case in which there wasn’t some foreign power behind these changes. Instead of depending on favorable treatment from the latest Republican authorities, why didn’t I establish contact with the foreigners directly? Might it not be too late if I waited until some man who was implacably hostile to me got on top? In addition, I felt that I knew more about the final fate of each Chinese dynasty than anyone else. For 25 centuries the last Emperor of each dynasty had usually been murdered, and the last Ming Emperor (of the dynasty preceding my own) had hanged himself on Coal Hill outside the Forbidden City.
Of course, I did not relate these fears to the princes and high officials. The only argument I used with them was:
“I don’t care for ‘favorable treatment.’ I want the people of China and the world to understand that I do not expect the Republic to treat me favorably. To do this is better than waiting for them to abrogate the Articles of Favorable Treatment.”
“But the Articles were agreed upon between us and are recognized internationally. If the Republic were to abolish them, the foreign countries will come to our aid.”
“If the foreigners will help us, then why don’t you people let me go abroad? Do you mean to say they would not help me if they met me in person?”
No matter how I argued, they still did not wish to agree. The only result of several arguments with my father, tutors, princes and high officials was that the preparations for my Grand Nuptials were speeded up.
Another reason why I wanted to go, although I didn’t dare say it, was that I had become very tired of my whole environment. Ever since Johnston had entered the palace and introduced me to Western civilization and had stimulated my youthful curiosity I had become dissatisfied with my surroundings. I felt I was being controlled. I agreed thoroughly with the analysis made by Johnston that the root of the trouble lay in the conservatism of the princes and high officials.
In their eyes all new things were terrifying. When I was fifteen, Johnston discovered that I might be nearsighted. He therefore recommended that a foreign optician be invited to examine my eyes. If his guess was correct, I should have to wear glasses. Unexpectedly this recommendation created an uproar throughout the whole Forbidden City. “This is impossible. How can we let foreigners look at the eyes of the Emperor? The Emperor is at the height of his vigor. How can he put on spectacles like an old man?” From the Grand Imperial High Consorts—thunder! They all refused. It was only due to the convincing arguments of Johnston and my own strong persistence that it was finally accomplished.
One day when I was fifteen I learned from Johnston about the function of telephones. Later I heard from Pu Chieh that the Northern Mansion, where my father lived, had one of these novelties. I therefore asked the Household Department to install one in the Mind Nurture Palace. When the head of the Household Department heard of my command his face turned white. Yet in front of me, he did not dare to oppose me. “Yes, yes,” he answered and withdrew. But the following day all my tutors tried to dissuade me:
“There is nothing in our ancestral regulations to provide for this. If there should be a telephone in the palace anyone could talk to Your Majesty directly. Our ancestors never used this kind of Western novelty.”
“In the palace the chiming clocks, pianos and electric lights are all Western novelties that have no place in our ancestral system. Did my ancestors use them?” I asked.
“If outsiders can call you up by telephone,” they replied, “it may offend the Celestial Countenance. Will this not damage the imperial dignity?”
At that time perhaps even my tutors did not understand the real reason behind the efforts of the Household Department to dissuade me. What really frightened the Household Department was not the fear of offending the “Celestial Countenance” but that I might have more contact with the outside world through the telephone.
It was bad enough for them that I should have a talkative Johnston at my side and take forty newspapers. Almost every month in the papers there was at least one denial issued by the Household Department saying that the Ch’ing Court was not in contact with a particular provincial authority or refuting the rumor of the sale of some antiques.
Nine out of ten of these rumors, although denied, were true and at least half of them were things that they did not wish me to know. The combination of the newspapers plus Johnston kept them busy enough. If a telephone should be added, forming the third link between me and the outside world, their position would be impossible. Therefore they tried their utmost to oppose my proposal.
When they found that my tutors could not dissuade me, they invited my father into the dispute. But he only repeated what my tutors had already said. He had no new reasons, and, furthermore, he had no valid reply. I asked him if there had not already been a telephone installed in his mansion.
“But . . . but . . . but it’s dif . . . different with an Emperor. You would do . . . do . . . do better to postpone it for a few days,” he repeated again and again in his stuttering fashion.
I explained to him that his queue had been cut off before mine; that he had a telephone before me; that he had not wanted me to buy an auto, but he already had one. All this made me very dissatisfied.
“Why should the Emperor be different?” I asked. “Can I not have any freedom at all? No, it won’t work. I want a telephone right away.” I then turned to a eunuch. “Send my orders to the Household Department right away,” I said. “Install a telephone for me today!”
“Very well . . . very well.” My father nodded his head. “Very well, very well.”
The telephone was installed. Then new complications ensued.
The telephone company sent over a directory along with the apparatus. I became really happy when I turned the pages of the directory and I wanted to have some fun with my new telephone. I happened to notice the telephone number of a famous Peking opera actor and called his number into the phone. When I heard a voice at the other end, I said: “Could this be the famous opera actor of Peking?” The voice answered laughingly: “Yes, this is the famous opera actor of Peking. Who are you?” I hung up right away. I was utterly happy and amused.
Next I called a famous vaudeville actor and did the same thing. Then I called a well-known restaurant and asked them to send a first-class meal to a false address. After amusing myself like this for a while, I recalled that Johnston had recently talked to me about Dr. Hu Shih, the author of Picnic by the River. I therefore called his number. By coincidence, he answered the phone himself.
“Is that Dr. Hu Shih?” I asked. “Well, well, can you guess who this is?”
“Who are you? How come I cannot place who you are?”
“Ha, ha, you don’t need to guess. Let me tell you. I’m Hsuan Tung.”
“Hsuan Tung? Are you the Emperor?”
“Yes, I am the Emperor. I’ve heard your voice now, but I don’t know what you look like. I wish you would come to my palace when you have time and let me look at you.
This joke really brought him around. From what Johnston told me, Hu Shih, in order to verify the phone message, called on him because he was not sure it was the Emperor who had really telephoned him. When he found out from Johnston that I did not want him to kowtow to me and that I had an equable temperament, he came to see me. But I had forgotten about his proposed visit and had failed to tell the eunuchs to inform the Imperial Guard. Thus when Dr. Hu arrived at the Gate of Divine Valor, they would not let him pass. Not knowing whether to believe him or not, the guards referred the matter to me and only then was he let in.
This meeting lasted for more than twenty minutes. I asked Dr. Hu about the uses of vernacular writing, and about the places he had visited in foreign lands. Later on, in order to gain his confidence, I explained that I did not care about the so-called favorable treatment or lack of it; so long as I could devote more time to studies so that I might become a “promising young man” of the sort one read about in the papers. Thus he couldn’t help but shower me with compliments by saying, “Your Majesty is most enlightened. If Your Majesty studies hard your future will be very hopeful!”
After he left, I thought no more of this affair and didn’t realize that the princes and high officials, especially my tutors, after they learned of my private meeting with this “modern figure,” were thrown into an uproar like the explosion of a hot, burning oil pot.
As I grew up the princes and high officials saw that I was becoming more and more dissatisfied and that I found them increasingly unbearable. By this time I had already been outside the Forbidden City twice, a small freedom I had won on the pretext that I wished to pay my respects to the tomb of my mother after her death. This was gained only after overcoming many protests and it whetted my appetite for more. I was thoroughly dissatisfied with these conservative people who got excited over nothing. In the summer of the eleventh year of the Republic, in 1922, all my accumulated anguish reinforced my determination to go abroad. The conflict with the princes and high officials reached a climax when I formally proposed going to England to further my studies.
They were determined not to give in. Even my uncle Duke Tsai Tao, who had previously been most sympathetic, would only go so far as to give permission for a house to be got ready for me in the British concession in Tientsin in the event of an emergency. Knowing that it would be impossible for me to leave the Forbidden City openly, I sought the help of Johnston, but he felt that the time was not opportune and would not agree to my going. Forced to bide my time, I made secret preparations for an escape from the palace. At this time I had a very loyal and willing helper—my younger brother, Pu Chieh.
Pu Chieh and I were a really well-matched pair of brothers who shared the same distress and ambitions. Our feelings and illusions were even more alike than our appearance. He was determined to escape from his family circle and fly high so that he could find his own way; he believed that all his wishes would be fulfilled once he went abroad. The difference between his environment and mine was the same as our bodies; his was one size smaller.
Pu Chieh was a year younger than I but he had more knowledge of the outside world. He could also move freely in and out of the palace. Our first need was to raise some money. I used the pretext of bestowing on Pu Chieh valuable palace scrolls and antiques so that he could store them in the big house in the British concession in Tientsin. Every day, at five o’clock when he would return home, Pu Chieh would take a big bundle of things with him. This went on without interruption for over a half year. At this time the officials of the Household Department and my tutors were making an inventory of the scrolls of paintings and calligraphy so that it was easy for me to take the best of their selections and give them to Pu Chieh. The total number amounted to about 1,000 hand scrolls, 400 bound volumes and pages from albums, and 200 different types of Sung Dynasty printed books. All of these were taken to Tientsin. Less than 100 were sold. After the foundation of Manchukuo, the Chief of Staff of the Japanese Kwantung Army transported them for me to the Northeast, but after the Japanese surrender, they disappeared.
The second stage of our plan was to make a secret escape from the Forbidden City. Once I was out of the palace and inside a foreign Legation, it would be impossible for either the high palace officials and princes or the Republican government to do anything. Johnston at this point entered into the plot. He suggested that we get in touch with the doyen of the diplomatic corps, the Dutch Minister, W. J. Oudendijk, and ask him to make appropriate preparations. Why he felt that the time had now come, I did not know.
At first I asked Johnston to inform the Dutch Minister, but later I called him up by telephone myself. I also sent Pu Chieh to call on the Dutch legation. Everything seemed to be satisfactory. Oudendijk personally made arrangements with Pu Chieh. Even though he could not send an automobile into the palace, he agreed to wait for me outside the Gate of Divine Valor. Once I had passed through the gate there would be no problems. He would take care of everything from my first night’s room and board to my entry into an English university. We fixed the day and hour of my departure from the palace.
The day was set for March 25. The only remaining problem was how to pass through the Gate of Divine Valor. The situation in the Forbidden City was such that I had to reckon with my entourage of personal eunuchs as well as the special eunuchs guarding the palace gate. Outside the Gate of Divine Valor were guards under the control of the Republican Army. I believed that the most important thing was to take care of the eunuchs attending me personally and those guarding the palace gate. If I could handle them, the problem would not be serious. But my solution was really too simple. I gave them some money and thought that everything was set.
But one hour before my scheduled flight, one of the eunuchs who had taken my money notified the Household Department. Even before I had left the Mind Nurture Palace I learned that my father had issued an order shutting off all traffic in and out of the palace and had placed the entire Forbidden City under curfew and martial law.
When Pu Chieh and I heard the news we sat in the Mind Nurture Palace stupefied.
Before long my father arrived.
“I . . . I . . . hear . . . that Your Majesty wa . . . wan . . . wants to go away. . ..”
He looked so desperate and ill at ease that one might have thought he was the wrongdoer, and I could not help laughing.
“No such thing,” I replied, after suppressing my laughter.
“It’s not good. Wha . . . what should we do about it?”
“But I don’t want to go,” I lied.
My father glared suspiciously at Pu Chieh, who was so frightened that he bowed his head.
“But I don’t want to go,” I repeated. My father muttered a few more words before leaving, taking my “accomplice” with him. After they left I called in the eunuchs of the presence to question them in order to find out who had given out the information. I wanted to have the culprit flogged to death but I had no way of finding out. And this affair naturally could not be referred to the Administrative Bureau for investigation. I could only suffer alone.
From this time on, I hated the sight of the high palace walls. “Prison! Prison! Prison!” I muttered to myself as I stood on the artificial hill looking at the palace walls. “It is understandable that the Republic should not be on good terms with me,” I said to myself, “but for the princes and palace officials to be so hostile is really unreasonable. It is only for the sake of my ancestral heritage of mountains and rivers outside the Forbidden City that I want to run away. Why should you people do this to me? The worst are the people in the Household Department! I’m sure it is they who dragged my father into this.”
The following day, when I saw Johnston I unloaded my sorrow on him. He tried to comfort me and advised me to put the matter out of my mind for the time being. He said it would be more realistic if I started to reorganize the Forbidden City.
A new hope was kindled in my mind. Since I could not recover my ancestral heritage outside the palace walls, at least I could reform my property within the Forbidden City.