Biographies & Memoirs


Living in the Temporary Palace

IT SEEMED TO ME THAT THE CHANG GARDEN WAS FREE OF all the things I disliked about the Forbidden City while preserving all the essentials. What I had most hated in the Forbidden City were the rules which did not even allow me to ride in a car or go for a walk in the streets and the infuriating people of the Household Department. However, I now had the freedom to do as I liked, and while others could remonstrate, they could not interfere.

The essential element of my life in the Forbidden City, my dignity, was preserved. Although I now wore an ordinary Chinese jacket and gown, or, more often, Western-style clothes instead of the cumbersome dragon robes, people still kowtowed and bowed to me. Built as an amusement park, the place where I now lived had no glazed tiles or carved and painted beams, but it was called a “temporary palace.” I found the foreign-style two-story building with flush toilets and central heating far more comfortable than the Mind Nurture Palace. What had been the ticket office in the days when it was an amusement park was now a substitute “Guard Office of the Cloudless Heaven Gate.” Although there was no longer a Southern Study, a Great Diligence Hall or a Household Department, people saw the “Office in Charge of the Affairs of the Ch’ing House During Its Stay in Tientsin” as their combined reincarnation. Nobles would come from Peking to stand in attendance before me. I was still addressed in exactly the same way as before and dates were given in terms of the reign period of my imperial title, “Hsuan Tung.” All this seemed to me both natural and essential.

The only former senior official of the Household Department still with me was my father-in-law Jung Yuan. The others were either looking after my property in Peking or had retired. My former tutors Chen Pao-shen and Lo Chen-yu, and also Cheng Hsiao-hsu were the privy counselors whom I saw daily. They and other advisers came every morning and waited in a row of single-storied buildings to the west of the main building to be “summoned to audience.” People who asked for an audience would wait to be called in a small lodge by the main gate, and these included military men, politicians, former Ch’ing officials, all kinds of “modern” figures, poets, writers, doctors, soothsayers and astrologers. Japanese police stationed at Tientsin, known as “white-caps,” who lived in a house opposite the Chang Garden, used to note down all the comings and goings. Whenever I went out a Japanese plainclothes policeman would follow me.

The economics of the Chang Garden were naturally on a far smaller scale than those of the Forbidden City, but I still had a considerable fortune. Of the large quantities of valuables I had brought with me from the Forbidden City, some had been converted into money which was now earning interest in foreign banks and some had been turned into real estate to bring in rent. I still owned a lot of land in the Northeast and North China. The Ch’ing House and the Republican authorities set up a special office to deal with the renting and sale of these lands which were the “encircled” property of the Emperor. These lands had been obtained after the dynasty had moved to China from Manchuria and the term “encircled” was derived from their original sequestration when their limits were described as being as extensive as a horse can run around within a given period of time. The numbers of these “encirclements” were very large. The two sides divided these properties 50/50 and our share from the sale of some of it was one of our sources of income. In addition we still had the great quantities of art treasures that Pu Chieh and I had moved out of the palace over a period of six months as I described earlier.

After I moved to Tientsin there were many places in Peking, Mukden and Tientsin to which money had to be sent every month and a number of offices were set up for this purpose: the Peking Office, the Office of Mausoleums and Temples, the Liaoning Provincial Office, the Imperial Bannerman Bureau and the Office for the Administration of Private Property. There were also officials appointed to look after the Eastern and Western Mausoleums of the Ch’ing House. According to a document I have found, the monthly expenditure for Peking and the mausoleums alone was $15,800; and the Tientsin figure must have been over $10,000. The biggest item on the budget was the money spent to influence war lords and this was in addition to my regularly budgeted expenditures. Purchases, excluding such items as cars or diamonds, probably accounted for two thirds of an average month’s expenses. I spent far more money on buying things when in Tientsin than I had in Peking, and the amount increased every month.

We never tired of buying pianos, watches, clocks, radios, Western-style clothes, leather shoes and spectacles. Wan Jung had been a young lady of Tientsin, and so she knew even more ways of spending money on useless objects than I did. Whenever she bought for herself, Wen Hsiu would follow suit, and, when I bought something for Wen Hsiu, Wan Jung would want something too, as if a failure to receive something would detract from her status as Empress. This, in turn, would make Wen Hsiu complain and ask for more. This competitive buying eventually compelled me to set a quota on their monthly expenditures. Naturally, Wag Jung’s allowance was somewhat higher. At first it was a thousand dollars, with Wen Hsiu’s about eight hundred, but when we ran into financial difficulties the allowances were cut to $300 and $200 respectively. There was, of course, no limit to my personal spending.

As a result of this extravagance, the Chang Garden was reduced to desperate financial straits just as the Forbidden City had been, and sometimes we were unable to pay our bills, our rent, and even the salaries of the privy counselors and advisers.

While spending incalculable sums of money on quantities of useless objects, I also became far more convinced than I had ever been in the days when Johnston was with me that everything foreign was good and everything Chinese, except the Imperial System, was bad. A stick of Spearmint chewing gum or a Bayer aspirin, the cost of which was just a few cents, would be enough to make me sigh over the utter foolishness of the Chinese.

The treatment I received in the foreign concessions was quite unlike that accorded to other Chinese. In addition to the Japanese, the consuls general and senior military officers of the United States, Britain, France and Italy and the heads of foreign firms were all extremely respectful to me and addressed me as “Your Imperial Majesty.” On their national days they would invite me to review their troops, visit their barracks and see their newly arrived aircraft and warships; and they would all come to congratulate me at New Year and on my birthday.

Before Johnston left me, which was not long after my arrival in Tientsin, he introduced me to the British Consul General and the Commander of the British garrison. They introduced me to their successors, who in turn introduced me to theirs, so that my social contacts with the British military commanders continued unbroken. When the Duke of Gloucester, the third son of King George V of England, passed through Tientsin, he visited me and accepted a photograph of me to take to his father. George V later wrote a letter thanking me for it, and asked the British consul to present his picture to me. I also exchanged photos with the King of Italy through the Italian Consul General.

I visited a number of barracks and attended many reviews of foreign troops. When these soldiers—whose presence in China had been conceded by my ancestress Tzu Hsi in the 1901 treaties—marched before me in their martial splendor, I was very pleased and felt that the way the foreigners were treating me proved that they still regarded me as Emperor.

There was a country club in Tientsin run by the English, a very grand establishment where Chinese were forbidden to pass through the main entrance. I was the only exception to this rule. I was allowed to enter freely and even bring along family members, and we all enjoyed the delights of being “special Chinese.”

I made the most of the clothes and diamonds of the foreign stores such as Whiteway, Laidlaw and Co. to dress myself up like foreign nobility. Whenever I went out I used to wear the very latest in Western clothes tailored from British cloth. I would have a diamond pin in my tie, diamond cuff links on my sleeve, a diamond ring on my finger, a “civilization stick” in my hand, and German Zeiss spectacles on my nose. My body would emit the combined odors of Max Factor, eau de cologne and camphor and I would be accompanied by two or three Alsatian dogs and a strangely dressed wife and consort.

This mode of living drew much criticism from my former tutors and advisers Chen Pao-shen and Hu Sze-yuan. They never opposed my excessive spending or my relations with foreigners, but when I attended the theatre or the movies, or wore Western clothes on an official visit, they would always remonstrate about this loss of imperial dignity. When repeated protests had no effect, Hu Sze-yuan submitted a memorial in which he took the blame on himself and asked my permission to retire.

He had previously asked leave to retire when he had run into me at the theatre with my wife Wan Jung who had accompanied me to see the famous Peking opera actor Mei Lan-fang. After I repeatedly begged him to stay, rewarded him with two fox-fur coat linings, and stressed my determination to accept his criticisms, his sorrow had turned to joy. He had then praised me as an “illustrious ruler” because I accepted the remonstration. I dealt with his new resignation in much the same way.

Wan Jung’s twentieth birthday28 occurred in our first year in Tientsin and my father-in-law wished to arrange for a foreign orchestra to come and play for the occasion. Some of the former Ch’ing officials heard about this, and hastened to remonstrate, protesting that “foreign music had a mournful sound’ and could not possibly be played on an empress’s “thousand year” day. As a result, we had no orchestra, and the old official who had protested was given $200. This must have been the time when I started to bestow rewards on ministers who criticized me.

From this time until my imprisonment in the Soviet Union I never went out to a theatre or a barbershop. The reason I followed Hu’s advice was not because I was worried that he might go on complaining but because I thought he was right in saying that it was undignified for me to attend the theatre. One example of the “progress” I made occurred when a Swedish prince visited Tientsin and asked to meet me. I refused because I had seen a picture of him in the press with the actor Mei Lan-fang and thought that I should show my disapproval of his loss of dignity.

Hu Sze-yuan and other members of Chen Pao-shen’s group differed from Cheng Hsiao-hsu, Lo Chen-yu and their associates in that they seemed to have despaired of a restoration and were opposed to trying anything desperate. They attached more importance than Cheng and the others to my imperial dignity, which was another reason I obediently did as they told me. Although I found many of their suggestions bigoted, I always accepted those which reflected their loyalty. True, I was living a strange life in a foreign settlement, but I never forgot my position and always remembered that an emperor had to abide by precedent.

When my consort Wen Hsiu suddenly asked for a divorce in 1931, the old officials, before the final settlement, asked me to issue an edict demoting her from the rank of consort to that of commoner, and I naturally complied.

The divorce from Wen Hsiu is evidence of my irregular family life. Instead of attributing the cause of divorce to emotions, it would be better to attribute it to the emptiness of our life in the Chang Garden. Even if I had had only one wife she would not have found life with me interesting since my one preoccupation was my restoration. Frankly, I did not know anything about love. In other marriages husband and wife were equal, but to me wife and consort were both the slaves and tools of their master.

Even in the Forbidden city, Wen Hsiu had written a short essay that reflected her sentiments about her sterile life.

She had been brought up from her earliest years to accept the old-fashioned three obediences and four virtues, and since she began the life of a palace consort before she reached the age of fourteen, her ideas of her duty to her sovereign husband were very deeply embedded in her. That she dared to ask for a divorce in spite of this upbringing was a sign of extraordinary courage. She overcame all kinds of obstacles to obtain it, and was badly treated afterward. It has been said that she was egged on to ask for the divorce by her family in order to obtain a considerable alimony, but in fact the difficulties her family created for her caused the greatest distress to someone of her mentality. After she had paid her lawyers and the middlemen, and after her family had taken what they wanted, she had very little left of the $50,000 alimony, and her psychological losses were even greater. A brother of hers actually published an open letter to her in a Tientsin paper in which he accused her of ingratitude to the Ch’ing House.

I do not know much about what happened to Wen Hsiu after the divorce, except that she became a primary-school teacher and died in 1950. She did not remarry.

In July, 1929, I moved from the Chang Garden to the Quiet Garden, which was also in the Japanese concession. This house previously had a different name, and the change to “Quiet Garden” was not without significance.

After the Northern Expedition the power of Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang extended to the north of China. The war lords with whom I was on good terms had collapsed, and the three provinces of the Northeast, in which I had placed such high hopes, had proclaimed allegiance to Chiang’s Nanking Government. Everyone in the Chang Garden had relapsed into pessimism. Some of the Ch’ing veterans in my entourage had scattered and of the ministers who stayed with me only Cheng Hsiao-hsu and Lo Chen-yu still talked about restoration. The only question that the others considered was how the new “dynasty” of Chiang Kai-shek which had just conquered the country was going to treat me, the last Manchu. I too was very worried about this.

But this situation did not last long. We soon saw that under the Nanking Kuomintang Government, civil wars continued just as they had under the Peking war lord regime. The “unification” achieved by Chiang Kai-shek became more and more illusory and hopes revived in the Chang Garden when all had seemed lost. It seemed to us that the great enterprise of “unification” could be accomplished only by me, a view that was expressed not only by retired Ch’ing officials in my service but also by the Japanese staff officers who advised me on developments every week. Thus, the name I chose for my new residence—Quiet Garden—did not mean that I was looking for peace and quiet. It meant that I intended to wait, quietly, for my opportunity. And in the Quiet Garden I waited day after day, and month after month.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!