IN MAY, 1932, THE COMMISSION OF ENQUIRY OF THE League of Nations arrived in the Northeast. Cheng Hsiao-hsu and his son had placed high hopes in this Commission. When it published its report in October of that year they were sure that their dream of international control of Manchukuo (as distinguished from Japanese control) would materialize in a short time with the result that I would then be able to play off one power against the other to my own advantage, instead of remaining at the mercy of the Japanese. Later, when the Chengs were discarded by the Japanese, it was said that their enthusiasm for international control of Manchukuo was the cause of their dismissal.
On May 3 I met with the Commission of Enquiry for about a quarter of an hour in Changchun. They asked me only two questions: how did I come to the Northeast and how had Manchukuo been established?
Before I replied to their questions, a thought flashed through my mind. I remembered how in the past my tutor Johnston had told me that the gates of London would always be open to me, and I wondered, in view of the trickery of Doihara and the threats of Itagaki, whether I dared beg Lord Lytton (the head of the Commission) to rescue me and take me with him to London. Would he agree or not? But as soon as this idea swept into my mind, I recalled that, seated next to me, were the Chief of Staff of the Kwantung Army and Itagaki. I looked at Itagaki’s bluish white face and felt compelled to repeat exactly what he had “reminded” me to tell the Commission: “The masses of the people of Manchuria begged me to come. My stay here is absolutely voluntary and free. . . .”
The members of the Commission all smiled and nodded at my reply. They did not ask for more. Later, we had our pictures taken, drank champagne and toasted one another’s health. After their departure a smile floated across the blue-white face of Itagaki and he praised me: “Your Excellency, the Chief Executive’s manner was really excellent. How strong and clear your voice sounded!”
Later, Cheng Hsiao-hsu came in shaking his bald head. “All those Westerners,” he explained, “met with your slave. We talked only about equal opportunity for all in Manchukuo and the interest of the great powers in the ‘open door’ policy. It was just as I had expected.”
After the departure of the Commission, the Chengs predicted that the League of Nations might adopt a resolution proposing international control of Manchuria. When the Commission’s report was announced it gave the Chengs even greater confidence, for it stated that China should accept international control of Manchukuo. It described Japan’s wish for “stable government” as not “unreasonable” and added that “it is only in an atmosphere of external confidence and internal peace . . . that the capital which is necessary for the rapid economic development of Manchuria will be forthcoming.” It looked as though the Chengs had been right in expecting that the Commission would advocate international management with international guarantees for all the foreign powers.
In the first few days after seeing the Commission’s report, Cheng Hsiao-hsu told me with great glee that things were “very hopeful” and that several Chinese scholars had also expressed a favorable view of the report. But the Chengs became dispirited when they learned the Japanese reaction. Although the Commission had repeatedly stressed that it respected Japan’s “rights and interests in the Northeast” and even described the seizure of Mukden on the night of September 18 as an act of self-defense by Japan, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman indicated Japan was not in the least interested in a plan for international control and administration. It soon became clear that the League of Nations would do nothing to enforce its recommendations on Japan.
It therefore became more important than ever that I not offend the Japanese if I wished to ascend the throne again. Now I must rely on the Japanese, or else . . . !
At one of the routine meetings a few days before my first anniversary as Chief Executive, General Muto unexpectedly raised the question of the restoration of my imperial title. He explained that Japan was analyzing the problem of the Manchukuo state system, and as soon as the time was opportune, it would be resolved.
Soon afterward, on March 27, 1933, Japan, in order to exercise more freedom of action, withdrew from the League of Nations. Meanwhile Japanese armies conducted an encircling movement against Peking and Tientsin, and the Nanking Government, busily engaged in a civil war against the Communists, signed the Tangku Agreement with Japan by which the area south of the Great Wall and east of Hopei Province was designated as a demilitarized zone from which all Chinese troops were withdrawn. This agreement enabled the Japanese to extend their influence and control over North China itself.
Cheng Hsiao-hsu explained that the Japanese military occupation of North China, and even South China, was only a matter of time, and it was therefore more urgent than ever that the form of the Manchukuo state system be settled. He said that the final decision on this issue would not be decided by the Kwantung Army in Changchun, but in Tokyo itself. Since he repeated the claim that many of the elder Japanese statesmen had already advocated my assumption of the throne, I felt that I should send a new emissary to Tokyo to learn what was going on there.
The man I chose for this job was a Japanese police officer named Tetsusaburo Kudo who had accompanied me from Tientsin to the Northeast. He had always been an active supporter of mine and when I was in Port Arthur he had not behaved like the other Japanese and had even indicated his dissatisfaction with the Kwantung Army. Once when I had noticed that the color of the tea in my cup seemed odd and was afraid that someone might be trying to poison me, I asked for it to be analyzed. Before the tea could be removed, Kudo drank it down. He was the only Japanese who addressed me as Your Imperial Majesty and his loyalty was no less than the most devoted Ch’ing official. I had therefore bestowed on him the Chinese name of Chung (“Loyal”) and treated him as a member of my family.
When he returned from his short mission to Japan he told me that he had met with the Minister of the Army as well as Black Dragon Society leaders and had learned that all the military authorities were in favor of the imperial system. I now believed that my restoration was soon to come.
In October, 1933, three months after Muto’s death, Kudo’s report was verified. The new commander of the Kwantung Army, Hishikari, informed me that the Japanese government was now prepared to recognize me as the “Emperor of the Manchukuo Imperial State.”
As soon as I received this news I was so happy that all the flowers in my heart burst into full blossom. My first thought was that I must have a set of imperial dragon robes to wear.
These robes were brought to Manchuria from Peking where they had been in the keeping of one of the High Consorts, but the Kwantung Army informed me that since Japan was recognizing me as “Emperor of Manchukuo” and not as the Great Ch’ing Emperor, I could not wear the dragon robes of the Ch’ing Dynasty at my coronation. I was told to wear the dress uniform of a Grand Marshal of the Land, Sea and Air Forces of Manchukuo.
“How can this be?” I asked Cheng Hsiao-hsu. “I am the descendant of the ruling Aisin-Gioro clan. How can I ignore my ancestral regulations? All the Manchu nobility from Peking will come to see me crowned. What will I look like if I wear a Western-style uniform when I ascend the throne?”
“What Your Majesty says is true,” Cheng Hsiao-hsu said as he nodded his head and looked at the dragon robes laid out on a table. “Your Majesty is quite right, but what will the Kwantung Army say?”
“Go and negotiate for me.”
After Cheng Hsiao-hsu had gone, I gazed in admiration at the dragon robes that had been preserved for me for twenty-two years by the High Consort Jung Hui. My heart was filled with emotion. These robes had once been worn by the Emperor Kuang Hsu. They were a real Emperor’s dragon robes, the ones I had been dreaming of for twenty-two years. I would wear them to reascend my throne and this would mark the restoration of the Ch’ing Dynasty. . . .
When Cheng Hsiao-hsu returned, he reported that the Kwantung Army insisted that I wear the marshal’s uniform for the enthronement ceremony. “Did you negotiate for me?” I asked.
“How would your servant and slave official dare not to?” he answered. “But this decision has been personally delivered to me by Itagaki.”
“But it cannot be,” I said as I jumped up. “Before I ascend the throne I must perform the ceremony of praying to heaven. Do you mean to say that they want me to kowtow to heaven in a marshal’s uniform?”
“Your servant and slave official will talk to Itagaki again.”
This time the Kwantung Army agreed to let me wear my dragon robes when I paid tribute to heaven. On the early morning of March 1, 1934, at the Apricot Flower Village in the suburbs of Changchun, on an earthern “Altar of Heaven” that had been piled up for the occasion, I wore the dragon robes and performed the ancient ritual of announcing my ascension to heaven. Later, on my return to the city, I changed into a marshal’s uniform and went through the actual ceremony of my ascension to the throne.
The ceremony was held in the Mansion of Diligence for the People. The floor of its principal drawing room was covered with a crimson carpet and the northern wall was hung with silk draperies in front of which was placed a specially made high-backed chair on which was carved the “imperial emblem” of orchids. I stood in front of it, flanked by high officials of the Household Department, my Chief Military Aide, Japanese attachés to the Household and other palace officials. The civil and military officials headed by Premier Cheng Hsiao-hsu stood before me and bowed low three times. I replied with a half bow. Then Hishikari, the new commander of the Kwantung Army and, concurrently, the Japanese Ambassador, presented his credentials and felicitations. After the ceremony, the princes and nobles of the Aisin-Gioro clan who had come from Peking in almost full strength, as well as some former members of the old Household Department of the Forbidden City, performed the traditional Ch’ing ceremony of kneeling three times and kowtowing nine times before me as I sat on the throne.
Many retired Ch’ing officials living inside the Great Wall sent congratulatory memorials and even the boss of the Shanghai underworld sent a memorial proclaiming himself a loyal subject.
On June 6, Prince Chichibu, the brother of the Emperor of Japan, came to congratulate me on behalf of Hirohito. He awarded me the Japanese Cordon of the Chrysanthemum and on my wife Wan Jung he bestowed the Order of the Crown.
In July, my father, a younger brother and a sister came to Changchun to see me. Their visit illustrates how deeply intoxicated with myself I had become. When they arrived at Changchun, I sent a group of palace officials and also a company of the Palace Guard to welcome them at the station. Wan Jung and I waited outside the palace gate. She was dressed in Manchu court dress and I wore my marshal’s uniform with three sets of medals—one from the Japanese, one from the state of Manchukuo, and a third consisting of Great Ch’ing decorations. Since I did not dare wear this third set in front of the Kwantung Army, I was glad of this particular chance to show them off.
When my father’s automobile arrived at the palace, I stood at attention, saluted in a military manner and Wan Jung knelt in Manchu fashion. Then I accompanied him into the drawing room and, before taking off my uniform, I also knelt to him in Manchu fashion and paid my respects.
That night I held a big family banquet at which Western-style cuisine and etiquette were observed. According to my arrangements, as soon as I entered the banquet hall, a military band began to play.
As the banquet proceeded to the stage of drinking champagne, Pu Chieh, as I had arranged, stood up, raised his glass and shouted: “Ten thousand years to His Majesty the Emperor, ten thousand years, ten thousand years.” My family all joined in the toast. As soon as I heard the shouting, my head reeled as if I had already reached a point of intoxication.
The following day, a senior palace official told me that the Headquarters of the Kwantung Army had protested in the name of the Japanese Ambassador that in sending an armed guard to the station to welcome my father I had violated the agreement between the Northeastern authorities and Japan which Manchukuo had undertaken to observe. Under this agreement a strip of land on either side of the railway was to be the territory of the South Manchuria Railway Company and no armed men were to be allowed into it except those of the Japanese army. The Kwantung Army Headquarters wanted an assurance that no such incident would occur again.
This incident should have been enough to awaken me from my dream world, but at least on this occasion, the Japanese showed me the courtesy of not protesting openly, and after I had sent someone to apologize and to assure them it wouldn’t happen again, they said nothing more.
I reached the pinnacle of authority and the nadir of my misconceptions after the first of my two state visits to Japan, in April, 1935. The Kwantung Army had made all the arrangements for this trip which was undertaken to demonstrate my gratitude to the Japanese Emperor for sending his brother, Prince Chichibu, to congratulate me on my ascension to the throne as well as to show my personal interest in promoting friendly relations between Japan and Manchukuo.
The Japanese government had organized a reception committee of fourteen consisting of high-ranking peers headed by Baron Hayashi, a Privy Councillor. A battleship, the Hie Maru, was sent over to take me to Japan and other warships provided an escort. When I set sail from Dairen I inspected three destroyers and, on arrival at Yokohama, there was a formation of over 100 airplanes to welcome me.
During the voyage I was seasick and wrote the following poem:
The sea is as flat as a mirror,
I travel 10,000 miles.
Thus two nations join hands,
To strengthen the East.
On the fourth day of the voyage I witnessed a maneuver of over seventy warships and I penned some more verses in an effort to forget my seasickness. Even before landing in Japan I was so flattered by the honors given me that I no longer knew who I was. I was not only impressed by the power demonstrated by the Japanese but also looked at it as a demonstration of respect for me. All my misgivings of the past I now attributed to my own misunderstandings.
On my arrival in Tokyo, the Emperor Hirohito personally came to the station to welcome me, and also gave me a big banquet. After I had paid him a visit of respect, he returned my visit. I also received many felicitations from important Japanese elder statesmen. I inspected troops with Hirohito and even participated in a ceremony at the Meiji Shrine. I also went to pay my special respects to Hirohito’s mother, the Japanese Empress Dowager. The Japanese press reported that as I strolled with her in the garden I used my hand to help her up a small slope as I had once helped my father up the steps of the palace in Changchun, but the truth is that I had never helped my father up a single step. On the last day of my visit, Prince Chichibu represented his older brother at the railroad station to bid me good-bye.
The treatment I received from the Japanese Imperial Household really went to my head, and the air seemed to have a different aroma to it now that I had paid an imperial state visit. Since I and the Emperor of Japan were equals, I reasoned, my status in Manchukuo was exactly like his in Japan. I therefore believed that the Japanese would treat me the same way they treated their own Emperor.
Intoxicated by these illusions, as soon as I returned to Changchun I asked the latest commander of the Kwantung Army, General Minami, to come to see me so that I could give him my impressions of the trip. On the following day, April 29, I participated in the celebration of Hirohito’s birthday, and on April 30 I sent for all the officials in the capital, Chinese and Japanese, to come to hear me talk about my visit. I had not discussed what I was going to say with the Japanese in advance and did not prepare a draft of my remarks for them to examine beforehand. In my talk I described in detail how the Japanese Emperor had entertained me, elaborated on the respect his subjects had shown me, and concluded by asserting that disloyalty to the Emperor of Manchukuo was the same as disloyalty to the Emperor of Japan.
Less than a month after my return to Changchun, the Commander of the Kwantung Army, during one of our routine meetings, told me that “Premier Cheng Hsiao-hsu wished to retire.” He advised me to grant the request and replace him with a new Prime Minister. I had already learned that Japan was dissatisfied with Cheng, and since I was also looking for an excuse to get rid of him, I immediately agreed and proposed that my Minister of Civil Affairs and Governor of Fengtien Province, Tsang Shih-yi, be appointed Cheng’s successor. I thought that General Minami, who had heard my views on Japan-Manchukuo friendship twice in recent days, would be bound to comply with my request. But to my surprise I ran straight into a brick wall.
“No,” he replied, shaking his head. “The Kwantung Army has already considered the question and chosen a suitable man. Your Majesty need not worry about a thing. It would be better to let Chang Ching-hui be the Prime Minister.” 35
Not long before this, Cheng Hsiao-hsu had expressed his annoyance with the Japanese by saying that Manchukuo was no longer a child and that it should be let alone to take a walk. This remark had irritated his Japanese masters and they therefore kicked him aside. Cheng was not even allowed to draw his money out of the bank and was forbidden to move out of Changchun. Under constant surveillance, he could only practice calligraphy and compose poems at his home. He died suddenly three years later, a disappointed man. His son, Cheng Chui, met a sudden death a few years before his father, and it was rumored that both had been murdered by the Japanese. Even if this rumor were untrue, their tragic ends should have been enough to smash my illusions about the restoration of my ancestral heritage. Yet it took one more year after Cheng’s death, until it began to dawn on me what my position really was.