Biographies & Memoirs


Majesty. Without Powder

SINCE I WAS NOT ALLOWED TO PARTICIPATE IN POLITICS, OR to go out as I pleased, or to send for my “high officials” for talks, I had nothing to do when the Kwantung Army was not transmitting current to me. I thus developed the habit of going to bed late, sometimes at 3 A.M., and getting up late. I ate two meals a day: my breakfast at noon or at one P.M., and dinner between nine and eleven at night. I would take a nap between 4 and 6 P.M. Apart from my eating and sleeping, my daily life could be summarized as follows: floggings, curses, divinations, medicine and fear.

These elements were mutually interrelated. As the signs of the Japanese collapse became more apparent, I grew more and more frightened that the Japanese would kill me before their final defeat in order to destroy evidence of their conduct. Convinced that I faced death at their hands, I became more affable toward them and flattered them. At the same time, within my own house, my temper became worse and worse. I cursed people out and had them flogged over the slightest irritation and I became more and more superstitious. I ate only vegetarian foods, and spent the whole day reciting Buddhist incantations, consulting oracles, and praying to Buddha and the gods for protection. In this neurotic and unstable state, my health, which was already poor, deteriorated.

My tendency toward cruelty and suspicion had originally taken root in the Forbidden City, and had been strengthened in Tienstin where I had made the following set of “household rules” for the servants:

1. Irresponsible conversations are prohibited in order to prevent bribery and corruption.

2. Covering up for each other is prohibited.

3. Embezzlement and profiteering is forbidden.

4. Misdemeanors by colleagues must be reported at once.

5. Senior staff must beat their juniors immediately after the discovery of wrongdoing.

6. Punishment is to be increased one grade for slackness in enforcement of rules.

After we came to the Northeast I made my staff swear an oath: “If I break these rules I am willing to receive the heavenly punishment of being struck down by a thunderbolt.”

My severity and cruelty reached the point where I would have my staff beaten incessantly and I would sometimes have them tortured. This job was not limited to one or two but was entrusted to any of the members of my household who might be present. They had to flog very heavily. Otherwise, I would suspect that they were siding with my victims and then they themselves would be subject to the rod.

My victims included almost everyone in the household except my wife, my brother, my sisters, my brothers-in-law and my sister-in-law. In those days a number of my nephews were studying in the palace. They would often talk to me and serve me as I was bringing them up to be my trusted relatives. But this did not save them from scoldings and beatings. What they most feared was the phrase “ask him to go downstairs,” since this meant they were to be taken below for a flogging.

I suffered from hemorrhoids while in Changchun. When a young nephew saw the suppositories I had purchased for treatment, he innocently remarked, “They surely look like bullets.” This infringed on one of my taboos. Did he mean that I would meet my death from bullets? At my order, another nephew belabored him with the rod.

The sorriest victims of my rule were the pages. They came from a charity orphange in Changchun and there were about a dozen of them. Most of their parents had been killed by the Japanese, and, out of fear that they would grow up longing for revenge, the Japanese had asked the Manchukuo Government to set up a charity orphanage for them. When they had first learned that they were to be sent to the palace, they thought their lives would be much better than in the orphanage. In fact, however, there was no improvement. They ate the lowest grade of sorghum, were dressed in shabby clothing, had to work fifteen to sixteen hours a day, and sometimes had to sit up all night on duty as well. They were always being beaten; for falling asleep on the job, for not sweeping the floors clean enough, or for talking too loud. When my personal servants were in a bad mood they would always take it out on the pages and would sometimes put them in solitary confinement. Their life was so wretched that at the age of seventeen or eighteen they were as small as ten-year-olds.

My precautions against being swindled by the kitchen staff were similar to those one would take for protection against robbers and thieves. When the cooks went out to do their shopping, I sent agents secretly to spy on them and would question my younger sisters about the price of meat and chicken. If the dishes were not well prepared, or if I found some dirt in them, I would have the cooks fined. Of course, they were also rewarded if I was pleased. Although powerless and without authority outside my own household, I was the absolute ruler in my own palace.

At the close of the Manchukuo period, my temper became worse than ever, and I behaved even more viciously than before.

In early 1944 one of the elders of my family who came to greet me on my birthday fell innocent victim to my wrath. An evening skating party had been arranged in the palace and some professional skaters had been hired to perform for us. While we were watching the performance, this elderly prince, who came from south of the Great Wall, politely greeted some Japanese officers in my presence. This apparently harmless act was in fact a severe breach of palace etiquette, since it was forbidden to pay respects to anyone else while in the presence of the Son of Heaven. The matter was reported to me, but I was in a good mood at the time and since he was of an older generation, I let the matter drop. Later at dinner, the old prince became curious and asked what my nephew, when he had reported the incident to me, had whispered in my ear during the performance. This second act of “gross disrespect” was too much for me. I became very angry and shouted at him. “I give you respect, but you don’t deserve it. Is there any limit to your incivility?” The old prince became white with terror and immediately knelt on the floor and kowtowed to me. But the more I thought of the incident, the angrier I became and I left my seat to shout at him that he was not only disloyal to me but also to our imperial ancestors. All the guests fell silent. In my vanity I thought that he was worse than the Japanese who, at least, were never rude to me in public.

While in Changchun I read a number of books about spirits and ghosts and became addicted to them. When I read that all living things had their own Buddha-nature, I became concerned that the meat I ate was really the reincarnation of my own relatives. Therefore, in addition to my twice daily study of Buddhist scriptures, I would read a prayer before every meal for the better reincarnation of the soul of the animal whose meat I was about to eat. When I first started this routine, I prayed silently in front of others, but later I made everyone else leave the room until I had finished praying and only then allowed them back in again. I remember that once when I was eating my meal in the palace air-raid shelter, I kowtowed to an egg three times before eating it. By this time, with the exception of eggs, I had become a complete vegetarian.

I did not allow my staff to kill flies, insisting that they drive them outside instead. I knew that flies could carry disease and so I never ate food that a fly had touched. If one brushed my lips, I would wash the spot with cotton soaked in surgical alcohol from a kit I always carried about with me. If I discovered any trace of a fly in my food I would fine the cook; but despite all this I did not allow anyone to kill a single fly. Once, when I saw a cat pouncing upon a mouse, I mobilized my entire family to chase the cat away in order to save the mouse’s life.

The more Buddhist books and sutras I read, the more superstitious I became, and these fears were intensified by my dreams of visiting Hell. I once read that if one recited scriptures for a long time, the Buddha would appear and would want something to eat. So I prepared a room, and had food put on an altar. After reading some prayers, I proclaimed to everyone that “Buddha has come” and crawled into the room on my knees. Of course, the room was empty; nevertheless, because I believed, I kowtowed to empty space with fear and trembling.

Under my influence, the whole household started intoning Buddhist sutras, while the air echoed with the sounds of wooden drums and brass gongs. The palace sounded like a temple.

I continued with my old practice of consulting oracles and I would not stop until I got a good omen. Later, when I became afraid that the Kwantung Army was going to murder me, I used to resort to divination every time Yoshioka came to see me. Avoiding calamity and enticing good fortune became the central theme behind every action. I kept asking myself what location, what garment, or what food was propitious and what was unlucky. There were no set rules about good and bad omens. For instance, if I was walking along a path and saw a brick in front of me, I would immediately make an arbitrary ruling in my mind: “If I pass it on the left it is lucky, and if I pass it on the right it is unlucky.” Each time I crossed a threshold I had first to decide whether to step over it with my right or left foot, depending on which was my lucky foot. And when I ate, I had to decide whether to eat something white before I ate something green, and so on.

Wan Jung became as engrossed in these rituals as I and she too made her own rules. If she encountered something unlucky, she would blink her eyes or spit. This became such a habit with her that she would often blink or spit unnecessarily as if she were suffering from some sort of mental illness. All my nephews, young men of about twenty, turned into ascetics under my guidance. Some of them would practice yoga every day, some would not go home in the evening although they were newly married, some would hang pictures of white skeletons over their beds, and some intoned spells and prayers all day as if they were constantly seeing ghosts.

I used to “meditate” in a yoga posture every day with the palms of my hands and my feet facing upward as I squatted on the floor. All sounds were forbidden while I was thus engaged, even that of heavy breathing. I kept a large crane in the courtyard which ignored this rule of silence, screeching out whenever it happened to feel in high spirits. I made my servants responsible for its silence and fined them fifty cents whenever it made a noise. After they had lost a lot of money because of this, they found a way of dealing with the bird. Whenever the crane started to stretch its neck, preparatory to making a screech, they would hit it and it would then keep quiet.

Since I feared death, I was terrified of illness. I became a medicine addict. I maintained a special dispensary for Chinese medicines as well as one for Western medicines, and I spent thousands of dollars importing drugs from abroad that I never used. Several of my nephews had to spend time, when they were not studying, looking after both my Western and Chinese dispensaries and they, and my personal doctor, gave me injections for my health every day.

When I lived in the Forbidden City I had often suffered from imaginary illnesses, but now I was really ill.

One day, as I went into the courtyard to play tennis, I saw written on the wall in chalk: Haven’t you had enough humiliation from the Japanese? I forgot about tennis and immediately ordered someone to erase the writing. Then I returned to my bedroom with a pounding heart and felt so weak that I didn’t see how I could carry on much longer. I was terrified that the Japanese would find out about the writing and hold a full-scale investigation of my “inner court.” Heaven only knew what this would lead to! I was also terrified by the realization that there were anti-Manchukuo and anti-Japanese elements in my own household. If someone dared to write such a phrase under the eyes of so many people, would he stop short of killing me?

I was so confused and terrified every day that I had no interest whatever in family life. I had married a total of four wives, or, to use the terms employed then, I had one empress, one consort, and two minor consorts. But in fact, none of them were real wives. Although each received different treatment from me, they were in fact all my victims.

The experiences of Wan Jung, who had been neglected by me for so long, would be incomprehensible to a modern Chinese girl. If her fate was not determined at her birth, her end was the inevitable result of her marriage to me. I often thought that if she had divorced me in Tientsin as Wen Hsiu had done, she might have escaped her fate. But she was quite different from Wen Hsiu. To Wen Hsiu a normal manwoman family relationship was more important than status and medieval pomp. Wan Jung, however, attached great significance to her position as Empress and she was therefore willing to be a wife in name only.

Ever since she had driven Wen Hsiu away, I had great resentment against her. I seldom talked to her or paid attention to what she did or thought. She never talked to me directly about her own sentiments, her despairs, or her desires. I only knew that eventually she became an opium addict, which was something I could not tolerate. When Wan Jung and I parted after the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945, her opium addiction was very serious and her health was impaired. She died the following year in the city of Kirin in Central Manchuria.

In 1937, in order to punish Wan Jung and to acquire an additional “piece of furniture” about the palace, I chose another second wife called Tan Yu-ling. She had been recommended by a relation in Peking and became a minor consort. She was of the old Tatala Manchu clan and was sixteen years old when I married her. She too was a wife in name only, and I kept her in the palace as I might have kept a bird in a gilded cage until she died in 1942. The cause of her death is still a mystery to me. She was suffering from an attack of typhoid which, according to the Chinese doctor who was caring for her, should not have been fatal. But she died suddenly the day after a Japanese doctor took over the case and Yoshioka had assumed responsibility for her health.

What seemed most odd to me was that the Japanese doctor was at first diligent in his care of her, but after he had a long private talk with Yoshioka, he fell silent, was no longer as attentive as he had been and stopped his injections and blood transfusions. Yoshioka made the Japanese gendarmes telephone the nurses in the sickroom all night for information, and the following morning Tan Yu-ling was dead.

No sooner had I been informed of her death than Yoshioka came to express the condolences of the Kwantung Army commander and produced a floral wreath. The amazing speed with which this wreath was delivered made me suspicious, but Yoshioka’s action a little later made me even more so. Soon after Tan Yu-ling’s death, he brought me a sheaf of photographs of Japanese girls and urged me to choose a new wife from among them.

I refused to consider such a proposal while Tan Yu-ling’s corpse was still warm. However, he insisted that he wanted to arrange a match for me to console me in my grief. I argued that it should not be done in haste since it was a matter of great importance, and furthermore, there was the language barrier.

“You will be able to understand each other, uh,” he said. “They all know how to speak Manchukuoan, ha!”

I hurriedly explained that it was not a problem of race, and that I had to have someone who was suited to me in her habits and interests. I made up my mind that I would not have a Japanese wife, for I did not want a woman close to me who would serve as their eyes and ears. Yet I dared not refuse in so many words.

Yoshioka continued to bother me about it day after day. Finally he realized that I was adamant—or perhaps the Kwantung Army changed its mind—and showed me some pictures of Chinese students in a Japanese school in Port Arthur. Although my second sister reminded me that these girls would be so educated as to be virtually Japanese, I felt that I could not put the Kwantung Army off any longer. I decided to select the youngest and least educated, feeling that she might be the easiest to handle.

I told Yoshioka of my choice and the marriage was arranged. This sixteen-year-old schoolgirl became my fourth victim as a minor consort. Within two years of her arrival, Manchukuo collapsed and she was sent back to her own home.

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