Biographies & Memoirs





Five Years in the Soviet Union

WHEN THE PLANE ARRIVED AT CHITA IN SIBERIA IT WAS almost evening. With me in this first group of Manchukuo war prisoners were Pu Chieh, two of my brothers-in-law, three nephews, a physician and a servant. We immediately entered a Soviet Army sedan that was waiting for us and left the airfield.

Through the windows it seemed as if we were traveling across a prairie; later there were endless forests, but after we had climbed over several low hills, the road narrowed and became so winding and bumpy that our speed was reduced. All of a sudden, we stopped.

Outside, I heard a sentence in Chinese: “If you wish to urinate, you may step down.”

In the darkness, I became frightened. The voice made me think that some Chinese had showed up to take us back to China, and I knew that if this were true I would, without doubt, be killed. Although it was clear that we had just come from China to the Soviet Union in a Russian plane and that it was most unlikely that we would immediately be handed back to the Chinese, I was nevertheless upset. But as it turned out, the person speaking Chinese was a Soviet officer of Chinese descent.

After relieving ourselves, we again entered the car and continued our trip for another two hours. Then we drove down a narrow drive that wound between some hills until we drew up in front of a beautiful well-lighted building.

“But this is a hotel,” someone said in a loud confident voice and, all of a sudden, we were happy.

Upon entering, a man in civilian clothes, about forty years old, and followed by a group of Soviet Army officers, came up to meet us. “By order of the Soviet Government, from this time onward, you will all be detained here,” he said with some dignity.

This man, who was a Soviet Army major general, turned out to be the Commandant of the Chita Military District. Later he told us that he hoped we would be comfortable while waiting for the disposal of our case. He then pointed to a carafe of water on the table. “This place,” he explained, “is noted for its mineral springs. The waters are very good to drink and excellent for your health.”

Our life as detainees in this sanitarium began most comfortably. We had three square Russian meals a day as well as afternoon tea, Russian style. There were attendants to look after us and doctors and nurses who constantly checked up on our health and took care of us when we were ill. We had radios, books and all kinds of games to play as well as people to keep us company when we took walks. I felt very satisfied with this kind of life.

Not long after our arrival, I developed the illusion that since the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States were allies, I might be able to move eventually to England or the United States and live the life of an exile. At this time, I still had sufficient jewelry and objects of art in my possession to permit me to live out the second half of my life. I knew, however, that in order to achieve this goal, I would first have to make sure that I could remain in Russia, and it was with this in mind that during my five years in the Soviet Union I wrote the authorities three times seeking permission to remain forever.

The first of these three petitions was written in Chita, and the other two were written two months after I had been moved to Khabarovsk. The other Manchukuo detainees, however, took a completely different attitude regarding the future. A few days after our arrival in Chita, a group of former high officials also arrived. The following day Chang Ching-hui, Tsang Shih-yi and Hsi Hsia came to see me. “We have heard,” one of them said, “that you would like to stay in Russia. But we all have our families in Manchuria and we must look after them. Furthermore there is lots of unfinished official business to be done. We therefore request that you ask the Soviets to let us return to the Northeast. Do you think this will work?”

I really had no idea what “official business” remained to be done and thus had no interest in their request. “How can I manage that?” I asked. “Even my own departure is undecided and will ultimately depend on the Soviet Union.”

These men, upon learning that I would not intercede, began to beg. “I hope you will talk for us . . . we are sure you can do it,” one said.

“This is all our doing and I was selected to talk to you, Master Pu,” another explained.

“This concerns all of us; if, sir, we don’t beg you, honorable Master, whom shall we beg?” pleaded a third.

Since they could no longer call me “Emperor” or “Majesty,” they now called me by any term that came to their minds. I was so irked by the whole incident that I couldn’t help but discuss it with Colonel Volokov who was responsible for looking after us. His only response was to say that “I shall submit this message for you.”

At this time I didn’t fully understand that these people knew that the Kuomingtang (Chiang Kai-shek) could use them and therefore they felt that if they returned to China it would not only be safe but also that they would be able to earn a living.

One day, one of the Manchukuo prisoners who had been assigned to cleaning duty, while we were in Khabarovsk, fell to the floor in an epileptic fit and began to babble. An ex-high Manchukuo official, who believed in séances, felt that this man who was writhing on the floor was speaking the words of the gods who had taken possession of his body. He immediately knelt down beside him, kowtowed and said: “We sincerely and respectfully request the great god to give us a sign that we can know when we may leave the Soviet Union and return to our homes.”

Our Russian interpreters often told us the news and we were also allowed to read a Chinese newspaper published by the Soviet Army in Port Arthur called Trud. It was from these two sources that we were able to follow the developments in China and the fighting between the Communists and the Nationalists. I, however, was not much interested because I realized that no matter which side won it would be the same for me. Both sides would wish to have my life; my only hope was never to return to China.

The ex-high Manchukuo officials, however, were very much concerned about developments and placed their hopes in the victory of Chiang Kai-shek because they felt that with United States aid, Chiang could defeat the Communists. Therefore, when we first heard the news of the victories of the People’s Liberation Army, no one chose to believe it. And later on, when the facts were proven, the officials became panicky. When the new China was declared established one of them, who seemed to feel that he was more experienced in this sort of thing, proposed that we send our greetings to the government, and this proposal received a favorable reaction among us.

During my five years’ detention in Soviet Russia I was never able to dispense with my prerogatives. When later we were transferred to the receiving center in Khabarovsk and there were no attendants, I still had people to wait on me. The members of my family made my bed, tidied up my room, brought me my meals and washed my clothing. Even though they did not dare to address me as Emperor in public, they still called me “the Upper One,” and every day, when they came to my room in the morning, they would first pay their respects to me.

One day, right after our arrival at a suburb of Khabarovsk, I wished to take a walk. At the foot of the stairs there was a former high official sitting in a chair who did not even nod his head or look at me. I became so angry that from this time on I preferred to stay upstairs and spend the greater part of the day reading Buddhist scriptures. But in general, the majority of the ex-officials still maintained their respect for me. For example, during these five years, on the occasion of the Chinese New Year celebrations, when we ate meat dumplings, the first bowl was always presented to me.

I did not wish to work and also I did not wish to let my family members work for other people. I remember once at dinnertime, my younger brother and my sister’s husband wished to help set the table. I stopped them. How could my family serve other people? Between 1947 and 1948 when most of my family were sent for a while to another receiving center in Khabarovsk, I felt very much inconvenienced.

Although the Soviet authorities treated me with consideration and allowed me to eat by myself, I still had the problem of who would bring me my rice bowl. Fortunately, my brother-in-law volunteered. He not only brought me my food but he was also willing to wash my clothing. Meanwhile, the receiving center set aside for us a small plot of land in the courtyard where we could plant vegetables.

My family and I raised green peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, beans, and other vegetables, and when I saw how these green plants grew daily I was most impressed. Every day I would take a can to water the plants and enjoyed doing this very much because I had never done anything like it before. But my main interest in my garden was derived from the fact that I loved to eat tomatoes and green peppers! And I couldn’t help but think how much more convenient it was to buy them at the grocery.

The authorities of the receiving center issued us Chinese books on The Problems of Leninism and The History of the Soviet Communist Party, and asked my brother and brother-in-law to lecture to everyone on them. But the audience was even more confused than the lecturer. In my own mind, I couldn’t help but think: If they won’t let me stay in Soviet Russia what earthly good would it do, even if I learned these two books by heart? Besides, my green peppers and tomatoes are much more important!

I sat at a special seat beside the lecture rostrum. While listening to “teacher” who went stuttering on about Menshivikism and nationalist dogma, the evils of which I didn’t understand and in which I was totally disinterested, my thoughts kept wandering back to the question of whether I should eventually be able to settle in Moscow or London as an exile. How many years would my jewels and art objects enable me to live comfortably? Then I began to worry about my eggplants. Since the Russians did not eat eggplants what would I be able to do with my harvest?

But still I had to pretend to listen diligently even though some of the others preferred to doze. After dinner, which was a free period, the situation was completely different. All was activity and noise. On one side of the corridor there were always a few tables of Mah-Jongg and the clicking of the tiles and the hum of voices at play. On the other side, near the window, others would often hold up their hands in prayer as they intoned “Amitabha Buddha! Goddess of Mercy!” From upstairs came the strange sounds of Japanese singing “soo, oooh, wooh.” Others meanwhile stood in groups telling fortunes and asked when they could go back home and what had happened to their families. In various bedrooms there were séances and sand readings.

At first the Soviet Army guards were disturbed by this cacophony of noises and cast strange looks about the rooms. But later on, even they became accustomed to it. At this time I would usually stay in my own room either trying to predict the future by tossing coins or reciting The Diamond Sutra.

My thoughts went through no basic changes. I knew that by Soviet law I had committed the crime of treason, but as far as I was concerned, I only thought that what had happened had been due to prearranged destiny. I recalled the old sayings; “Might is right” and “Victors become kings and dukes, but the vanquished become bandits.” At this point I had never heard of “brainwashing” or “reforming one’s thoughts.” I thus adopted the old method of avoiding punishment. Since the Soviet Union was the deciding factor in my life, it therefore was best to be nice to the Russians and seek to gain their favor. I thus contributed my jewels and treasure to Russia on the grounds that I wished to support its postwar economic reconstruction.

I did not give away all my valuables, however, but held back some of the best and asked my nephew to hide these in the double bottom of my black leather suitcase. But it was too small for him to hide all of the things and he therefore had to conceal the rest in whatever I thought would be safe. We hid some of the jewelry in bars of washing soap. But there was still some left over, and this we had to throw away.

One day a Soviet Army officer accompanied by an interpreter came into the parlor holding something shiny in his hand. “Whose things are these?” he asked. “Who put this into a discarded radiator section in the courtyard?”

The detainees immediately surrounded the officer and saw that he was holding some jewelry in his hand. “There are the marks of a silverware shop in Peking on it,” one of them said. “It is very strange. Who could have put it there?”

I immediately recognized the pieces as some of the items I had told my nephew to throw away, and the situation looked especially bad for me since at this time all the other Pekingese detainees had been put in another receiving center. But nevertheless, I kept on shaking my head and repeating: “Strange. Most strange. I wonder who did it. I wonder who could have put it there.”

Unexpectedly, the interpreter who held in his hands an old wooden comb, walked up to me and said: “This comb was found among the jewelry. I remember that it belongs to you!”

“No, no,” I answered, quickly. “Even that comb; it doesn’t belong to me.”

The two Russians stood around for a while, but finally decided to leave. Actually, I not only threw out some of the jewelry but I also had many of my pearls burned in a stove before I left the Soviet Union. Also, I asked my servant Big Li to put others into the chimney on the rooftop.

At the same time, however, I was most cooperative in supplying material to the Russians when they sought my help in investigating the crimes committed by the Japanese “bandits” in the Northeast. And later, when I was called as a witness before the Far East International Military Tribunal in Tokyo, I accused the Japanese of being war criminals in an utterly direct and unreserved way. However, whenever I spoke about this period of history I never discussed my own guilt.

In August, 1946, I appeared as a witness before the Tribunal for a total of eight days. It was said that this was the longest period of time that a witness appeared before this Tribunal and my testimony made headlines in the newspapers throughout the world.

The demand for my appearance as a witness was derived from the desire to illuminate the real background of Japanese relations with China. It was intended to explain how Japan had tried to utilize me, the last Emperor of the Ch’ing Dynasty, as a puppet in order to gain control of the four northeastern provinces. Today I have considerable regrets about my testimony. My difficulty was that I was in constant fear of eventual punishment in China for what I might say.

Even though I did mention some of the facts regarding Japanese behavior, I also covered up a lot of things owing to my fear and to my sense of pride. I therefore did not expose everything concerning the conversations between the Japanese imperialists and myself which had commenced long before the September 18 Incident. After all, what had happened after the incident was clearly the result of prior longterm connections between ourselves and the Japanese. But in order to safeguard my own position I only spoke of how I was compelled to behave as I did and how I suffered at the hands of the Japanese.

On several occasions during the trial, I became excited, and once spoke most impulsively about being forced to worship the ancestral Shinto gods of Japan in Manchukuo. A Japanese attorney rebutted me with the remark that the way I had attacked the Japanese Emperor’s ancestors seemed quite incompatible with my own Oriental traditions of virtue. “I never compelled them to treat my own ancestors as if they were theirs,” I shouted back.

My reply caused laughter in the courtroom. But even so I still felt angry and thus when I came to the death of my wife Tan Yu-ling, I turned my suspicions into established facts. “Even she was murdered by the Japanese,” I said.

The defense counsels tried many methods in order to mitigate the crimes of the accused war criminals. They sought to reduce the value of my testimony and they even tried to deny my qualifications as a witness. Of course they failed. But even if they had been able to refute everything I said, they would have been unable to change the fate of the accused. However, they were able to get me to talk less about the real situation by exploiting my fears of punishment.

I still remember that after I had enumerated the criminal actions of the Japanese, an American lawyer shouted at me: “You have put all the crimes on the Japanese. But you are a criminal too. You will ultimately receive the judgment of the Chinese Government!”

This remark had, of course, touched on the point that I feared most, and it was because of these fears that I had purposely sought to explain away my own conduct by arguing that I had been “kidnapped by the Japanese” and denying that I had entered into intrigues or negotiations with them. And even though the Tribunal produced a letter of mine written to the Japanese, I denounced it as a forgery.

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