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Empress of China (1906-1946)

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— Titular —
Empress consort of the Qing dynasty
Tenure30 November 1922 – 5 November 1924
Empress consort of Manchukuo
Tenure1 March 1934 – 17 August 1945
Born(1906-11-13)13 November 1906
Beijing, Qing Dynasty
Died20 June 1946(1946-06-20) (aged 39)
Yanji, Jilin, China
(m. 1922⁠–⁠1946)
Gobulo Wanrong (郭布羅·婉容)
Posthumous name
Empress Xiaokemin
HouseGobulo (郭布羅)
MotherAisin-Gioro Hengxin
Xuantong Empress
(posthumous name)
(courtesy name)
Traditional Chinese慕鴻
Simplified Chinese慕鸿
(art name)
Traditional Chinese植蓮
Simplified Chinese植莲

Wanrong (婉容; 13 November 1906 – 20 June 1946), also known as Xuantong Empress, of the Manchu Bordered Plain White Banner Gobulo clan, was the wife and empress consort of Puyi, the Xuantong Emperor. She was titular Empress consort of Qing from 1922 until abolition of imperial title in 1924 and Empress consort of Manchukuo from 1934 until abolition of monarchy in 1945. She was posthumously honoured with the title Empress Xiaokemin.

During the Soviet invasion of Manchuria at the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1945, Wanrong was captured by Chinese Communist guerrillas and transferred to different locations before she was settled in a prison camp in Yanji, Jilin. She died in prison in around June or August 1946 and her remains were never found. On 23 October 2006, Wanrong's younger brother, Runqi, conducted a ritual burial for her in the Western Qing tombs.

Wanrong Intro articles: 6


Wanrong's full birth name was Gobulo Wanrong (郭布羅·婉容); she is referred to as simply Wanrong because Manchus were usually referred to by their given names only. Her courtesy name was Muhong (慕鴻) and her art name was Zhilian. She also adopted a Western name, Elizabeth, which was inspired by Elizabeth I of England.

Wanrong Names articles: 3

Family background and early life

Wanrong was born in the Gobulo (郭布羅) clan, which is of Daur ancestry and under the Plain White Banner of the Eight Banners. Her father was Rongyuan (榮源), who served as a Minister of Domestic Affairs (內務府大臣) in the Qing imperial court. Wanrong's biological mother, Aisin-Gioro Hengxin (恒馨), was the fourth daughter of Yuzhang (毓長) and a granddaughter of Puxu (溥煦). She died from childbed fever after giving birth to Wanrong. Wanrong was raised by her stepmother, Aisin-Gioro Hengxiang (恒香), who was the second daughter of Yulang (毓朗) and also a granddaughter of Puxu. Hengxiang left a deep impression on Wanrong because she doted on Wanrong and treated her like a real daughter. Wanrong had a brother, Runliang (潤良)as well as a half-brother, Runqi (潤麒). The family lived in Mao Er (hat maker) hutong (lane) near Di'anmen in Beijing's Dongcheng District.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Rongyuan believed in gender equality so he arranged for Wanrong to be educated in the same manner as her brothers. Wanrong attended an American missionary school in Tianjin, where she learned the English language and played the piano under the tutelage of Isabel Ingram[1]

Wanrong Family background and early life articles: 9

Marriage to Puyi

The Qing dynasty was overthrown in 1911 and replaced by the Republic of China, marking the end of thousands of years of imperial rule in China. The former imperial family were granted special privileges by the Republican government, which allowed them to retain their imperial titles and be treated with respect. Puyi, the abdicated Last Emperor, was given permission to hold an imperial-style wedding in the Forbidden City.

The wedding ceremony of Puyi and Wanrong

The four dowager consorts – the widows of the Tongzhi and Guangxu Emperors – and Prince Chun (Puyi's father) showed Puyi a selection of photographs of young women for him to choose; he selected Wenxiu, but she was revealed to be actually a 12-year-old girl. They suggested that Puyi choose Wanrong, who was about the same age as him and had a similar family background as him. Since he had already chosen Wenxiu, they decided that he marry both Wanrong and Wenxiu as his primary and secondary spouses to fulfil a Manchu tradition. After Wanrong was selected, a group of palace eunuchs were sent to her home to prepare her for an imperial wedding. Runqi, Wanrong's brother said that: "They taught her how to bow and behave with the emperor. She rebelled. She was fed up with the lessons, unhappy about marrying someone she had never met before." In the end, however, she went along with the marriage.[2]

Wanrong went through three traditional etiquette stages before and after the grand nuptials. The ceremony of betrothal gifts, where Puyi had gifts sent to her home with a large procession of people, the Daizheng ceremony which meant the Emperor sent a group of people to go to the bride's home to inform them of the wedding date and finally a title-conferring stage. The title conferring ceremony meant that the emperor had the "precious book" sent to Wanrong's home. The Book of Empress Title-conferring. It read inside: "Gobulo is the daughter of Rongyuan, the Light-carriage of Duwei, with elegance and good family background... thus you are conferred as the empress." [3] On her wedding day, Wanrong was carried in a red sedan chair known as the Phoenix Chair. The bride stepped over a big fire, a saddle and an apple according to Manchu tradition.[4] Puyi sat upon his Dragon Throne as people kowtowed to him. Later in Wanrong's new living quarters, she kowtowed to him six times as the decree of their marriage was read out in celebration.[5] Wanrong wore a mask as was Imperial Chinese tradition for the night-time wedding ceremony and Puyi, who was inexperienced with women, remembered: "I hardly thought about marriage and family. It was only when the Empress came into my field of vision with a crimson satin cloth embroidered with a dragon and a phoenix over her head that I felt at all curious about what she looked like." Afterwards they (along with Wenxiu,) stayed in the Palace of Earthly Tranquility for the night where Wanrong showed her face. The ritual before entering the bridal chamber included the eating of cake, drinking wine served in two cups tied together with a red silk thread and "longevity noodles."[6] Puyi left and did not consummate the marriage.[7]

After the marriage Wanrong began living in the Palace of Gathered Elegance, the old residence of Empress Dowager Cixi,[8] while the Emperor continued living in the [9]Hall of Mental Cultivation.[10]

Wanrong Marriage to Puyi articles: 11

Life in the Forbidden City

Wanrong's marriage to Puyi was unhappy but she found promise in her studies. Her tutor, Isabel Ingram, observed that Wanrong had a remarkable ability to focus for hours on tasks like studying and playing the organ. She enjoyed photography, reading mystery novels, jazz, western cuisine,[8] playing the piano, and writing in English. Wanrong was somewhat more westernised than Puyi, having grown up in the French Concession in Tianjin and is noted for teaching Puyi how to eat Western food with a knife and fork.[11][1][12]

As Empress of China, Wanrong had every whim and desire dealt with by a retinue of eunuchs and maids. The Empress had her own kitchen as well as a special tailor who would make new dresses for her almost every day.[13] When bathing, her elderly maids would undress and clean her. Afterwards she would often sit on the side of the basin and admire her body.[14]Sun, her personal eunuch said that despite her temper, Wanrong was generally kind to servants and would offer him food as she often dined alone.[15]

After the royal wedding was over Puyi, Wanrong and Wenxiu along with an entourage would occasionally leave the Forbidden City mostly to visit relatives or on a few occasions to sightsee. On one such occasion It was reported they stopped in a garden during a visit to see his sick grandmother. The local press during 1923 reported on these outings and they appeared in newspapers. On another occasion they visited the Summer Palace in April 1924.[16] On another trip they left to have tea with Puyi's English tutor, Reginald Fleming Johnston. Time Magazine said that Elizabeth (Wanrong) was accompanied by Miss Isabel Ingram and Puyi was "in his element" speaking English.[17]Pujie (Puyi's brother) said that there were always several two-person palanquins waiting to carry the tutors in at the Gate of Divine Valor every afternoon when they came to teach.[12]

Wanrong sitting, with her tutor, Isabel Ingram, and Reginald Johnston, the tutor of her husband, Emperor Puyi, in the Forbidden City in 1924

At the age of eighteen or nineteen (Chinese age) Wanrong still behaved like a child and enjoyed playing games with her maids and eunuchs. She once played ''drop the handkerchief'' in the courtyard into nine o'clock in the evening. The Empress was reluctant to see visitors go, making them play games until everyone was thoroughly tired. Sometimes a eunuch would be summoned and be on duty for no other reason than to keep her company or play with her.[18] Wanrong, in her loneliness, longed for someone to amuse her.[19] One day Reginald Johnston visited unexpectedly. The Empress found his Chinese pronunciation amusing. Wanrong got dressed up in a couple of cheongsams including her favourite dark green cheongsam and flower-pot shoes. Johnston took numerous photos of her in several locations. When they were developed she looked at them with her maids and eunuchs, laughing happily.[20]

Sun reminisced that Puyi once appeared with a German-made bicycle to help Wanrong learn how to ride a bike with the eunuchs helping. During this time Puyi would come every day to see her. On one particular day Sun was asked to have a try, with him quickly falling off, not knowing how to ride causing everyone to laugh and clap.[19] On another occasion he was asked to go on a swing in the veranda of the Palace of Universal Happiness, with the other eunuchs pushing vigorously, scaring him, with Wanrong finding the situation to be humorous. The Empress on the other hand was brave enough to stand up while the swing was moving.[21]

Wanrong wrote poetry, composed at least one song, practiced painting and wrote letters.[22] A few of the letters lightly mocked her perceived love rival Wenxiu. Wanrong also sent English notes to Puyi.[23]

One of Wanrong's letters read:

To Lady Ailian (Wenxiu): I haven't seen you for days. Are you still feeling sorry for yourself? I do want to buy a mirror for you to admire yourself in it. Here is a song composed for you to repay your sneer: Good luck to Lady Ailian. Lady Ailian is good at playing the piano. Lady Ailian is good at singing. Lady Ailian has recovered a little from her spoilt illness. Has lady Ailian taken medicine? Lady Ailian can take food well and poo naturally. Good night to you!"[24][25]

A sarcastic poem written by Wanrong again shows the rivalry between the two girls, with it reading:

Wanrong and Wenxiu in the Forbidden City

The bright moon has risen over the east wall;

The Consort Shu was sitting alone in the empty room.

The delicate swallow often dances in a lonely way;

The fair lady is absolutely unrivalled in the world.[26]

An article in Time magazine dated Monday, May 12, 1924, titled "CHINA: Henry the Democrat" noted that Huan Tung (Xuantong Emperor), and Wanrong had adopted Western names, with Wanrong's being Elizabeth.[17]

The eunuch Sun Yaoting said Puyi would rarely spend the night with Wanrong in the Palace of Gathered Elegance. Wanrong never closed the door at night, but only drew the door curtain. On rare occasions when Puyi did come the door would be closed and the maid on night watch sent away.[27] Reginald Fleming Johnston attempted to improve the relationship between Puyi and Wanrong as well as to get Wanrong's entourage to mix with Puyi's, ultimately Johnston did not get very far. Johnston himself thought that Puyi had been married too young.[28]

Smoking became a habit for the Empress, she began with cigarettes and eventually opium, although initially it was for severe stomach ache[29] as well as headaches.[30] According to Wang Qingxiang, author of the book The Last Emperor and His Five Wives and researcher for the Jilin Provincial Academy of Social Sciences,[31] mental problems were one of the reasons for taking opium.[30] Wanrong suffered from a hereditary mental illness according to Puyi's cousin, Pujia, in his (Chinese) memoir, ''Pu Yi's Exodus From the Palace.''[32]

In December 1923, she donated 600 silver coins to famine relief efforts and earned praise from around the world.

Wanrong Life in the Forbidden City articles: 12

Life in Tianjin

In October 1924, the warlord Feng Yuxiang seized control of Beijing in a coup. He forced Puyi and his family out of the Forbidden City on 5 November. Wanrong's tutor, Ingram spoke of seeing the soldiers outside as she came to enter and said of the time period: ''...That day was the end of my beautiful China... In my country (China), a steam train is still a fire-spitting demon, electricity is the eye of the devil, motor cars which are not uncommon, still elicit a dubious and suspicious response from the inland Chinese. It has all come so suddenly. The Chinese are being Europeanized with one majestic blow. And that blow has killed the beautiful spiritual quality of the country. It is, at present, a chaotic and uncertain land.''[33]

Puyi, Wanrong and Wenxiu stayed at the house of Puyi's father after being exiled, the Prince Chun Mansion in Beijing.[34] Puyi then secretly took refuge in the Japanese Legation in Beijing.[35][36][37] Puyi later moved out of Beijing to the Japanese concession in Tianjin on February 24, 1925.[38] Wanrong and Wenxiu later followed him and arrived on February 27, 1925.[39] Puyi and Wanrong settled in the Zhang garden in Tianjin later moving to the Quiet Garden Villa (Jing garden) within the Japanese concession in Tianjin.[40][41] In the villa, they lived in relative peace and enjoyed an active public and social life. She smoked opium while in Tianjin as a pastime and later became addicted to it. Wanrong's perceived temper problems may have been one of the reasons for encouraging it,[42][43] however, smoking opium at this time was not unusual (see History of opium in China).

Wanrong smoking a cigarette, 1930, Japanese concession, Tianjin

The American journalist Nora Waln met and befriended Wanrong in Tianjin in 1927. Waln described Wanrong as a person of wit, intelligence, and remarkable beauty. Wanrong told Waln of the Manchu wedding pageant when she married Puyi in 1922, of their two years of living in the Forbidden City, and of their being driven out by Feng Yuxiang in 1924. Hu Siyuan who taught Wanrong classical literature commented that "she was wise and eager to learn, quick-witted and inquisitive; she always made a thorough inquiry of the ups and downs of ancient events, had a profound understanding of the texts. My admiration of her was beyond description. If she kept on teaching herself in the palace, I believed that she would be able to refer to the past for the present and then contributed to the wise governance of the emperor."[44]

Wanrong found various avenues for entertainment in Tianjin: theatre, dancing, skating, horse-riding, sports, shopping, etc. She was a heavy shopper – shopping was a technique she used to compete with Wenxiu for Puyi's affection and attention. Puyi would frequently take Wanrong to the Xinming Theater to enjoy operas.[45] Wanrong's friend Shuh Yun was invited on one occasion to play mahjong tiles at the Zhang Garden. Shu Yun recalled she would go on sightseeing trips with her. She apparently did not participate in activities like dancing in the ball, nor did she buy any sweepstakes, she didn't ride a horse or play balls. They had previously visited the International Jockey Club and the Ballroom of West Lake Restaurant. Though, she mostly just enjoyed observing out of curiosity.[46]

On July 9, 1929, Puyi and his family moved from their old home in Tianjin, the Zhang Garden to the Jing garden.[47]

Whenever Puyi bought something for one of them, the other would insist that Puyi buy for her too. Puyi also showed a preference for Wanrong and spent more time with her, which eventually led to Wenxiu divorcing him in 1931. Puyi blamed Wanrong for forcing away Wenxiu and consequently neglected her after that.[48] When the 1931 Yellow River floods broke out, Wanrong donated her jewellery and silver coins to disaster relief efforts and gained much publicity throughout China.

Puyi's sister, Yunhe, noted in her diary in September 1930, that her brother (Puyi) had told her that "yesterday the Empress flew into rage saying that she had been bullied by me and she poured out terrible and absurd words"...[43]

Li Guoxing who had served under Puyi for over 30 years, said that while Wanrong was proud and shrewish(translated from:泼辣)[49][50][51][52] she was kind-hearted and compassionate and was friendly to servants[53]

Wanrong kept a diary while in Tianjin and wrote numerous entries about Wenxiu, her illnesses, and her neglect at the hands of Puyi.

On May 2, 1931, Wanrong wrote: "Oh, my beloved! What shall I do? If I suffer for myself, though I have to stay in bed due to illness, I would still feel comfortable. If others suffer for me, I would not know what to do. Oh, my beloved! I have no idea what's in your mind. While I recall the past days, it makes me suffer from a kind of hatred. They should not have married me to a man with a wife. During those years in the Zhang Garden, I suspected that my darling loved the Consort Shu more than me and my heart went broken for that. Deep in sorrow, I wept day and night all the time, which caused me to suffer from algomenorrhea (period pains) and diarrhoea in no less than a hundred days. As a result, it makes me suffer from panasthenia today. However, I have never spoken it out, nor have I complained about anybody. Every day I had to wear a full smile when meeting others, so no one could detect how much bitterness I was suffering in my heart!"[43]

On June 25, 1931 Wanrong wrote: My darling told me that I could fall in love with others I said: "No! Stop that nonsense. You once said that if we couldn't settle the problem at present, it would be settled on some day in the later years. Tell me how sorry I would be to hear that at that time! I do not want to fall in love with any others" And then I added: "you had a dream that day... you were so sad. Once you were here, you asked me to fall in love with others, but for this you always looked sad. What's the reason for that?" Oh, my god! My dear! Is he also in the same situation as me? Is he also trying to keep his sorrow at the bottom of his heart and not wanting to speak it out? I really can do nothing about that! By Rong Yuehua (note: a temporary name for Wanrong). At Mao Period (one of the 12 two-hour periods of a day; it indicates the period from 5 am. to 7 a m.) of lunar May 10.[54]

(no date) "No expecting. No longing. No teasing in the dark. Well-behaved and keep on being a virgin girl. Bear in mind manners and shames. Keep my virginity. No matter how hard the Eastern wind was blowing the tender bamboo with "jies," but it can do nothing with its "jie" even if it's life comes to and end! (note: a pun, "jie" here means a "node" of the bamboo tree on the surface. But it means Wanrong's loyalty to Puyi in fact.)

On August 14, 1931, Wanrong wrote that Wenxiu had seen her from her window and called out (to Wanrong): "Why should you take opium? You'd better stab your belly. Why could you still be alive but not kick the bucket? Why wouldn't you jump from the high building or jump into the river? Why just follow my steps to have a drink? I have survived so many times... I have changed my mind and I won't commit suicide any longer. You don't need to sell.. for me."[54]

Wenxiu was recorded in Wanrong's diary stabbing herself with a pair of scissors a few days later.

On September 30, 1931, Wanrong wrote: 'It was the lunar 19 August. About four or five days ago. I said: "I want to stop smoking" The Emperor said: "You are still in poor health. It's not time for you to stop smoking now. It will not be too late for you to do so after your recovery" I said: "Isn't it true that you hate me for my smoking? If you don't like it, I will stop it at once. You ever told me that smoking did harm to being pregnant." The Emperor said: "Forget it! It is Zheng Chili (note: the son of Zheng Xiaoxu) and Zhang Chenghe who said that. It is not believable. There are many smokers who can still give birth to babies as usual. You don't need to mind it. Furthermore, the doctor Bo (a female doctor from the German Hospital ever[sic] said that a little smoking was better than drinking. On the condition that you do not smoke too much, it does no harm to your body and it ever[sic] does some good to it. Have you ever seen any foreigner who does not drink? They do at every meal and they are productive!" I am so grateful that the Emperor is so enlightening. That the Emperor does not believe in the slanderous talk shows that he sets his affection on me and shows his consideration for me."[43]

Wanrong playing with a child

Valno, a man who had often spoken to Wanrong would always mention that she was weak and feeble whenever he wrote about her. In Wanrong's journal entry of April 30th, 1931, she said that she had got seriously ill three times during her seven years in Tainjin. According to her journals, she still suffered from several chronic diseases such as "panasthenia" (neurasthenia) and irregular menstruation. At Puyi's insistence as noted in the above diary entry, she continued to smoke opium, and later became seriously addicted.[43]

On October 1, 1931 Wanrong wrote: "It was the lunar August 20th. The Emperor talked about the treason with me. (note: they regard Wenxiu's asking for divorce as "treason") I asked: "is what was said in the press true?" The Emperor said: it's nothing but rumors."[54]

Puyi noted in his memoir that he began to feel a ''revulsion'' for Wanrong after she drove Wenxiu away and consequently neglected her to the point Wanrong did not tell him of her feelings.[48]

Wanrong Life in Tianjin articles: 9

As Empress of Manchukuo

Late in 1931, Yoshiko Kawashima, acting under instruction from the Japanese Kwantung Army, fetched Wanrong from Tianjin to Dalian and then to Lüshun (then known as Port Arthur) to meet Puyi who had accepted an offer from the Empire of Japan to head the puppet state of Manchukuo in Manchuria (northeastern China) in the hope of restoring the Qing dynasty. Wanrong was firmly against Puyi's plans to go to Manchuria, which she called treason, and for a moment Puyi hesitated, leading Doihara to send for Puyi's cousin, the very pro-Japanese Yoshiko Kawashima, to visit him to change his mind. After Puyi had snuck into Manchuria Li Guoxiong claims Wanrong had told him: "As you see, His Majesty had left and His Highness could not come here. I was deserted here and who would take care of me?"[55] Yoshiko Kawashima, a strong-willed, flamboyant, openly bisexual woman noted for her habit of wearing male clothing and uniforms, had much influence on them and they were eventually relocated to Changchun, Jilin, which was renamed "Hsinking" (新京; lit. "new capital") in March 1932.[56]

Puyi and Wanrong on March 8 of 1932 before setting off for the official Manchukuo founding ceremony in Hsinking (Changchun)[57] Li Tiyu is pictured behind Puyi

Wanrong and her entourage landed at Dalian on November 28, 1931. Initially the Japanese military did not allow Puyi and Wanrong to stay together, with Wanrong's requests to visit Puyi being declined. Kudo Tetsuaburo, who worked as a guard for puyi, stated there was a rumor that the emperor had been killed and another rumor that he had been put under house arrest. It was claimed that Wanrong cried and shouted out: "Why am I not allowed to see His Majesty?" Wanrong was eventually allowed to visit Puyi in Lushun. It is possible the Japanese military initially feared that Puyi could be influenced by those around him at such a critical stage of developments and were hesitant to allow them to live together. Prince Su's Mansion in Lushun served as Puyi's temporary palace in which Wanrong would spend a few months before settling in Hsinking. Li Guoxing, Puyi's servant recalled that she acted like a spoiled child on several occasions.[58]

After arriving in Hsinking, Wanrong was closely monitored by the Japanese and had to do as they instructed. She began to detest the Japanese and secretly planned to escape on two occasions. Wellington Koo, a diplomat, recalled in his memoirs that when he was in Dalian, he once met a man (possibly disguised as an[59]) antique merchant who said he was sent by Wanrong to seek his help in escaping from Hsinking. Koo could not help her because of his status then. Koo later wrote in his memoir "..My attendant said that he knew this man in Beijing and that he could meet him. He told me that this man was disguised as an antique dealer to avoid the attention of the Japanese (perhaps he had been an antique dealer). I went out to the porch and we stopped at the corner. The man told me that he was sent by the Empress. He said she asked me to help her escape from Changchun because she knew I was going to Manchuria; he said she felt miserable about her life because she was surrounded by Japanese attendants in the palace (there were no Chinese attendants there), and her every move was watched and denounced. She knew that the emperor could not escape, and if she could, she could have helped him to escape.[60] In another incident, around August or September 1933, when the wife of Zhao Xinbo (趙欣伯), a Manchukuo official, was preparing to leave for Japan, Wanrong approached her and asked her for help. However, Wanrong's plan was discovered by Puyi's sister, Yunying, who was in Japan then. Yunying told Puyi about it; Wanrong's plan to escape failed again. Wanrong also pleaded with Puyi to escape to America, with the aid of her father's (Rong Yuan) American business contacts.

Puyi became a devout Buddhist, reading many books and sutras on the topic and had developed superstitions to the point where he would not allow his staff to kill a single fly. Puyi wrote that Wanrong became so engrossed in these superstitions that she would blink and spit unnecessarily, tellingly, as if she was mentally ill.[61]

Wanrong as Empress of Manchukuo wearing a large gege hat (1934)

On 1 March 1934, the Japanese government proclaimed Puyi as the Emperor of Manchukuo and Wanrong as his Empress. The couple lived in the Russian-built Weihuang Palace (now the Museum of the Imperial Palace of the Manchu State), a tax office that had been converted into a temporary palace while a new structure was being built.[62] Apart from Puyi's coronation in 1934, Wanrong only made one other public appearance as Empress of Manchukuo, in 1934, when Prince Chichibu visited Manchukuo on behalf of the Shōwa Emperor to mark close ties between Japan and Manchukuo. While these were the only big state ceremonies she participated in, she is noted to have made smaller public appearances; in Wild Swans, she was noted to have participated in the official visit of the Emperor to Jinzhou in September 1939, where the mother of the author was selected to present flowers to the Empress on her arrival to the city.[63]

According to the 1934 "Imperial Palace" archives, Wanrong made 27 pieces of cheongsam in one year. She was also taught drawing and music, such as the piano as well as playing chess and tennis recreationally.[64][65] Cui Huimei who taught Wanrong recalled: "We sisters taught the empress Wanrong drawing and music, but I remembered the empress Wanrong taught us to sing a song. It was the national anthem of the Qing Dynasty. The lyrics were dismal.."[66]

On June 7, 1934, Wanrong and Puyi took part in a ceremony at the palace including Prince Cichibu of Japan[67][68][69]

On November 21, 1934, The New York Times wrote an article stating that: ''due to "nervous illness, Empress Yueh Hua (name for Wanrong that she had used in the past) will soon leave the capital to spend the Winter at Dairen.''[70]

When Puyi was in a good mood things went well, there was a garden and activities for them to do together like tennis, the Manchukuo Palace even had a movie theatre.[71] Wanrong would take money out of her annual spending to pay tribute to the Emperor. She kept six pugs not including Puyi's Wolfhound. Puyi would sometimes sit in her bedroom before he slept and would leave at midnight unreluctantly which infuriated Wanrong.[64] She is said to have thrown objects around in a rage. Due to Puyi's neglect and her loneliness in Manchukuo, Wanrong took to smoking tobacco mixed with small doses of opium as a relaxant. Over time, she became a heavy opium addict and was reportedly smoking two ounces of opium daily by 1938. Between 10 July 1938 and 10 July 1939 Wanrong had bought 740 ounces of opium.[72] Her monthly spending also increased by twice the original amount, and most of it was spent on opium along with a large number of fashion and movie magazines.[73]

Secret affairs

While Puyi was away on an extended stay in Japan, out of loneliness, the opium-addicted Wanrong had secret affairs with two of Puyi's aides in the Manchukuo Palace, Li Tiyu (李體玉) and Qi Jizhong (祁繼忠). On one occasion Puyi noticed that Li Tiyu had lipstick on and questioned him as to why he had put it on, with Li Tiyu responding that he had been pale-lipped and wanted to make it look pleasant to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years. His answer caused an uproar of laughter. After this Li Tiyu always wore lipstick. In another instance Puyi beat him after becoming suspicious of where he was during the night after Puyi had got up to discover his bedding, with nobody there. Li Tiyu claimed to have had an affair with a guard's wife.[74]

Puyi wrote in the unabridged version[75] of his memoir that he wished to divorce her but was scared to offend the Japanese when the Kwantung Army disapproved.[76] Puyi issued a proclamation about going to Lushun on the 21st of January, 1935 to "avoid the cold," where he planned to leave Wanrong, but the Japanese saw through his plans and did not allow it. Wanrong reportedly discovered the plot and was deeply upset.[76] She bore an illegitimate daughter and insisted that Puyi either acknowledge the child as his or allow the child to be raised outside the imperial household, but Puyi ignored her and the infant was killed upon delivery in 1935.[77] Wanrong was immediately removed by Puyi's Japanese handlers to a remote hospital. There are two accounts of what happened to Wanrong after her daughter's death. One account said that Puyi lied to her that her daughter was raised by a nanny hired by her brother, and Wanrong never knew about her daughter's death. The other account said that Wanrong found out about her daughter's infanticide and lived in a constant daze of opium consumption since then.[78] In Puyi's unabridged memoir he wrote, ''...she was told he had been adopted and remained dreaming of her son living in the world until her dying day.”[79] As her mental health declined Puyi went so far as to put chains on Wanrong's legs in order to limit her movements.[80] Wanrong was more hesitant to divorce than Wenxiu as she enjoyed the benefits of being Empress, although by this time Wanrong had little choice, evidenced by her previous attempts to escape. Puyi noted in his memoir that Wanrong attached great important to her position as empress, unlike Wenxiu and was therefore willing to be a wife in name only.[81][82]

Wanrong's father eventually stopped visiting her in Manchukuo due to her drastic transformation. Ronqi, her brother said her father loved her a lot and couldn't bear to face what Wanrong had become.[83] The Empress is said to have smoked two packets of cigarettes a day along with large quantites of opium and the cheapest pipes available and no longer groomed herself or got dressed properly. Much of her time was spent locked in her quarters.[65][84] Wanrong was so isolated that Puyi's concubine, Li Yuqin, who arrived in 1943, only saw her face after the collapse of the regime in 1945.[85] Wanrong's mental health decline continued. Hiro Saga, the wife of Puyi's brother wrote about the Empress at a shared dinner, noting: As I watched, she reached for a plate of turkey over and over again. I was surprised at how healthy she was, but I later learned that the Empress was suffering from opium poisoning and often suffered from bouts of mental instability. In such cases, no matter how much she ate, she could not tell.[86][87] When Wanrong had moments of mental lucidity she is said to have cried and cursed her father,[65][85] accusing him of ruining her life. It is claimed in her later years she struggled to walk and her eyesight severely deteriorated (this may not have been due to opium) and she couldn't stand brightness. She would use a folded fan to block her face when she looked at others, trying to look through the cracks.[88]

Wanrong As Empress of Manchukuo articles: 21

Imprisonment and death

In August 1945, during the Evacuation of Manchukuo in the midst of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, Puyi attempted to flee from Manchukuo because his immediate entourage was at risk of arrest. He left behind Wanrong, his concubine Li Yuqin, and other imperial household members.[89] Wanrong, along with her sister-in-law Saga Hiro and the rest of her group, tried to flee to Korea but were captured by Chinese Communist guerrillas (in present-day Linjiang, Jilin) in January 1946. They were transferred to different prison camps in Tonghua, Changchun, Yongji and Dunhua.[90] By then, Wanrong's opium supply had run out for a long time and she was suffering from the effects of withdrawal. When the National Revolutionary Army bombed Jilin, Wanrong and Saga were moved to a prison in Yanji.[91]

Prince Pujian had quickly moved them to Dalizi(大栗子镇) as rumours abounded of Soviet soldiers defiling women and thought they would be safer in the mountains. The Soviets, however, had already got there and Soviet officers informed Prince Pujian and their group that they had come to liberate Northeast China as well as asking to see the Empress. The officers briefly met Li Yuqin and Wanrong before departing.

Wanrong and her group later moved from Dalizi to settle in Linjian county to pass the winter in a hotel due to the cold as well as problems such as the running water icing up. On one occasion Li Yuqin went to see Wanrong who reached out her thin arm, making a wave to let Li Yuqin sit on her bedside. Eunuchs said this was unprecedented and nobody had before been offered a seat.[92] Wanrong let out two noises, ''Heh! heh!' 'Li Yuqin recalled: ''My grief was unbearable and I was in tears. Her eyes showed her panic and anxiety.''[65]

Eventually, they were transferred to Changchun by the military under the command of communist He Changgong who discovered them.[93] Li Yuquin, Puyi's concubine was later taken back by her family, but Wanrong had no place to settle down. Her father had been captured and her brother had deserted her. She had no choice but to move around with the army.[94] According to Behr in his book The Last Emperor, Li Yuqin supposedly offered Wanrong a place to stay at her home, but her mother having no sympathy alerted communist party officials who had her group arrested.[95] When the military left Changchun they took Wanrong with them.[96]

Hiro Saga wrote about her time at the Jilin prison saying: "All day long, the Empress rolled around on the wooden floor, screaming and moaning like a mad woman, her eyes were wide with agony. She could only feed herself, but she could no longer defecate by herself."[87] Due to the ongoing Chinese Civil War, Wanrong had to be moved again.[94]

While suffering from the symptoms of opium withdrawal in Yanji, Wanrong was cared for in her most frail and vulnerable state by her sister-in-law, Saga Hiro. Wanrong, because she was the former empress, was put on display in the jail as if she was in a zoo, and people came from miles around to watch her.[97] During this time, Wanrong hallucinated being the empress in the Forbidden City again; in one incident, she spoke in a commanding tone to the prison guards, who laughed at her in response. In her delirium, she demanded more opium, asked for imaginary servants to bring her clothing, food and a bath.[98] The general hatred for Puyi meant that none had any sympathy for Wanrong, who was seen as another Japanese collaborator, and a guard told Lady Saga that "this one won't last", making it a waste of time feeding her.[99]

In prison at Yanji city Saga wrote: "I looked through the small window and saw to my surprise that the Empress had fallen from her bunk onto the concrete floor and her food had been left in the far entrance for days. The smell of urine was horrible."[100]

An order was issued on June 10 to move Wanrong, Saga Hiro and their entourage to Mutankiang and then to Kiamusze. Wanrong was unable to walk and the man in charge of the prison said it would be best to leave Wanrong, in case she died on the way. Wanrong's last days were spent without any relatives or friends.[101]

After Saga was separated from her, Wanrong died in prison at the age of 39, June 20, 1946 [101] from the effects of malnutrition and opium withdrawal in a pool of her own bodily fluids.[99] Her place of burial is unknown. Some said she was wrapped in a piece of cloth and discarded in the hills north of Yanji while others claimed that she was buried in the south of Yanji, though it is thought she was probably buried to the south.[101] Her remains were never found.

Three years later, Puyi learned from a letter written by Saga Hiro to Pujie that Wanrong had died. He was emotionless.[102] Puyi wrote in his memoir: " The experiences of Wanrong, who had been neglected for a long time, might be incomprehensible to a modern younger of New China. If her fate had not been arranged at her birth time, it would certainly be arranged at the beginning of the marriage with me. And then I often thought if she had divorced me in Tianijn as Wenxiu did she might have escaped it."[103]

Wanrong Imprisonment and death articles: 10

Grave memorial

On 23 October 2006, Wanrong's younger brother, Runqi, conducted a ritual burial for his sister at the Western Qing tombs. A photo owned by Runqi, her brother was buried there. A hand mirror which belonged to Wanrong was also chosen but not buried, in hopes it would be put in a museum.[104]


Wanrong wrote a song called Paper Kite

青天 路迢迢 喜馬拉山 比不高

世界繁華 都在目 立身雲端 何逍遙

有時 奏弦歌 春風但願 不停飄

Kite by Wanrong

全憑 一線牽 風伯扶住 向上飛

Score composed by Wanrong

莫教雨師 來迎接 竹當身體 紙做衣

偶逢 春朋友 語道你高 我還低

Under the blue sky, an endless journey lays before me, even the Himalayas seems shorter from where I stand

I can see the entire bustling world, yet standing atop the clouds, how can I be truly free and unfettered?

Sometimes I sing to the melody, and I wish the winds of spring will not stop, so (my kite) can continue to fly

(the kite) Only connected (to me) through one thin thread, flying upwards thanks to help from the wind god

Need not call the rains to come welcome (the kite), bamboo as the body and paper as the clothes

Sometimes in spring I happened to meet friends (along the way), (they) claimed that I was 'higher' than them, but in truth, I'm actually the 'lower' one.[105]


Wanrong and Puyi were descendants of Qianlong Emperor, this family tree shows the relationships between them and their siblings before they married.

Family tree of Wanrong & Puyi


Hongli 弘曆
1711 – 1799
Qianlong Emperor
Yonghuang 永璜
1728 – 1750
Prince Ding An of the First Rank
(title posthumously)
Yongyan 顒琰
1760 – 1820
Jiaqing Emperor
Miande 綿德
1747 – 1786
Beizi 貝子
1784 – 1786
Minning 旻寧
1782 – 1850
Daoguang Emperor
Yichun 奕純
1767 – 1816
Beizi 貝子
1786 – 1816
Yixuan 奕譞
1840 – 1891
Prince Chun Xian of the First Rank
1872 – 1891
Zaiming 載銘
1795 – 1840
Third Class Bulwark General
1816 – 1840
Zaifeng 載灃
1883 – 1951
Prince Chun of the First Rank
1891 – 1912
Puxu 溥煦
1831 – 1907
Prince Ding Shen of the Second Rank
1854 – 1907
Puyi 溥儀
1906 – 1967
Yunying 韞媖
1909 – 1925
1913 – 1992
Yulang 毓朗
1864 – 1922
Beile Minda
1907 – 1922
Yuzhang 毓長
1851 – 1903
Defender General
1872 – 1903
Rongyuan 榮源Hengxin 恒馨
Runliang 潤良Wanrong 婉容
1904 – 1946

Wanrong Ancestry articles: 8


Wanrong had two brothers. The elder one, Runliang (潤良; 1904–1925), married Puyi's first sister, Yunying (韞媖; 1909–1925). They had no children. Wanrong's younger brother, Runqi (潤麒; 1912–2007), married Puyi's third sister, Yunying (韞穎; 1913–1992). They had two sons and a daughter.

Portrayal in media

Wanrong was portrayed by Joan Chen in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1987 film The Last Emperor.

In 2005, at the age of 93, Runqi, Wanrong's brother angered at how the media and drama crews had portrayed his sister, sued, saying, "As long as I live, I will not allow irresponsible fabrications and even personal insults about Wanrong's life story! Insult!"[106]

Wanrong Portrayal in media articles: 3

See also


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External links

Gobulo Clan
Chinese royalty
Title last held by
as titular Empress consort of the Qing dynasty
Empress consort of China

1 March 1934 – 17 August 1945
Monarchy abolished
Manchukuo was ended in 1945
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Monarchy abolished
Jingfen, Empress Xiaodingjing as actual empress consort
Empress consort of China
Qing dynasty

30 November 1922 – 5 November 1924
Reason for succession failure:
Qing dynasty was ended in 1912
Title next held by
as Empress consort of Manchukuo