So… I’ve arrived at a tricky blog. Whereas some of you have returned for the light-hearted- dare I suggest even amusing- tone and just the general tomfoolery of our dear friends the Chinese, today’s blog is somewhat more serious in nature. If you are expecting some gags, and may disappointed not to find any, you have my full permission to leave now.
With that in mind, the two of you left can enjoy this edition of crashingabike, which delves into the final years the Qing dynasty and the palace of the Last Emperor of China, Puyi, right here in Changchun.
The Qing dynasty runs from the mid-seventeenth century through to the early twentieth and stood for centuries as a forward thinking and developing autocracy, leading China into the rapidly modernising world. However, during the final stages of the Qing line, the North-east of China and parts of Korea suffered a brutal, merciless invasion and subsequent conquering of the area at the hands of the Japanese in 1939. This follows the imperialist expansionalism seen so frequently world-wide during the early years of the twentieth century. After being overthrown, the Qing family was reinstated as a puppet government, representing Japanese-held Manchuria. Some may see it as regrettable- such nobility being marred by the connotations- however not only do the Chinese feel no sympathy for the Qing line, and active dislike of the Japanese continues to ravage public opinion even today.
Disappointingly, even among the younger student population, there was content and dare I say even glee shown towards the Fukushima nuclear disaster and tsunami, which shocked the world in 2011, and continues to leave its mark nearly two years later. So, the question remains, why would such an invasion leave such a poisonous mark?
I went to the palace of the Last Emperor of China, Puyi, and the seat of the puppet government of Mǎnzhōuguó, or Manchukuo to you and I, to find out.
By way of introduction, it may be perhaps interesting to start in the museum-come-memorial to the invasion, which vows never to forget. The following panel displayed in the museum gives a timely reminder as to public opinion of the puppet government. For emphasis, I have chosen to highlight a few mood-setters:
(Nb. They didn’t lie. There was a room full of ugly people [photos] who represented positions within the puppet government!)
The museum offers up several graphic portrayals of the invasion, which included dismembered/ disfigured limbs and various other body parts, as well as decapitations and depictions of torture scenes, complete with authentic props.
(Three key aspects of Japanese rule, according to the Chinese: autocracy, slavery and violence).
It is perhaps quite sombre to note that despite the obvious ill-feeling towards the invaders, which is accompanied with a stern propaganda offensive, these events that took place seem to be out of proportion, yet carry substantial weight. The behaviour appears to be synonymous with accounts of cruelty at the hands of the Japanese told by many nations during this period. Tyranny, barbarism and even cannibalism were unfortunately commonplace.
Puyi, the Last Emperor, was not totally accountable for this, it has to be said. Although many see him and his government as facilitators, he chose to remain in the palace and only conduct state business when forced to. It was not uncommon for the Emperor to retire from official proceedings, and his reception room was never used for state business- more frequently for social occasions surrounding him family. Another show of defiance to the oppressive regime was his symbolically creative method of not only reading the newspaper whilst on the toilet, but signing official documents here too.
(Reception room, not the toilet, please note.)
It is fair to say that despite the misery suffered by ‘his subjects’, Puyi resided in luxury and lived a fairly lavish lifestyle. The palace certainly befits an emperor.
Within the palace gardens, spanning over 11 acres, there is a racecourse, swimming pool, ornate garden and (for some reason) and air raid shelter.
Among the maze out outbuildings are found the quarters of the minor family and those of his numerous concubines (kids, ask your parents. Pleeease!) These lived every bit as well as his wife. On the other hand, she grew weary of the lack of personal interaction permitted to her, and chose to begin to occupy herself smoking opium, which occupied most afternoons of her lonesome life.
It is perhaps hard to accept the tarnishing marks left upon this once great dynasty, however a look around the most intimate parts of the palace allow a sheltered and beautiful spin on the events beyond the walls. I can without a doubt say that this is the most beautiful part of China to date, and is what many would recognise at authentic China.
And air-raid shelter to….. This place was undescribably creepy. There was running water pouring- all ready a no-no in China- through holes in the wall, dripping from the ceiling. Not comfy all here!!
So… In the murky world of Puyi and his occasionally extravagant lifestyle, it does feel slightly daunting within the state rooms to know that the region’s administrative seal and all the darkest details were contained within the very walls which I had considered with awe.
Although what I have written about comes with some interesting insights, the beauty of the residence cannot be detracted from. However, I have chosen to present the blog like this as a reminder of the untold stories which may never surface. There is no accusation here, no malice intended, just me relaying information….
For those of you still here, please award yourself a crashingabike gold star for commitment and hope to see you next week!!
Don’t forget, if you need a pick-me-up then have a look at the more light-hearted previous posts on the homepage!!