May 30, 2011

The Last Emperor


An Argentinian friend of mine from my days in Beijing had moved to Changchun, the largest city in the province of Jilin, to study Chinese. I visited him one weekend, but since the train arrived very early in the morning he refused to pick me up. I entertained myself by using sign language, sound effects, and drawings to find a washroom. After much confusion among the locals, one man exclaimed "Double u sheeee!" and delivered me to the promised land.

My friend showed up soon after, having pedaled on his bicycle from the university campus on the other side of the city. As we headed for some tourist sites, he would find out which bus I should board and then tail it on his bicycle. My fellow passengers would alert me when I should disembark.

The main tourist site in Changchun is the former residences of Puyi, the last emperor of China. The Japanese established Changchun as the capital of Manchukou in 1932. The state of Manchukou was formed after the Japanese seized control of large tracts of land in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia after the Mukden Incident. They installed the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty as the puppet ruler of the region as a pure marketing maneouver, giving him no real authority. The League of Nations stated that the area rightfully belonged to China. Japan promptly withdrew... from the League. After World War II, the city came under Russian control for a couple of years before falling into Chinese hands again. The Imperial Palace is now a museum which recreates Puyi's daily life there during these tumultuous times.


Puyi: Is it true, Mr. Johnston, that many people out there have had their heads cut off? 
Reginald Fleming Johnston: It is true, your majesty. Many heads have been chopped off. It does stop them thinking. 
- from Bernardo Bertolucci's 'The Last Emperor'