Puppet empress' unhappy life
Wanrong, born in the Gobulo clan, was the Empress Consort of Puyi, the last emperor of China. As a Manchu, she was referred to by her given name — Wanrong, along with her courtesy name Muhong. Wanrong also had an English name, Elizabeth.
Born into an aristocratic family in 1906, Wanrong received a good education thanks to her open-minded father, Gobulo Rongyuan, Minister of Domestic Affairs in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). He advocated gender equality and insisted that girls had equal access to education.
Skilled in calligraphy, literature, music and painting, the talented girl not only learnt Chinese culture but also Western. Rongyuan engaged Isabel Ingram, daughter of an American Congregational missionary, as English tutor.
Wanrong’s mother was Aisin-Gioro Hengxin, fourth daughter of Yuzhang and granddaughter of Puxu.
Known as “the fourth princess,” Hengxin died when giving birth to Wanrong.
In 1911, the Qing Dynasty was overthrown by the Republic of China but the imperial titles and treatments remained.
On December 1, 1922, Wanrong married Puyi and the imperial-style wedding ceremony was held in the Forbidden City before dawn according to Manchu custom.
At the initial stage of marriage, Wanrong and Puyi got along very well.
They often wrote letters in English to each other where Wanrong always signed her English name Elizabeth.
Wanrong had a tragic life afterwards. In 1924, the Bejing coup launched by Feng Yuxiang forced Puyi and Wanrong to flee from the Forbidden City to Tianjin where Wanrong became addicted to opium.
Wanrong, a modern lady, wore cheongsams, high-heeled shoes, had her hair permed and splurged on shopping.
The unhappy marriage didn’t take away her compassion for the poor.
In 1923, Wanrong donated 600 silver dollars to an organization helping disaster victims.
She also donated her favorite pearl necklace and silver coins for the victims of the 1931 Yellow River floods.
On March 1, 1932, Puyi was installed by Japan as the nominal emperor of “Manchukuo,” a puppet regime. Moving from Tianjin to Lushun, Dalian and Changchun, Wanrong tried to escape from the surveillance of the Japanese for several times but failed.
Two years later, Wanrong was conferred the title of Empress of Manchukuo by the Japanese. The couple lived in the temporary palace in Changchun which is now the Museum of the Imperial Palace of "Manchukuo."
Like a bird in a gilded cage, the puppet empress had no freedom nor Puyi’s love and suffered mental illnesses as well as her opium addiction.
It is an open secret that Wanrong had affairs with two of Puyi’s aides, Li Tiyu and Qi Jizhong, and even gave a birth to a baby girl in 1935.
There are two versions of the death of the girl. One is that Puyi was so indignant that he threw the infant into a boiler but then lied to Wanrong that the girl was being raised by her brother. Another is that the baby girl was stillborn and thrown into a boiler by Puyi.
The death of her daughter was a huge blow to Wanrong, who became insane and isolated herself from the outside world. In severe mental and physical pain, Wanrong blamed her father for ruining her life for his own career.
In 1946, Wanrong died in prison in Yanji, Jilin Province. The site of her grave is unknown. Puyi learned of her death from the letter sent by his brother Pujie three years later, but showed no emotion.
After Puyi’s death and with the permission of Wanrong’s brother Runqi, a ritual burial ceremony was conducted — calling back the spirit of Wanrong to be interred with Puyi at the Hualong Imperial Cemetery in Hebei Province.