Hey there readers and listeners, I’m going on holiday till January 25th 2023, so I’ve programmed the following posts to drop weekly until I’m back.
In September I went through my Patreon page, and re-recorded the episodes on there with new narration (I’d upgraded my podcasting rig a ways early in 2022.)
While doing so I made the first Four Episodes free to all till February. This is One of Four.
I also put those four episodes up on YouTube in full, using iMovie, so you can listen to the episodes.
If you’d like to support what I do, and would like to get your hands on some extra content, it costs just $2 US a month (plus any applicable goods and services taxes your country may charge, if any.)
This gets you access to one guaranteed episode a month on the first of each month. If you can help me exceed my first target of $500 a month, I’ll up that to two episodes a month. If we get over $1,000 I’ll add more stuff.
Of course it goes without saying I’m keeping the free channels going, free of charge. I’ve got 23 blog posts, with 23 accompanying podcast episodes planned for 2023 via the free channels.
This episode can be found Here on Patreon
Hi all, today’s post is a short one. Today I want to share a Tale of the last Chinese Emperor, a man known simply as Puyi.
Puyi came to power just shy of his third birthday in 1908, after his predecessor – the Guangxu Emperor Zaitian died unexpectedly. Zaitian had around 2,000 times the normal level of arsenic in him, so we can guess the cause. Puyi himself was deposed following the Xinhai Revolution just four years later. The people wanted increased representation with less foreign encroachment – the crown wanted to sell the railways to overseas investors and rule with an iron fist- things escalated.
For most of his life, Puyi was kept like a bird in a gilded cage. Kept in luxury in palatial surroundings, but without the freedom to go where he chose. He was a cruel, capricious bird – who made the lives of the royal eunuchs miserable. For 12 days in July 1917 he was restored to the throne by the warlord Zhang Xun – but for the Tale’s sake let’s imagine him there – a prisoner of fate and circumstance. Somewhat nicer than he really was.
Puyi had a learned tutor named Reginald Johnston. Johnston was a diplomat who served as the last British commissioner of the treaty port of Weihaiwei, in the North of the country. Later in his life, Johnston wrote a book, Twilight in the Forbidden City, which was adapted into the movie The Last Emperor. Peter O’Toole played him on the big screen.
Johnston taught the captive emperor a great many things about the world outside – but the one thing which most enraptured Puyi was the telephone. We currently live in a world where new technology has a crazy fast uptake. In 2021, perhaps everyone’s grandma has a tablet or smartphone. In 1921 telephones were still largely an odd device owned by few– decades after it’s invention. It was still very much a shiny new toy. As with many teens, the last emperor insisted on getting the shiny new toy – to the consternation of his handlers.
“But, your majesty, the palace has never had a telephone before” they said. “Bringing in such Western technology will upset the celestial balance” they pleaded (I paraphrase), un-ironically – while surrounded by Swiss cuckoo clocks, under electric lightbulbs – down the hall from a grand piano. Puyi dug in his toes and fought like hell over this; a phone line was going in. So it was the last emperor ended his splendid isolation from the world.
But, what did he do with his new found freedom? Did he place diplomatic phone calls to world leaders? No. Enter into a romantic courtship with some forbidden love? Apparently not. Negotiate a book deal? Not a chance.
He spent his time making countless prank phone calls to other anyone else unlucky enough to also have a phone.
His pranks were hardly comedic gold. He took to ringing the Chinese Opera singer Yang Xiaolou and giggling uncontrollably when he answered. He regularly ordered expensive meals from restaurants, pretending to be other people, and sent them out – cash on delivery, to strangers houses. Though not a prank, he regularly called Reginald Johnston at all hours to ask a question or complain about something someone did in the palace to upset him. I really hoped for a ‘is your fridge running’ gag at the very least.
A few years later he used his phone to plot an escape, with the Dutch ambassador. Unfortunately for him, this plot was rumbled.
Emperor Puyi married in 1922. He was exiled to another gilded cage when the warlord Feng Yuxiang took over Beijing in 1924. From 1932 to 1945 he was the puppet ruler for the Japanese in a state named Manchukuo, largely Manchuria. Throughout the 2nd Sino-Japanese war and World War Two, he called for the people to support Japan. After the war spent time in jail for war crimes – and spent his final years living in an ordinary house in Communist Beijing with his sister.
In old age people commented he became humble, kind and considerate. I have no word on whether he had a phone installed in his sister’s place, or what he may have done with it.