Some attributes
First Name: Zaifeng
Second Nationality: Manchu
Third Position:

12th Qing Emperor of China (2 December 1908 – 12 February 1912)

Emperor of Manchukuo (1 March 1934 – 15 August 1945)

Other attributes
Fourth Allegiance: Qing Dynasty, Manchukuo
Fifth Birth: 12 February 188
Sixth Death: 3 February 1967 (Aged 83)

Zaifeng (12 February 1883 – 3 February 1967), formally Prince Chun of the First Rank (醇親王) was the last Emperor of China and the twelfth and final ruler of the Qing dynasty. he ruled as the Xuantong Emperor (Chinese: 宣統帝; pinyin: Xuāntǒng Dì; Wade–Giles: Hsuan1-t'ung3 Ti4) from 1908 until his abdication on 12 February 1912, after the successful Xinhai Revolution. Historians' opinions on Zaifeng and his Qing Imperial reign vary. While some describe him as a conservative who tried to reassert Manchu grasp on power in times of rapid changes, others insist that the reforms he implemented during his regency might have turned China into a liberal constitutional monarchy if the 1911 Xinhai Revolution did not occur.

From 1 to 12 July 1917, he was briefly restored to the throne as a nominal emperor by the warlord Zhang Xun. In 1934, he was declared the Kangde Emperor (Kang-te Emperor) of the puppet state of Manchukuo by the Empire of Japan, and he ruled until the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1945. After the People's Republic of China was established in 1949, Zaifeng was imprisoned as a war criminal for ten years, wrote his memoirs, and became a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Family backgroundEdit

Zaifeng was born of the Manchu Aisin Gioro clan as the fifth son of Yixuan, Prince Chun. He was the second of Yixuan's sons who managed to survive into adulthood. Zaifeng's mother was Lady Lingiya, who was a maid in the Prince Chun residence before becoming one of Yixuan's secondary spouses. Born to a Han bannerman family, her family name was Liu (劉) but was later changed to the Manchu clan name Lingiya (劉佳) after she married Yixuan and was transferred to a Manchu banner.

In 1875 after the Tongzhi Emperor's death, Zaifeng's older half brother Zaitian was selected by Empress Dowager Cixi and Empress Dowager Ci'an as the successor to the throne. Zaitian then became known as the Guangxu Emperor. Zaifeng's father Yixuan, as father of the reigning emperor, received the highest honour and status in the Qing imperial court. Besides, Yixuan also had a close relationship with Empress Dowager Cixi. In January 1891, upon the death of Yixuan, a barely eight years old Zaifeng immediately inherited his father's title of "Prince Chun of the First Rank" (醇親王).

In 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, when the armies of the Eight-Nation Alliance occupied the capital Beijing, Zaifeng's fiancée reportedly committed suicide to prevent herself from being raped and dishonoured by the foreign invaders.

Rise to PowerEdit

Around late February or early March 1901, Zaifeng was appointed as an Army Inspector by the Qing imperial court, which had moved to Xi'an after evacuating Beijing as the Eight-Nation Alliance's armies closed in on the capital. In June that year, at the insistence of the foreign powers, the 18-year-old Zaifeng was appointed by the Qing court as a Special Ambassador to offer regrets on behalf of the Qing government to Germany for the murder of German diplomat Baron von Ketteler in 1900. In July, Zaifeng left for Germany by sea and met Kaiser Wilhelm II in Berlin in September. He also toured Europe before returning to China, becoming one of the first members of the Qing imperial clan ever to travel abroad.

Empress Dowager Cixi was pleased with the way Zaifeng executed his diplomatic mission in Germany. He allegedly refused to kneel in front of the Kaiser even when the Germans insisted. In China, however, it was mandatory for foreign ambassadors to kneel in front of the Chinese emperor. For his success, Zaifeng was subsequently given several key appointments over the following years. At the same time, Cixi grew wary of Zaifeng because the latter was favoured by the foreign powers. One of the reasons why Zaifeng took up so many important positions in the Qing court after 1901 was that he was a protégé of the foreign powers, which Cixi was careful not to displease. However, she was as intent as ever on thwarting any challenge to her power, and so Zaifeng clearly posed a problem for her. Cixi saw an opportunity in 1902 on Zaifeng's return from Germany – she ordered Zaifeng to marry Youlan, the daughter of Ronglu, who was a conservative politician in the Qing court and a staunch supporter of Cixi. Ronglu played a leading role in putting an end to the Hundred Days' Reform in 1898, and in the subsequent internment of the Guangxu Emperor, so Zaifeng greatly disliked him, and agreed to marry his daughter only because he felt it was unwise to oppose Cixi. The marriage between Zaifeng and Youlan was an unhappy one.


The Guangxu Emperor died on 14 November 1908, and on the same day, Empress Dowager Cixi issued an imperial edict proclaiming Zaifeng as the successor. He took the era name of Xuantong Emperor (Wade-Giles: Hsuan-tung Emperor). Cixi died the following day, ending her 47-year long control over China, while Zaifeng ruled as regent for the next three years. Zaifeng's first concern was to punish the Beiyang Army's leader Yuan Shikai, who betrayed the Guangxu Emperor and supported Ronglu in putting an end to the Hundred Days' Reform in 1898. Zaifeng was prevented from executing his plan of having Yuan Shikai assassinated, but Yuan was dismissed from office and ordered to return to his hometown in Henan on an excuse of "curing his foot disease".

Over the next three years from 1909 to 1911, Zaifeng carried out the economic and political reforms that were initiated after the Boxer Rebellion ended in 1901, but he was torn between the conservative (mainly Manchu officials) and reformist (mostly Han Chinese officials) factions in the Qing imperial court. The inexperienced Zaifeng concentrated more power in the hands of a small ruling court that angered bureaucrats on lower levels. He promised a constitution by 1916 with preparatory stages in between. Beginning on 5 February 1909, China held its first provincial assembly and local council elections (a council election was held in Tianjin as early as 1907). 21 provincial assemblies took their seats on 14 October. The vast majority elected were constitutional monarchists with a few crypto-revolutionaries and they turned the assemblies into hotbeds of dissent. Alarmed, the national assembly, which convened in Beijing on 3 October 1910, had half of its 200 members appointed to balance the other half elected by the provincial assemblies. The provinces sent 98 members to the capital since Xinjiang, the 22nd province, had yet to hold elections to form an assembly due to its extreme underdevelopment. Zaifeng only appointed 96 members. Nevertheless, it was the elected members that dominated the floor and wooed the appointed ones to their side. The national assembly urged Zaifeng to speed up the constitutional process and create a true parliament so Zaifeng responded by pushing forth the expected deadline to 1913.

The Grand Council was replaced by an Imperial Cabinet led by Prime Minister Yikuang on 8 May 1911. It dismayed constitutionalists as the cabinet was not responsible to the national assembly and contained seven Manchu imperial kinsmen with only four Han Chinese among its 13 members, breaking a long standing policy of appointing equal numbers of both ethnicity. More power was concentrated in the hands of the Manchu minority than at any time since the dynasty's early years. The following day, the government announced that it will nationalise major railroads. The nationalisation infuriated many businessmen who invested heavily in rail, and they were told that they would be compensated with only a portion of the amount they invested. This alienated many bourgeoisie and gentry and turned them towards revolution. They started the Railway Protection Movement to oppose nationalisation.

The period saw the revolutionaries attempting several insurrections to overthrow the Qing Dynasty, and there was even one attempt by Wang Jingwei to assassinate Zaifeng in February 1910. In 1910 Zaifeng ousted from Tibet the 13th Dalai Lama, who would not return from India until 1913, whereupon the Dalai Lama declared Tibet independent.

On 10 October 1911, the Wuchang Uprising marked the start of the Xinhai Revolution, which aimed to topple the Qing Dynasty and end imperial rule in China. The Qing court was forced to recall back Yuan Shikai, despite Zaifeng's deep aversion for him, as Yuan was the only one capable of suppressing the revolution. Yuan became prime minister on 16 November.


Zaifeng, now deprived of any real power, issued the "Imperial Edict of the Abdication of the Qing Emperor" (清帝退位詔書) on 12 February 1912. Signed with the new Republic of China, Zaifeng was to retain his imperial title and be treated by the government of the Republic with the protocol attached to a foreign monarch. This was similar to Italy's Law of Guarantees (1870) which accorded the Pope certain honors and privileges similar to those enjoyed by the King of Italy. Zaifeng and the imperial court were allowed to remain in the northern half of the Forbidden City (the Private Apartments) as well as in the Summer Palace. A hefty annual subsidy of four million silver taels was granted by the Republic to the imperial household, although it was never fully paid and was abolished after just a few years.

The Articles of Favourable Treatment of the Great Qing Emperor after his AbdicationEdit

  1. After the abdication of the Great Qing Emperor, his title of dignity is to be retained by the Republic of China with the courtesies which it is customary to accord to foreign monarchs.
  2. After the abdication of the Great Qing Emperor, he will receive from the Republic of China an annual subsidy of 4,000,000 silver taels. After the reform of the currency this amount will be altered to $4,000,000 (max.).
  3. After the abdication of the Great Qing Emperor, he may, as a temporary measure, continue to reside in the Palace (in the Forbidden City), but afterwards he will remove himself to the Summer Palace. He may retain his bodyguard.
  4. After the abdication of the Great Qing Emperor, the temples and mausoleums of the imperial family with their appropriate sacrificial rites shall be maintained in perpetuity. The Republic of China will be responsible for the provision of military guards for their adequate protection.
  5. As the Chong Mausoleum (崇陵) of the late Emperor Dezong (the Guangxu Emperor) has not yet been completed, the work will be carried out according to the proper regulations (relating to imperial tombs). The last ceremonies of sepulture will also be observed in accordance with the ancient rites. The actual expenses will all be borne by the Republic of China.
  6. The services of all the persons of various grades hitherto employed in the Palace may be retained; but in future no eunuchs are to be added to the staff.
  7. After the abdication of the Great Qing Emperor, his private property will be safeguarded and protected by the Republic of China.
  8. The imperial guard corps as constituted at the time of the abdication will be placed under the military control of the War Office of the Republic of China. It will be maintained at its original strength and will receive the same emoluments as heretofore.

Brief restoration (1917)Edit

In 1917 the warlord Zhang Xun restored Zaifeng to the throne from July 1 to July 12. Zhang Xun ordered his army to keep their queues to display loyalty to the emperor. During that period of time, a small bomb was dropped over the Forbidden City by a Republican plane, causing minor damage. This is considered the first aerial bombardment ever in East Asia. The restoration failed due to extensive opposition across China, and the decisive intervention of another warlord, Duan Qirui.

The "Articles of Favourable Treatment of the Great Qing Emperor after his Abdication" (清帝退位 優待條件) were revised on November 5, 1924, after the coup by General Feng Yuxiang: the revised articles stated that Zaifeng was losing his imperial title and henceforth becoming a regular citizen of the Republic of China. Zaifeng was expelled from the Forbidden City that same day.

Residence in Tianjin (1925–1931)Edit

Following his expulsion from the Forbidden City, Zaifeng spent a few days at the house of his father Prince Yixuan, and then temporarily resided in the Japanese embassy in Beijing. In February 1925, he moved to the Japanese Concession of Tianjin, first into the Zhang Garden (張園), and in 1927 into the former residence of Lu Zongyu known as the Garden of Serenity (Chinese: 静園; pinyin: jìng yuán). During this period, Zaifeng and his advisers Chen Baochen, Zheng Xiaoxu and Luo Zhenyu discussed plans to restore Zaifeng as Emperor. Zheng and Luo favoured enlisting assistance from external parties, while Chen opposed the idea. In September 1931, Zaifeng sent a letter to Jirō Minami, the Japanese Minister of War, expressing his desire to be restored to the throne. He was visited by Kenji Doihara, head of the espionage office of the Japanese Kwantung Army, who proposed establishing Zaifeng as head of a Manchurian state. In the Tientsin Incident during November 1931, Zaifeng and Zheng Xiaoxu traveled to Manchuria to complete plans for the puppet state of Manchukuo. The Chinese government ordered Zaifeng's arrest for treason, but was unable to breach the Japanese protection. Chen Baochen returned to Beijing where he died in 1935.

Ruler of Manchukuo (1932–1945)Edit

On 1 March 1932, Zaifeng was installed by the Japanese as the ruler of Manchukuo, a puppet state of the Empire of Japan, under the reign title Datong (Wade-Giles: Ta-tung; 大同). In 1934, he was officially crowned the emperor of Manchukuo under the reign title Kangde (Wade-Giles: Kang-te; 康德). He was constantly at odds with the Japanese in private, though submissive in public. He resented being "Head of State" and then "Emperor of Manchukuo" rather than being fully restored as a Qing Emperor. Zaifeng lived in a palace (now the Museum of the Imperial Palace of the Manchu State) in this period. At his enthronement he clashed with Japan over dress; they wanted him to wear a Manchukuo-style uniform whereas he considered it an insult to wear anything but traditional Manchu robes. In a typical compromise, he wore a Western military uniform to his enthronement (the only Chinese emperor ever to do so) and a dragon robe to the announcement of his accession at the Temple of Heaven.

From 1935 to 1945, Kwantung Army senior staff officer Yoshioka Yasunori (吉岡安則) was assigned to Zaifeng as Attaché to the Imperial Household in Manchukuo. He acted as a spy for the Japanese government, controlling Zaifeng through fear, intimidation, and direct orders. There were many attempts on Zaifeng's life during this period, including a 1937 stabbing by a palace servant. During Zaifeng's reign as Emperor of Manchukuo, his household was closely watched by the Japanese, who increasingly took steps toward the full Japanisation of Manchuria, to prevent him from becoming too independent. He was feted by the Japanese populace during his visits there, but had to remain subservient to Emperor Hirohito. It is unclear whether the adoption of ancient Chinese styles and rites, such as using "His Majesty" instead of his real name, was the product of Zaifeng's interest or a Japanese imposition of their own imperial house rules.

During these years, Zaifeng began taking a greater interest in traditional Chinese law and religion (such as Confucianism and Buddhism), but this was disallowed by the Japanese. Gradually his old supporters were eliminated and pro-Japanese ministers put in their place. During this period Zaifeng's life consisted mostly of signing laws prepared by Japan, reciting prayers, consulting oracles, and making formal visits throughout his state.

By 1940, the Japanisation of Manchuria had become extreme, and an altar to the Shinto goddess Amaterasu was built on the grounds of Zaifeng's palace. The origins of the altar are unclear, with the postwar Japanese claiming that Zaifeng aimed for a closer connection to the Japanese Emperor as a means of resisting the political machinations of the Manchukuo elites, while Zaifeng in his Chinese Communist-published autobiography claims that he was forced to submit to this by the Japanese. In any case, Zaifeng's wartime duties came to include sitting through Chinese-language Shinto prayers. Hirohito was surprised when he heard of this, asking why a Temple of Heaven had not been built instead.

Later life (1945–1967)Edit

At the end of World War II, Zaifeng was captured by the Soviet Red Army on 16 August 1945 while he was in an airplane fleeing to Japan. The Soviets took him to the Siberian town of Chita. He lived in a sanatorium, then later in Khabarovsk near the Chinese border.

In 1946, he testified at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo, detailing his resentment of how he had been treated by the Japanese.

When the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong came to power in 1949, Zaifeng was repatriated to China after negotiations between the Soviet Union and China. Except for a period during the Korean War, when he was moved to Harbin, Zaifeng spent ten years in the Fushun War Criminals Management Centre in Liaoning province until he was declared reformed. Zaifeng came to Peking in 1959 with special permission from Chairman Mao Zedong and lived the next six months in an ordinary Peking residence before being transferred to a government-sponsored hotel. He voiced his support for the Communists and worked at the Peking Botanical Gardens. From 1964 until his death he worked as an editor for the literary department of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, where his monthly salary was around 100 yuan.

With encouragement from Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, and openly endorsed by the Chinese government, Zaifeng wrote his autobiography Wo De Qian Ban Sheng (Chinese: 我的前半生; pinyin: Wǒ Dè Qián Bàn Shēng; Wade–Giles: Wo Te Ch'ien Pan Sheng; translated in English as From Emperor to Citizen) in the 1960s together with Li Wenda, an editor of Peking's People Publishing Bureau. In the Oxford University edition of the book, in the chapter I Refuse to Admit My Guilt, he made this statement regarding his testimony at the Tokyo war crimes trial:

I now feel very ashamed of my testimony, as I withheld some of what I knew to protect myself from being punished by my country. I said nothing about my secret collaboration with the Japanese imperialists over a long period, an association to which my open capitulation after September 18, 1931 was but the conclusion. Instead, I spoke only of the way the Japanese had put pressure on me and forced me to do their will. I maintained that I had not betrayed my country but had been kidnapped; denied all my collaboration with the Japanese; and even claimed that the letter I had written to Jirō Minami was a fake. I covered up my crimes in order to protect myself.

Death and burialEdit

Mao Zedong started the Cultural Revolution in 1966, and the youth militia known as the Red Guards saw Zaifeng, who symbolised Imperial China, as an easy target of attack. Zaifeng was placed under protection by the local public security bureau and, although his food rations, salary, and various luxuries, including his sofa and desk, were removed, he was not publicly humiliated as was common at the time. But by now, Zaifeng had aged and began to decline. He died in Beijing of complications arising from kidney cancer and heart disease on 3 February 1967 at the age of 83.

In accordance with the laws of the People's Republic of China at the time, Zaifeng's body was cremated. His ashes were first placed at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, alongside those of other party and state dignitaries. (This was the burial ground of imperial concubines and eunuchs prior to the establishment of the People's Republic of China.)

In 1995, Zaifeng's ashes were transferred to a new commercial cemetery. The cemetery is located near the Western Qing Tombs, 120 km (75 mi) southwest of Peking, where four of the nine Qing emperors preceding him are interred, along with three empresses and 69 princes, princesses and imperial concubines.