The last Emperor of China was Aisin Gioro Puyi, also known as Henry Pu Yi. He was born on February 7, 1906, and became the Xuantong Emperor at the age of two in 1908. Talk about starting your career early!
However, Puyi’s time as Emperor was short-lived. In 1912, at the tender age of six, the Xinhai Revolution swept across China, resulting in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty and establishing the Republic of China. Puyi abdicated the throne later that year, becoming one of the youngest ex-rulers in history. It’s safe to say his retirement plans came earlier than expected!
Despite the end of imperial rule, Puyi continued to reside within the opulent walls of the Forbidden City. During the Japanese occupation of China in the 1930s and 1940s, he became the Emperor of the puppet state of Manchukuo.
Beyond his imperial role, Puyi had a fondness for Western culture and fashion. Even while confined within the grandeur of the Forbidden City, he would often sport Western-style suits and wore a collection of stylish hats and accessories.
Recently, a watch once owned by Puyi made headlines at an auction in Hong Kong. The rare Patek Philippe watch, one of only eight known Patek Philippe Reference 96 Quantieme Lune timepieces, sold for a record HK$49 million ($6.2 million), more than double the $3 million estimate. Puyi gifted it to his Russian interpreter while the Soviet Union imprisoned him. This sale marked the highest result for any wristwatch that once belonged to an emperor.
Puyi’s extraordinary journey ended on October 17, 1967, in Beijing, China, at the age of 61. Despite his reign marking the end of an era, his life intersected with significant historical events, showcasing the transformation of Chinese society, from being the Last Emperor to working as a gardener at the Beijing Botanical Garden after his release by the Chinese Communist Party. His life story was made into a movie, “The Last Emperor,” in 1987.