Qing’s his­to­ryon show

> Jin Yu­lan, nephew of the last Em­peror of China, puts fam­ily’s arte­facts on ex­hi­bi­tion

The Sun (Malaysia) - - FEATURE -

HIS un­cle was the last Em­peror of China, reign­ing over the Mid­dle King­dom from the For­bid­den City. Now Jin Yu­lan scours the an­tique shops of Com­mu­nist-ruled Bei­jing for trin­kets that might once have be­longed to his fam­ily.

The Qing dy­nasty ruled over China for 268 years, un­til it was de­posed af­ter the 1911 rev­o­lu­tion. But in­ter­est in the past is grow­ing, and when Jin opened an ex­hi­bi­tion of his arte­facts this week, dozens of en­thu­si­asts at­tended.

A re­tired teacher dressed in a polo shirt and jacket, Jin says he likes things “with a sense of age, with a kind of cul­ture and his­tory to them”.

“I never knew the life of the court,” he laments. “I can’t say how good life there was, or how suc­cu­lent the food would have been. But I feel a link with my an­ces­tors and this bond will last for­ever.”

Born in 1948, shortly be­fore Mao Ze­dong’s Com­mu­nists took power, Jin has had a life of marked con­trast to the Im­pe­rial fin­ery of his fore­bears.

Dur­ing the Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion – when Mao’s Red Guards sought to de­stroy China’s her­itage – he was ex­iled to the coun­try­side of He­nan, and ended up spend­ing more than 20 years in the cen­tral province, only re­turn­ing to the cap­i­tal in the 1990s.

“The Red Guards ran­sacked our house and con­fis­cated our be­long­ings,” he said. “They took 90% of what we owned.”

Jin’s un­cle Pu Yi was aged two when he took the throne in 1908. Ab­di­cat­ing while still a child in 1912, he later served as Tokyo’s pup­pet em­peror of Manchuria af­ter Ja­pan in­vaded in the 1930s.

He was ar­rested by Soviet forces in 1945 and im­pris­oned by China’s new Com­mu­nist au­thor­i­ties un­til 1959.

When he was freed, his Ais­inGioro clan held a din­ner that was “the largest fam­ily re­union since the fall of the Qing dy­nasty”, Jin said.

“Pu Yi took my hands, he was very kind. It was the first time that I had seen him. He was wear­ing the same black cot­ton clothes that he would have worn in prison – the only thing he had re­moved was his num­ber.”

Pu Yi was later set to work as a gar­dener by the Com­mu­nists and died of can­cer in 1967.

“We spoke very freely. I saw him more as a hu­man be­ing than an em­peror,” Jin says, high­light­ing the con­trast be­tween his un­cle’s ear­lier and later life. “When he was younger, peo­ple would kow­tow be­fore him.”

Jin started col­lect­ing pieces as a boy, scour­ing flea mar­kets and oc­ca­sion­ally pick­ing up items that could have be­longed to his fam­ily.

One of the arte­facts on dis­play in the ex­hi­bi­tion, at a mu­seum in a for­mer aris­to­cratic res­i­dence in Bei­jing, is a kalei­do­scope given to Pu Yi’s fa­ther by Kaiser Wil­helm II of Ger­many dur­ing a visit to Ber­lin in 1901. Jin played with the kalei­do­scope as a child, and man­aged to take it with him to He­nan, dis­man­tling it, stuff­ing it into a bag and sneak­ing it un­der the noses of the Red Guards.

He has not been to the For­bid­den City, his fam­ily’s for­mer home and now a Un­esco world her­itage site and Bei­jing’s top tourist draw, for 30 years, claim­ing he does not think it is “worth the price of the ticket”.

But with the pas­sage of time, peo­ple are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly in­ter­ested in Qing his­tory.

“The dy­nasty is dead, but we can look at it from an ob­jec­tive point of view and I think most peo­ple are well dis­posed to the im­pe­rial fam­ily.”

Ac­cord­ing to Wang Qingx­i­ang of the Jilin Academy of So­cial Sci­ences, the of­fi­cial Chi­nese as­sess­ment of Pu Yi found that he “made some mis­takes” but gave a “good judge­ment” on his post­prison life.

Wang has pub­lished 60 books about Pu Yi and the Qing dy­nasty, but said the sub­ject has be­come more sen­si­tive in re­cent years, with au­thor­i­ties now tak­ing four months to ap­prove his works for pub­li­ca­tion, com­pared with “no strict scru­tiny” in the past.

Jin in­sists he has no nos­tal­gia for the Qing dy­nasty, ad­mit­ting that by its end it was paral­ysed by cor­rup­tion and no longer able to gov­ern China.

“It was time to go,” he says. – AFP

(far left) A piece of his­tory ... School chil­dren look­ing at Qing dy­nasty arte­facts that may have be­longed to the last em­peror Pu Yi (left), at an ex­hi­bi­tion or­gan­ised by his nephew Jin (be­low).

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