Like most visitors to the tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh, in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam, I was mesmerised by the gorgeous technicolour interior of the main building, the Khai Thanh Palace, and the fascinating syncretic style of the entire mausoleum, where European details and materials have been amalgamated with traditional Vietnamese architecture.

How the last Qing emperor was forced to abdicate

Khai Dinh, the 12th and penultimate emperor of Vietnam’s Nguyen dynasty, reigned from 1916 to 1925 and was considered by many Vietnamese to be a willing collaborator of the French colonialists. He was, in fact, installed by the French because he was perceived to be friendlier towards his puppet masters than the previous two Vietnamese emperors, both of whom had been exiled for their resistance to the colonial regime.

Vietnam: putting the ‘china’ in Indochina

The Japanese also installed a puppet regime several thousand kilometres away at around the same time. In 1934, the former Emperor Xuantong of China (better known as the last emperor of China, Aisin Gioro Puyi) was enthroned as Emperor Kangde of Manchukuo to legitimise the Japanese occupation of northeast China. In his memoirs, From Emperor to Citizen, Puyi avers that his stint as the nominal ruler of Manchukuo, from 1932 to 1945 (he was chief executive between 1932 and his enthronement), was characterised by his futile resistance and powerlessness against the constant intimidation of his Japanese handlers.