The former residence of China’s last emperor, where he lived and worked as a gardener towards the end of his life, has become a storage room – without any marking of its historic importance.
However, that may change if a proposal by a Beijing policymaker gains traction.
Wan Jianzhong, a member of the municipal Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, in an interview with journalists broached the idea of exhibiting Aisin-Gioro Puyi’s life at the gardens, the Beijing Morning Post reports.
Puyi, the Xuantong Emperor, abdicated the throne in 1912 and effectively ended 2,000 years of imperial rule, leading to a new revolutionary government, and later, the founding of the Communist Party.
Puyi spent most of his life either under house arrest at the imperial palace, living in exile, being restored briefly to power by pro-imperial forces or languishing in jail under communist rule.
After Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Puyi – who symbolised the imperial life that the party so derided – spent 10 years at the Fushun War Criminals Management Centre in Liaoning province where he was forced to undergo ideological reforms.
After he was declared “reformed” and began supporting the party, Puyi began living in several accommodations far humbler than the Forbidden City.
From February 1960 to March 1961, the last Qing dynasty emperor lived near the botanical garden as a labourer and gardener, sharing a dorm with two other workers. Today, that living space is being used as a storage room.
Wan says the botanical gardens highlight Puyi’s rebirth as a communist party supporter.
“The key is to recreate his life at the botanical garden. The tools he used back in the day to work can be displayed to the public,” Wan told the Beijing newspaper.
Residents at the gardens recall Puyi – plucked from a life of opulence and mostly isolated from the world – fumbling with money, as he did not understand its value.
In another instance, Puyi learned to wash his own clothes and spent so much time washing one stain that the fabric ripped.
“We all watched him and laughed,” a resident recalled. “We said, ‘Mr Puyi why are you using so much strength to wash the clothes?’”