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Date: Sat, 8 Apr 95 13:44 EET
Message-Id: <9504081138.AA16368@gn.apc.org>
Sender: misa-news@wn.apc.org
From: Inter Press Service Harare <ipshre@gn.apc.org>
Subject: CHINA: Pu Yi's Widow Reveals Last Emperor's Soft Side

Pu Yi's Widow Reveals Last Emperor's Soft Side

By Li Xin, IPS, 8 April 1995

BEIJING, Apr 8 (IPS) - China's last emperor, shown as a hedonistic collaborator in Bernardo Bertolucci's film of the same name, has been revealed by his widow as a lonely, vulnerable man who even threatened suicide when she spoke of divorce.

A striking figure at the age of 70, Li Shuxian wed Aisijero 'Henry' Pu Yi in 1962, four years after serving 15 years in prison for supporting the Japanese invaders in World War II.

Dressed in deep blue, the slim, dark-haired Li spoke of her life with Pu Yi in an exclusive interview before taking part in this week's traditional 'Qing Ming' festival, in which the Chinese pay their respects to their dead relatives.

Friends and relatives joined her Wednesday at a hillside some 120 km west of Beijing, where Pu Yi's ashes were buried in January after being kept in the vaults of the people's cemetery in Beijing since his death 28 years ago.

The modest gravesite, marked only by a marble tablet inscribed with his name, lies 300 metres away from the gigantic palace-like mausoleum of his adoptive father and predecessor, Emperor Guang Xu of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

At 16, following the imperial tradition, Pu Yi married two women, but one divorced him nine years later and the other died of illness.

In 1939, he fell in love with a 17-year-old student, Tan Yuling, but Tan, who resented the Japanese, died hours after a doctor sent by the occupation forces gave her an injection to treat her for typhoid fever.

To avoid taking up with a Japanese woman, as the invaders suggested, Pu Yi chose at random a 14-year-old school girl to be his concubine but she divorced him 15 years later while he was in prison.

Pu Yi was pardoned by Mao Zedong in 1959. He was 51, and alone in the world. A friend who wanted to help ease Pu Yi's loneliness introduced him to Li, a nurse at a small hospital in Beijing.

Everything happened quickly, recalled Li. We had six dates in six months and then we decided to marry. I was 37.

While he was Emperor Xuan Tong of the Qing dynasty, or even the japanese-backed Emperor Kang De of the puppet 'Manchukuo' (Manchuria) regime, Pu Yi lived in self-indulgent splendour. But even his critics would admit he never had a real home until he married Li and began to live as an ordinary citizen.

I found Pu Yi an honest man, a man who desperately needed my love and was ready to give me as much love as he could, said Li, When I was having even a slight case of flu, he was so worried I would die, that he refused to sleep at night and sat by my bedside until dawn so he could attend to my needs.

But, she said, her husband did not know how to do even the simplest household chores like washing a handkerchief. Once in a boiling rage at his clumsiness, I threatened to divorce him. On hearing this, he got down on his knees and, with tears in his eyes, he begged me to forgive him.

I shall never forget what he said to me: 'I have nothing in this world except you, and you are my life. If you go, I will die', she said, adding: But apart from him, what did I ever have in the world?

Li's father died when she was eight, and her mother followed six years later. When she was 17, her foster mother tried to make her the concubine of a rich man. It was a fate too cruel for me to accept (so) I fled to Beijing to become a nurse instead.

Once a pampered 'prisoner of power' behind palace walls, Pu Yi had spent 15 years powerless behind bars, five years in a Soviet camp and 10 years in China, and he was more than ready to try to make a 'real' home with his new wife.

But their union turned out to be a short one. Pu Yi died of cancer on oct. 16, 1967.

How can I ever forget that horrible night? After recovering consciousness for the last time, he gathered all his remaining strength and begged me: 'Please, please bury my ashes at the side of my adoptive father together with Yuling and you', recalled Li, choking with emotion.

Pu Yi died on the second year of the cultural revolution when 'red guards' were on a national rampage, and life, and for that matter even death was difficult for anyone remotely identified with the old regimes.

Even if I had been allowed to bury him at the site he chose, I had no money to do so, said Li. But never did I forget my responsibility as his wife.

One night in December of 1994, Li recounted, I dreamed of a friend offering me a live dragon, about a metre long and asking me to take care of it. I decided to keep it underground, in the old well in my compound. Instinctively, I felt that the dream was a reference to my dead husband's ashes.

Two days later, a Hong Kong businessman, Zhang Shiyi, came to see Li and offered to bury Pu Yi's ashes in the cemetery he had just opened on a hillside close to Emperor Guang Xu's mausoleum.

Zhang explained that his cemetery was meant for rich overseas Chinese who wished to be laid to rest in China. He told me point- blank that Pu Yi's burial there would be of immense commercial value, Li said.

I liked his honesty and I accepted the offer on the condition that the funerary urns of myself and Tan Yuling... be buried alongside Pu Yi, she added.

Zhang agreed and promised to cover all the expenses including Li's funeral when she dies. He plans to expand Pu Yi's simple grave into a mausoleum to contain the ashes of the trio.

Zhang's cemetery, an 800 sq km area called Xi Ling (Western Tombs), is the burial ground of four Qing dynasty emperors, nine queens, 57 imperial concubines and 76 princes and princesses.