Five: Puyi steps into the future.

Hi there readers, today’s post is a short one. I had a fancy introduction written, but it gave the game away from the offset. Today I want to share a tale of the last Chinese Emperor, a man known simply as Puyi. Puyi came to power just shy of his third birthday in 1908, and would find himself deposed following a revolution starting in Wuhan just four years later. He would enjoy an occasional, brief reign later in life as a useful idiot – first as a figurehead for the warlord Zhang Xun in 1917 – then the Japanese in the 2nd Sino Japanese war/ World War Two (1934-1945). For most of his life he was kept like a bird in a gilded cage. Kept in luxury in palatial surroundings, but without the freedom to go where he chose.

Puyi had a learned tutor named Reginald Johnston. Johnston would, later in his life, write a book. That book would be adapted into a movie. Peter O’Toole would play him on the big screen. He taught the captive emperor a great many things about the world, but the one thing which most enraptured the adolescent aristocrat was the telephone. We currently live in a world where new technology has an increasingly fast uptake. In 1921 telephones were largely a newfangled device owned by few– in spite of the first telephone exchanges going in from the late 1870s. The phone would, rightly have been seen as a modern wonder in Puyi’s age. As with many teens, the last emperor insisted he must have the shiny new toy – to the consternation of his handlers.


“But, your majesty, the palace has never had a telephone before” they said. “Bringing in such Western technology will upset the celestial balance” they pleaded, un-ironically, while surrounded by Swiss cuckoo clocks. Puyi would have none of their complaining, a phone line was going in. So it was the last emperor ended his splendid isolation with the world.

But, what did he do with his new found freedom? Did he place diplomatic phone calls to world leaders, find a long lost love, or even negotiate a book deal? Not on your life. He made countless prank phone calls to other Chinese citizens unlucky enough to also own a phone.

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