Empress Wanrong of China was known for being the consort of the last Emperor of China, Puyi. Under the Qing dynasty she was a member of the monarchy for two years until her death. Her time as the Empress was filled with torment and tragedy, and she did not have the happy ending she so richly deserved. Here are 30 tragic facts about Empress Wanrong.
The Truth Behind the Last Empress of ChinaPublished 7 months ago
Gobulo Wanrong was born on November 13, 1906, in Beijing. She came from a family that was considered the perfect pedigree for royalty. Her father, Rongyuan worked as a minister in the Imperial Court, whilst her mother was also from a highly prominent clan.
When Wanrong was only two years old her mother passed away from what was called 'childbed fever' but what we now refer to as postpartum depression. For the rest of her childhood, she was brought up by a stepmother.
Wanrong was extremely fortunate enough to have a father who believed education to be of great importance and made sure that his daughter had an education as prestigious as his sons. In that way, he was quite progressive. He sent Wanrong to an American school in Tianjin.
It helped that Rongyuan was extremely wealthy, and so his children lacked for nothing. Wanrong left the school accomplished in both English and the piano. She was also considered a great beauty, which added to her eligibility.
In 1922 the Emperor Puyi of China, who was only 16-years-old at the time, began to search for a bride. At the time he had been overthrown as emperor but retained the wealth, prestige, and title.
Wanrong's father and stepmother wanted their daughter to be chosen as Puyi's bride, and so her name was added to a list of potential brides. He first chose another woman named Wenxiu, but his advisors weren't keen on the idea, so made his second choice - Wanrong.
Puyi had been spoiled from the day he was born, and this had turned him into a nightmare of a man. He was incapable of doing anything for himself and had a dark side to him that became very hard for Wanrong to ignore.
Puyi was a cruel man and was prone to having the eunuchs that served as his staff beaten regularly. His advisors tried to get the emperor to ease off on the men but to no avail. Puyi even confessed that "my cruelty and love of wielding power were already too firmly set for persuasion to have any effect on me." This did not bode well for Wanrong.
Wanrong was married to Emperor Puyi in 1922. It consisted of three lavish ceremonies, and the bride wore a traditional mask during the proceeding's entirety. She also wore a crimson outfit adorned with a dragon just to add to the pomp and ceremony.
As disturbing as it was to have two teenagers wed, it was made even more disturbing by the fact that Puyi married his first choice Wenxiu on the same day. Wenxiu was only 12 years old when she became just one of the emperor's consorts, alongside Wanrong.
After all the ceremonies had been completed it was now time for the Emperor to consummate the marriages with his two brides. This event would take place at the Palace of Earthly Tranquility on the infamous Dragon Bed. This would be the first time that Puyi would see Wanrong's face.
Official historical record states that Emperor Puyi walked into the matrimonial chambers, and upon seeing his two young brides, his terror and inexperience made him run away and did not consummate the marriage. Rumors of his possible homosexuality have since surfaced, including the disturbing details that include his desire for young girls as well the sodomizing of equally young pageboys.
Not only was he a terror in the bedroom, but he was also a horror to live with during the daylight hours. Wanrong was forced to experience the very worst of her husband. He was notably immature and often played pranks on his wife.
He was also cruel and childlike and would burst in on her private meetings, which meant she had no life of her own, and would call her incessantly complaining to his wife that he was lonely during the day.
As well as having a cruel and difficult husband, Wanrong was also struggling with her new position as Empress. They lived in the Forbidden City, and it came with its own rules and etiquette.
The Forbidden City, a palace complex in Dongcheng District, Beijing had certain expectations of the new Empress, and she was determined to prove her worth. It is said that she pulled a few all-nighters studying up on the rules and regulations of what was both strict and stifling in its formality.
Wanrong was barely a teenager when she was married, and all of a sudden she was forced to live in a foreign city and deal with a husband who was cruel and demanding. She also had to share her husband with a much younger Wenxiu.
During that time it's not surprising that she took up smoking opium. It wasn't uncommon to smoke the drug, and Wanrong joined the population of the Forbidden City who smoked regularly. Her husband was all too pleased with his wife's new habit as he believed it made her more manageable.
In 1924 a mere two years after their marriage, another coup took place, forcing the Emperor and his wives out of the palace, and Puyi's ancestral home. They were shockingly given only three hours to vacate the premises.
The Emperor, Wanrong, and Wenxiu moved out of The Forbidden City and took up residence in the Quiet Garden Villan in Tianjin. For a short period, the threesome spent pleasant days horse riding, dancing, and entertaining guests.
Whilst living together in The Forbidden City Wanrong and Wenxiu seemed to get along, but when they were forced to flee and live outside the palace walls tensions started to rise.
They began to turn on one another as they vied for Puyi's affection and individual attention. When the Emperor brought home gifts he had to bring one for each of his wives, or else they would complain. Both women became increasingly demanding of his time and his gifts.
Some rumors claim that Wanrong and her husband Emperor Puyi never actually consummated their marriage after the events of the disastrous wedding night. This has been given as the reason why Wanrong never produced an heir.
Another reason that may have caused Wanrong to seem barren was her prolific opium use. She was smoking daily, and her fellow consort Wenxiu was believed to have uttered the following warning: "why should you take opium? You'd better stab at your belly."
Wanrong's physical health began to suffer not long after her opium addiction became more public knowledge. She had never been a particularly robust woman, but now she was suffering from irregular menstruation and several chronic illnesses.
One of her husband's cousins even revealed that the Empress not only suffered from physical illness but from mental illness as well. The cousin claimed that this was genetic. Her mental health was so concerning that she was found wandering her home naked upon occasion.
Though Wanrong and Wenxiu had experienced tensions and considered each other their rival, they were also the only friends they had. Both women had not bargained for a life in exile, and after the 1924 coup, and years away from The Forbidden City, Wenxiu had finally had enough.
In 1930 Emperor Puyi's second wife filed for divorce. Wanrong remained with her husband for the few luxuries that were still available to her, but she now had the extra responsibility of taking care of a husband who felt abandoned. They would both refer to the incident of Wenxiou's divorce as "treason".
After Wenxiu left Emperor Puyi started to make some very questionable choices. In 1931 Japan offered Puyi the position of the ruler in Manchukuo, otherwise known as Manchuria. His wife tried desperately to dissuade her husband from taking on the role, but he ignored her pleas.
When she was eventually sent to join her husband in Japan she was met with people that didn't want her to see her husband at all. Wanrong began to believe that Puyi had been killed, and that was why she was not allowed to see him.
Her husband had enemies and so did his wife, and one of them was Puyi himself. After finally reuniting in Japan the couple became more and more distant from one another. It is rumored that they hadn't shared a meal in over three years.
The Japanese were also not favorable towards her - mostly due to her initial reluctance to move to Manchukuo. It was so serious that she was not even invited to her own coronation on March 1, 1934. They believed she was a traitor and would end up humiliating Puyi.
Life for Wanrong in Japan was proving to be a living nightmare. She was lonely and despised by the people, and ignored by her husband. Not long after the coronation, she attempted to flee Manchukou - several times.
It was not uncommon for officials visiting the state to receive a surprise visit from Wanrong begging to have them help her leave. If she had managed to leave she may not have fallen into a heavy opium addiction that certainly did not positively aid her recurring feelings of isolation and depression.
Wanrong felt helpless, and somehow knew she was never going to get away from her husband. She began to betray him in even more disastrous ways - she started having extra-marital affairs. Two of the men she became involved with were Puyi's personal aides.
Li Tiyu and Qi Jizhong both had affairs with Empress Wanrong within the palace. Puyi eventually realized what was going on, and had both banished from his home on separate occasions. It was during this time that he began contemplating divorce.
In 1940 Wanrong discovered that she was pregnant, which certainly put an end to all those barren rumors. The problem was that it was certainly not her husband's as they had never consummated their marriage.
It turned out that she had conceived during her affair with the Emperor's aid, Li Tiyu. At this point, her lover had already been banished, and so Wanrong gave her husband an ultimatum: he must accept the child as his own, or else allow it to live away from the imperial system and out of the palace.
After Wanrong gave birth to her daughter Emperor Puyi committed the most horrendous and violent crime one can imagine. He had the baby taken away from her mother immediately and killed. When she begged for the child he lied to her.
In one version Puyi lied to his wife and told her that the child had been taken to a hospital where she was being taken care of by a nurse. What really happened though was that Puyi told Wanrong exactly what happened to her baby, and it was this final act that caused the Empress to finally give in to opium completely.
After the devastating circumstances of her daughter's death - at the hands of her husband - Wanrong's addiction to opium grew even more serious. From the day she learned of her child's fate, it is said that she remained in an opium-induced haze for the rest of her life.
She was smoking up to two packets of cigarettes a day and they were mostly laced with large quantities of opium. The chronic smoking caused her teeth to blacken, and she was so out of it most of the time that she had no idea what she was doing.
Wanrong's behavior became more and more erratic. Her actions (or lack thereof) were seen as rebellious - she had stopped washing her face and hair, cutting her fingernails, and dressing appropriately. At dinner parties, she started gorging on food but was never aware of this afterward.
She had become skinnier despite the binge eating and began to notice that her eyesight was starting to fail her, and she struggled to walk. Mentally Wanrong was suffering - she ran around outside in her pajamas, forced servants to eat food smeared in her menstrual blood, and would send the staff to buy lottery tickets regularly.
These were very dark and difficult days for Wanrong, and Emperor Puyi was to blame for all of it. This meant nothing to him, and it was around this time that he began to make plans to divorce his wife, and he would have gone through with it if the Russians hadn't invaded in 1945.
Puyi was forced to abandon his throne and made plans to get a chartered plane out of Manchukuo. On August 16, 1945, realizing that there was no space on the plane for anyone else other than himself and his advisors, Puyi abandoned Wanrong in the now captured city.
Emperor Puyi and Empress Wanrong took on English names when they were initially made to flee The Forbidden City. They chose the names "Henry" and "Elizabeth" respectively, and they did so because they were hopeful of their future as royals.
In other words, the couple hoped, and believed, or rather Puyi hoped and believed, that by giving themselves those particular names they would one day become as great as the namesakes, King Henry VIII, and Queen Elizabeth I.
After being abandoned by her husband in Manchukuo, Wanrong tried one last-ditch attempt at saving herself. She, along with a group of other royal women who had been left behind tried to flee to Korea, a plan that proved unsuccessful.
In January 1946 the women were all captured by Chinese Communist guerillas and thrown into jail. Li Yuqin, Puyi's concubine was also among the captured women. Eventually, some of the women would be released to their families, including Li Yuqin, who offered Wanrong a place in her mother's home. Wanrong had nowhere to go, and Li Yuqin's mother refused to help the Empress, so she remained with the army.
After Puyi abandoned Wanrong she was left with only a very small stash of opium to sustain her addiction. The supply didn't last long, and it soon ran out whilst she was imprisoned. She began to experience horrific withdrawal symptoms.
According to witnesses Wanrong rolled around the floor of her cell screaming and moaning like a madwoman. To add insult to injury the Empress's whereabouts became known to the public, and her jail cell became a site for curious bystanders.
The withdrawal symptoms caused Wanrong to hallucinate, and she became delusional. At one point she believed she was still the Empress and began demanding that the guards bring her fresh clothing, baths, food, and more opium. Of course, she received none of this, except for jeering and laughter from her onlookers.
Her delusions got even worse and Wanrong started screaming and crying for her daughter - the baby whom her husband had killed. She received no sympathy from the people guarding her and those that traveled from afar to watch her through the bars of her cell.
It was no secret that the people of China hated Emperor Puyi. Those that were guarding Wanrong saw her as merely an extension of the evil dictator, and since they couldn't get their hands on Puyi, they exacted their revenge on his wife.
The guards chose to do nothing as she raved and moaned on the floor of her cell. One of the guards was even meant to have declared that Wanrong wouldn't last long and that they shouldn't continue to waste food on her.
On June 20, 1946, Wanrong died at the age of 39. Days before her death she had been witnessed lying on the floor of her cell with a plate of food lying untouched not far from her body. It is most likely that she died of malnutrition.
Her remains were never found, and it is probable that when she died her corpse was taken and tossed into the hills close to where she was imprisoned in Yanji, Jilin province. Her brother would perform a burial ritual for her in 2006 by burying a photograph of her. The ritual was performed so that she could finally rest in peace.
Three years later Saga Hiro who had spent some time sharing a cell with Wanrong sent a letter to Emperor Puyi to let him know of the death. He had known nothing of her demise, and upon reading the letter he was quite emotionless.
Though he was an unconscionable man who had treated Wanrong horrifically, Puyi chose never to discuss the story of her daughter and what exactly happened to the child. One can only hope that perhaps he felt some sort of remorse.