100 years ago: Last Emperor abdicates

15 February 2012

February 16th, 1912

[Puyi had been the Xuantong Emperor of China since he was nearly three, and was forced to abdicate at the age of five. He was briefly restored in 1917, and was Emperor of Manchukuo (1934-45) under the Japanese.]

MAKERS of revolutions, if they are willing to take a lesson in the art of making them, should look to the Far East. Here, in the West, when we wish to get rid of a monarchy, we kill the monarch or compel him to flee for his life. But in China, the largest and the oldest country in the world, they have a much more agreeable and courteous way of doing things. The Manchu dynasty, having outstayed its welcome which has lasted two centuries and a half, has been deposed by its own decree. The Emperor has stated in plain terms his conviction that the time has arrived for his political rule to cease, and consented to keep only his position as the Son of Heaven and the divine represent­ative of the nation, sustaining his otherwise diminished dignity with an exceedingly comfortable income and a stately palace. It is an almost bloodless revolution that has been accomplished, and the Sovereign, though bereft of the power to govern, is preserved as a kind of relic. The whole transaction is Gilbertian in its humour, and the method of its working has been characteristically childlike and bland.

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