This autobiography of Henry Pu Yi, the last Qing emperor, tells the real-life story of a king in pauper's clothing. A head of state by the time he learned to walk, Pu Yi's shifting fortunes found him deposed, reinstated, jailed for war crimes, and ultimately redeemed, oddly enough, in the eyes of the communist government, while he lived and worked as a commoner. With a voice reminiscent of the great Alec Guinness, Gildart Jackson delivers audiences a tremulous performance, capturing the conflicted nature of the beleaguered emperor. The English actor exudes a regal sophistication, alternately punctured by arrogance and regret as Pu Yi grapples with unlikely turns of fate.
In 1908, at the age of two, Henry Pu Yi ascended to become the last emperor of the centuries-old Manchu dynasty. After revolutionaries forced Pu Yi to abdicate in 1911, the young emperor lived for 13 years in Peking’s Forbidden City, but with none of the power his birth afforded him. The remainder of Pu Yi’s life was lived out in a topsy-turvy fashion: fleeing from a Chinese warlord, becoming head of a Japanese puppet state, being confined to a Russian prison in Siberia, and enduring taxing labor. The Last Manchu is a unique, enthralling record of China’s most turbulent, dramatic years.
©2010 Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
"Important and fascinating." (The New York Times)
interested in history, science, and pulp fiction
This relatively short but detailed memoir covers the epic events of the last hundred years, told by Henry Pu Yi, the last appointed emperor of the Q'ing Dynasty. Pu Yi clearly underwent enough psychological trauma for several lifetimes - complete lack of childhood boundaries; virtual imprisonment after the birth of the Republic of China; collaboration and betrayal with the Japanese in Manchukuo; incarceration by the Soviet Union; ideological re-education by Communist authorities. I found his perspective to be startling. How can a person be simultaneously so pitiable and yet insufferable? Both helpless and haughty? Fascinating. Much of the emotional impact of the memoir comes from the fact that we readers know that he was being taken advantage of by many sides - yet Pu Yi seems tragically oblivious. I surmise that this memoir emerges from the massive "confessions" generated in the re-education camp - it definitely has mea culpa overtones.
It is a useful companion to the Bertolucci film, incidentally, which seems to follow this memoir fairly closely (with a few extra characters here and there for drama). The narrator does a remarkable job of interpreting Pu Yi's persona (cool, and with little affect) and does pretty well on the Chinese pronunciations. Bravo!
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