2. Aisin-Gioro Puyi, China’s Last Emperor, went from living in the Forbidden Kingdom to working as a gardener living in a shack.
The man better known as Puyi was born into remarkable wealth and splendor in the year 1906. At the age of just two, he assumed the throne of the Manchu Aisin Gioro Clan, becoming the last Emperor of China. As ruler, he would have been expected to live a long, glorious and comfortable life. However, fate intervened, and he ended up falling hard. Though his life had its ups and downs, Puyi ended up almost on the bottom rung of Chinese society, a far cry from his imperial beginnings.
Puyi’s reign as Emperor lasted just four short years. In February of 1912, the Xinhai Revolution rocked China and he was overthrown. He was out of a job and an anachronism in a changing society at the age of just eight. Puyi was, however, allowed to carry on living in Beijing’s Forbidden City. He was also given a significant allowance, plus he was allowed to keep his title. Before long, however, all such privileges were withdrawn, leaving Puji a common man.
He had to wait until 1932 to get at least a degree of power and wealth back. When Imperial Japan occupied Manchuria, they set up the state of Manchukuo. Puyi was installed as ‘Emperor’, though he was, of course, merely a figurehead and a puppet ruler. When Japan was ultimately defeated in 1945, Puyi was seen as a war criminal and was tried and convicted by the courts of the newly-established People’s Republic of China. He was imprisoned and only released in 1959. From 1960 until his death nine years later, the former Emperor worked as a gardener and handyman in the Beijing Botanical Gardens while living in a rundown shack. Cruelly, the Forbidden City, where he once lived, was just a short walk away.