A train pulls into a station in North China.
Soldiers are everywhere.
The train is a prisoner transport and all who depart from it are war criminals.
The prisoners are hustled into the station building to wait. After a short while, four prisoners suddenly get up, congregate across the room, and worshipfully prostrate themselves before a well dressed, bespectacled man (John Lone). The venerated man looks around uncomfortably. Guards lead the four worshipers away. The man retreats to a bathroom and locks the door behind him. After filling a sink with hot water he slits his wrists and plunges them into the water.
A short time later the prison governor (Ruocheng Ying) goes to the bathroom door. Finding it locked the governor pounds on the door, repeatedly shouting, "Open the door!" Inside the bathroom, the venerated man, prisoner, war criminal, watches his blood cloud the water in the sink. The man's name is Pu Yi. He is the last emperor of China.
The Emperor of China, 1908. The sound of the governor's pounding and shouting transports Pu Yi's thoughts to a time, 42 years earlier, when mounted soldiers similarly demanded entry to his family's estate. By command of the Empress Dowager Cixi, three year-old Pu Yi (Richard Vuu) has been ordered to the Forbidden City, the seat of power and abode of Chinese emperors. As the boy sobs, Pu Yi's mother (Dong Liang) hands him over to his nurse, Ar Mo (Jade Go), saying, "My son is your son."
When the procession arrives in the Forbidden City, Pu Yi and his father (Basil Pao) are given audience before the dying Empress Dowager. Her last official act is to proclaim the boy to be the successor of the previous emperor, who has died that very day. "Little Pu Yi. I have decided that you will be the new Lord of Ten Thousand Years. You will be the Son of Heaven." With those words, the Empress Dowager dies. Pu Yi turns to his father and asks if they are going home. Without reply, his father prostrates himself before his son.
Shortly, Pu Yi is seated on the imperial throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. He is being invested. As the imperial seal is imprinted on the proclamation, Pu Yi bolts out of the hall and into the huge courtyard beyond. Thousands of government officials and household servants are arrayed in ranks in the courtyard and in the square beyond. To rhythmic chants and commands, they all kowtow to the new emperor in a seemingly endless series of prostrations. When they are done and silence finally arrives, the sound of a cricket reaches Pu Yi's ears. The High Tutor (Victor Wong), makes the cricket a gift: "Ah. See? He is kowtowing to Your Majesty. Now he can be the emperor's cricket."
Later, the boy emperor is attended by court eunuchs. They bathe him and entertain him while the imperial physician (Zhendong Dong) checks his stool. Ar Mo arrives and Pu Yi flies into her arms exclaiming, "I want to go home!" That night Pu Yi and Ar Mo are in bed together. She sings him a lullaby.
Failed Suicide. The remembrance of Ar Mo's lullaby is interrupted by the prison governor. He is slapping Pu Yi's face. "Where am I?" the adult Pu Yi asks from where he lies on the bathroom floor. "In the People's Republic of China," the governor curtly replies. Pu Yi's suicide attempt has failed.
The prisoners are trucked to the Bureau of Public Security Detention Center in Fushun. They are given supplies and the rules of conduct. As Pu Yi sits on the plank bed in his cell later that day, his brother, Pu Chieh (Guang Fan), arrives.
Brothers, 1914. The sight of his brother launches Pu Yi into another recollection. In it, eight year-old Pu Yi (Tsou Tijger) is paid a visit by his family. Though he has not seen them since his coronation, Pu Yi doesn't seem very interested and must be prompted by the High Tutor. As seven year-old Pu Chieh (Henry Kyi) kowtows to his brother, Pu Yi callously steps over him and, calling for Ar Mo to accompany him, approaches his mother's curtained sedan chair. Perfunctorily, he inquires of her health and, when the curtains part, admits that he does not remember her face. Their father ignores Pu Chieh's shout of "Papa!" and abruptly departs. Pu Chieh is being left in the Forbidden City to serve as companion to his brother.
Pu Chieh tells his imperial brother that if he comes home Pu Yi can play with his three sisters and two friends but Pu Yi says that he never leaves the palace. Then the emperor shows his brother a game that he does play. It's follow the leader as, at a run, the two boys lead the imperial entourage in circles. Pu Yi next takes his brother to a lake where, while Pu Chieh dawdles, Pu Yi casually stokes Ar Mo's breast and then suckles it in plain view and to no apparent surprise or disapproval. Later, the two boys have a trifling dispute that leads to a revelation. The dispute is over whether Pu Chieh is wearing a color of yellow that is reserved for the emperor. When Pu Chieh tells his brother that he's not the emperor anymore, that there's a new emperor, Pu Yi tries to disprove his claim by commanding a eunuch called Big Foot (Liangbin Zhang) to drink a bowl of green ink. After considerable pause and with much apprehension Big Foot drinks the ink, but Pu Chieh doesn't accept that as proof and persists. He leads his brother to the top of a newly constructed wall built to divide the northern residential section from the rest of the Forbidden City. Pu Chieh points to a man riding in a car below claiming, "He's the president of the republic."
Pu Yi is shaken. When he descends to street level, he asks the High Tutor if he is still emperor. The High Tutor replies, "You will always be the emperor inside the Forbidden City, but not outside. Outside", Pu Yi is informed, "China is now a republic, with a president."
Seeking solace, Pu Yi searches for Ar Mo but she is gone. He is told that she has been sent away to promote a more healthful environment.
Prison Orientation. Pu Yi and Pu Chieh, prisoners number 981 and 920 respectively, together with hundreds of other war criminals are assembled in the prison yard. The prison governor briefs them. They are expected to face the truth by writing autobiographies in which they confess their crimes.
In his office following the orientation, the prison governor unwraps a parcel to reveal a book titled Twilight in the Forbidden City, written by Reginald F. Johnston. He turns to a section near the middle of the book and begins reading.
Education, 1919. Reginald Johnston (Peter O'Toole) enters into the emperor's service as tutor during the turmoil of the 1919 May Fourth student movement. Years of deferential laxity have left fifteen year-old Pu Yi (Tao Wu) ignorant, naive, and more than a little arrogant. Johnston immediately sees that to have influence he must be the emperor's friend, not his vassal. For his part, Pu Yi uses Johnston as his only source for genuine information about conditions outside the Forbidden City. Johnston gives Pu Yi a bicycle upon which the emperor attempts an escape. When that fails, Pu Yi tries a rooftop escape and fails again. When Johnston determines that the lad needs spectacles, he must threaten to publicize the pathetic facts of the emperor's captivity to coerce the Lord Chamberlain into allowing the emperor to wear them.
Marriage, 1922. The government decides that Pu Yi is to be married. He is shown a series of pictures of teenaged princesses from which he presumably can reject - it is only the government that will select the empress. Pu Yi, however, chooses to have a secondary consort, and in the matter of a second wife, he can do the choosing. He chooses twelve year-old Wen Hsiu (Jun Wu).
After the wedding ceremony, he is seated on a bed with Wan Jung (Joan Chen), the empress that has been selected for him. He removes the kai t'ou that covers her face to discover that despite being so old - she's two years his senior - she's gorgeous. As Wan Jung covers Pu Yi's face with kisses, attendants begin removing the royal wedding clothes but Pu Yi stops them. Wan Jung asks whether he would prefer them to be a modern couple. When he doesn't respond, she takes his silence for assent. They shake hands, say goodnight, and Pu Yi leaves.
Testimony. The prison governor has apparently stopped reading. Pu Yi is taken from his cell to a wainscoted room where he is to confess his crimes. He is told to first write his name. Since he has been given only chalk and the floor is slate, he writes his name on the floor. His interrogator (Ric Young) establishes the ground rules and then begins by asking Pu Yi why he thinks he's there. From Pu Yi's response and his autobiography one might think him an innocent bystander to China's recent history. The interrogator figuratively throws both Pu Yi's response and his autobiography back into his face. He demands serious confession. A scribe (Hongchang Yang) is ready to take Pu Yi's testimony. The prison governor has entered and sits at the rear of the interrogation room.
Trivial Confession, 1923. Pu Yi begins his confession. He recalls sitting on a golden armchair espousing reforms. He cuts off his queue, the woven ponytail that signifies Manchu domination, the cutting of which was, until recently, treasonous. He then replaces the Lord Chamberlain and proposes an audit of the imperial storerooms. That night the eunuchs burn the storerooms to prevent discovery of their thefts. The next day, Pu Yi expels the eunuchs with the help of republican troops.
Inadequate. Pu Yi finishes his trivial "confession" staring at his name on the floor. The prison governor asks about the Japanese. They all passionately want to know about the Japanese. How and when did Pu Yi's friendship with the Japanese begin?
Expulsion from the Forbidden City, 1924. Pu Yi continues his testimony. The imperial family is playing tennis in a courtyard. Shots are heard in the distance. Suddenly, the courtyard is filled with troops of the warlord Feng Yuxiang. One of Feng's captains (Xu Tongrui) gives the imperials one hour to leave the Forbidden City. They are to go into guarded exile at Pu Yi's ancestral estate. Johnston suggests that he could arrange asylum in the British Embassy.
As Pu Yi leaves what for him has been a gold encrusted prison for the first time in sixteen years, he's quiet and strangely apprehensive. The imperial family departs my motorcar as the five-color republican flag is raised over the Forbidden City.
Explanations. The interrogator points out that they didn't go to the British Embassy, but to the Japanese Embassy. Pu Yi explains that the Japanese were prepared to help, that they have an emperor nearly his age, and that, since he is Manchurian, many Chinese consider him to be an alien. He presents these facts to explain why the imperial family went to live in the Japanese Concession in Tientsin. He further explains that he was not in the pay of the Japanese, that he had to pay his own way in Tientsin by selling family treasure, and that he dreamed of going to the West.
The Playboy, 1927. Pu Yi relates the casual good times in Tientsin. It was a cosmopolitan city with a large international community. At a dance party, a tuxedo-clad Pu Yi briefly sings Am I Blue? flanked by a jazz band that bizarrely wears blackface. He finishes the song and rejoins the dancers. The grown up Wen Hsiu (Vivian Wu), his secondary consort, dances with an American while Masahiko Amakasu (Ryuichi Sakamoto), Pu Yi's Japanese patron and co-conspirator, looks on.
While they dance, Pu Yi and Wan Jung discuss where they want to live. She favors Monaco but he prefers San Francisco. She asks if they're really going this time.
The American dancing with Wen Hsiu sees the imperial couple and asks who they are. Wen Hsiu identifies them as Henry and Elizabeth - Pu Yi and Wan Jung have taken Western names.
As they drive to their residence in the Japanese legation after the party, Wen Hsiu announces that she wants a divorce. Henry chides her saying that no one can divorce him. Shortly after they arrive at the residence Wen Hsiu leaves never to return.
Later that night Eastern Jewel (Maggie Han) arrives. In her bedroom, she and Elizabeth engage in small talk and then Eastern Jewel produces an opium pipe. As she prepares the pipe, she casually explains that she works as a spy for the Japanese Special Service Bureau. Elizabeth naively confides in Eastern Jewel. She shares her worries about Henry and his relationship with the Japanese. Henry has sent his brother, Pu Chieh, to a military academy in Tokyo, and Amakasu speaks incessantly to Henry about Manchuria. Elizabeth doesn't trust Amakasu and she doesn't trust the Japanese.
Henry appears and greets Eastern Jewel as "cousin." He is still upset by Wen Hsiu's departure. Eastern Jewel stokes the fires of Henry's discontent by informing him of the recent desecration of the tombs of their Manchu ancestors by Kuomintang troops. Henry is left speechless.
Questions. The interrogator grills Pu Yi about whether he collaborated with the Japanese in their transformation of Manchuria into the puppet state, Manchukuo. He points out that Pu Yi arrived in Manchuria within a month of the Japanese conquest. When Pu Yi insists that he was kidnapped, the prison governor intercedes. The governor asks if Pu Yi remembers Mr. Johnston.
Farewell, 1931. Pu Yi tries evasion by relating the day that Johnston left China to return to England. After their farewells, Henry Pu Yi watches from the car as Johnston walks to the gangplank of the waiting ship. A small Chinese orchestra plays Auld Lang Syne on traditional Chinese instruments.
Contradictions. The prison governor dismisses Pu Yi's evasion. He counters Pu Yi's claim of kidnap by reading aloud contradictory quotations from Johnston's book. Pu Yi calls Johnston a liar and points out that his old tutor had left China years before the putative kidnapping. At a nod from the interrogator, the scribe goes to the back of the interrogation room and opens the door to admit Pu Yi's former valet, who is also a prisoner. The interrogator resumes by pointing out that, in his autobiography, the valet had written that he packed Pu Yi's luggage the day before his master's "kidnapping." Holding up the two conflicting accounts the interrogator exclaims, "These two stories don't fit, do they?" When the valet tries to make excuses, the interrogator angrily throws the books at them.
Opportunity, 1932. Pu Yi privately recalls the true events surrounding his "kidnapping." Though it is obvious to Elizabeth that the Japanese are using him, Henry asserts his hereditary right to rule Manchuria. He must find a way to use the Japanese. "There can be no Manchukuo without me," he asserts. Even when faced by protest from his faithful old High Tutor, Henry proves that he's still an arrogant spoiled brat by bringing up every petty complaint that he has been harboring against the Chinese. "China has turned its back on me," he rages. He plans to take his opportunity to rule, no matter the circumstances or the consequences. Pu Yi is in the hot embrace of megalomania.
Time and Truth. The prison governor leaves Pu Yi and his former valet looking at a 1934 copy of Time Magazine that displays a military portrait of Pu Yi on its cover with the words "Emperor Pu Yi" below.
The Emperor of Manchukuo, 1934. The sight of his picture on the cover of the magazine carries Pu Yi back to Manchuria. The Japanese have decided that, having served as Head of State for the past two years, Henry Pu Yi is now to be emperor of Manchukuo.
Henry arrives at his outdoor coronation wearing the traditional robes of the Qing Dynasty. With Japanese officials looking on, he bows to the four points of the compass. Then, as the imperial seal is pressed to the instrument of coronation, Eastern Jewel congratulates Elizabeth. "You're an empress again," she brightly exclaims. She then enthusiastically confides to Elizabeth that she wants to bomb Shanghai. "I hate China," she tells the newly restored empress. "I hate you," Elizabeth replies sullenly. From the sidelines, Amakasu snaps photos.
At the coronation ball that evening, Amakasu supervises the filming of the festivities. Elizabeth and Eastern Jewel arrive stoned on opium. The Japanese Army High Command is also present. General Ishikari (Hideo Takamatsu) congratulates Henry on behalf of the Japanese Emperor. During this ceremony Elizabeth hides out on the second floor balcony. Amakasu turns his camera from the military pomp to film Elizabeth. He stares at her with stony eyes, then follows her with the camera as she descends to the main floor.
While the orchestra plays a Strauss waltz, Elizabeth does not join the dancers. Instead, she sits at the end of the hall and eats daffodils from a flower arrangement. She stares vacantly as she stuffs the poisonous flowers into her mouth. Nearby, Henry's brother, Pu Chieh, introduces his Japanese wife, Princess Hiro Saga, to various dignitaries. Pu Chieh is wearing a full-dress Japanese uniform. His wife is pregnant.
When Henry is told of his wife's eccentric activities, he leaves a meeting with the High Command and confronts her. Elizabeth tells her puffed up husband that he's blind to the reality of his situation: that Amakasu is the most powerful man in Manchukuo, to which Pu Yi scoffs. When she asks why he doesn't make love to her anymore, Henry says that it is because she has become an opium addict. She tries to tell him how easily opium can be obtained in Manchukuo but Henry doesn't want to hear it. She then asks to have a child. "You must have an heir." Henry changes the subject by bringing up their invitation to Tokyo. He tells her that he's decided to go alone. When she says that she would never go to Japan, Henry angrily tells her to go to her room. As she leaves, she sarcastically raises a toast to the new emperor. "Ten thousand years to His Majesty the Emperor!" Henry abruptly stands in the face of her affront, but as the toast is picked up by the assembled guests a smile crosses his face.
Elizabeth saunters out of the ballroom as the toasting continues. She's followed by Eastern Jewel. Back in Elizabeth's bedroom, Eastern Jewel passes the opium pipe to her. Then, as Elizabeth stares dejectedly, Eastern Jewel rolls down Elizabeth's stockings and proceeds to nibble on her toes. Elizabeth again tells Eastern Jewel that she hates her. Unsaid is that she hates all Chinese who collaborate with the Japanese. Unsaid is that she hates herself for putting up with the sham existence that her life has become.
Servitude. Back in the prison, the governor spies on Pu Yi as the former emperor bullies his cellmates. They had served him in the Forbidden City and they continue to serve him in prison. The governor orders Pu Yi to be moved to a different cell, one that will humble Pu Yi.
In the new cell that he is to share with five other convicts, Pu Yi is sternly told what chores he is expected to do. He will be disallowed any privileged position here. Pu Yi turns to the door and summons a guard. "I've never been separated from my family," he says. "You'd better get used to it," the guard replies. When he turns back to look at his cellmates, he recognizes them. They were all government officials in Manchukuo.
Welcome Home, 1935. The sight of his cellmates carries Pu Yi back to Manchuria once again. He is returning from Tokyo. Dressed in military uniform, he reviews his troops when he is introduced to Colonel Yoshioka (Fumihiko Ikeda). Behind the colonel stands Mr. Amakasu. The colonel has disarmed the imperial guards. He informs Henry that there have been many changes made while he was away.
Henry pushes the colonel aside and enters his palace. He asks for his Prime Minister and is informed that the Prime Minister has resigned and has moved to a monastery far away. When Henry asks who it is that is telling him, the man identifies himself as Chang Chinghui (Shu Chen), Minister of Defense.
Flanked by the flags of Japan and Manchukuo, Emperor Henry Pu Yi leads a meeting of his council. To his right sit his Japanese advisers, facing the flag of Japan. To his left sit his cabinet, facing the flag of Manchukuo. Before him awaiting his signature lies an edict that would appoint Chang Chinghui as the new Prime Minister. He refuses to sign and instead launches into an idealistic speech about mutual respect, equality, and independence. Upon mention of the name "Manchuria," Amakasu on the Japanese side so violently stands up that his chair jumps back. As Henry attempts to continue, the rest of the Japanese side stand up. They turn and stiffly march out of the council chamber. Then, as the Emperor of Manchukuo once again tries to continue, Chang Chinghui abruptly stands up followed by the rest of the Manchukuo side. They turn their backs on their emperor and fall in line behind the Japanese, marching briskly out of the room. Henry's government has been undermined by the Japanese while he was visiting Tokyo. Henry is left addressing an empty council chamber. As his voice trails off and he slowly sits down, the emotion drains from Henry's face as a new, old realization strikes him. He is back in a new Forbidden City of his own making.
At the state dinner following the disastrous council meeting, Elizabeth informs her husband that she's pregnant and that the father is Manchurian. Just then, Colonel Yoshioka and Mr. Amakasu enter. Yoshioka carries the edict that Henry refused to sign in the council chamber. Henry once again refuses to sign it. Amakasu insists that Manchukuo must, by rights, pay the cost of its occupation, that Japan's beneficent protection is not extended out of a sense of charity. Henry evades the issue by walking across the room to stand behind his wife's chair. He announces that he is to have an heir. Amakasu looks at him impassively. He tells Henry that the Japanese are aware of the situation. He writes on a scrap of paper and replies, "This is the name of the father." With the paper in hand, Yoshioka faces Elizabeth across the table. He tosses the paper on the table in front of her while loudly proclaiming, "His name is Chang. He is your driver." As Amakasu scolds the defeated emperor, Henry signs the instrument that appoints Chang Chinghui as Prime Minister. Elizabeth stands as Amakasu picks up the document. Turning to face her, Amakasu triumphantly proclaims that "The Japanese are the only divine race on Earth." She turns away and begins to leave as he continues. "We will take China, Hong Kong, Indochina, Siam, Malaya, Singapore, and India!" Amakasu pursues Elizabeth across the room shouting, "Asia belongs to us!"
The scene changes to a close up of Chang (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) as he waxes the emperor's car. He stops when he feels a gun put to the back of his head. The gun fires.
Regrets. In the prison yard, the governor lectures Pu Yi on the technique of silently urinating into a bucket so as not to wake his cellmates. Pu Yi turns to look at his former valet, silently beseeching him for support. The man responds by angrily leaving the yard exclaiming, "You still think I'm a servant, don't you?"
When he's back in his cell, Pu Yi denies that anything has changed. "You are all pretending." His cell leader tells him to shut up, that they are working for a new China. As the cell leader summons a guard, Pu Yi is struck by the man's sincerity. He sits on the side of his bed repeatedly muttering, "I let it happen."
The Puppet, 1935. Elizabeth gives birth but the doctor (Jiechen Dong) murders the baby by fatal injection. Meanwhile, in an office emblazoned with heroic murals, Amakasu supervises as Henry signs an edict making Japanese the official language in schools. After the signing, the doctor enters and tells Henry that the baby was born dead. Regarding Elizabeth, he prescribes a clinic stay "somewhere warm." Eastern Jewel enters and informs Henry that Elizabeth has already left.
Henry runs to catch the departing Elizabeth but, in a reprise of attempted escapes from the Forbidden City, soldiers close the gates upon his approach. From a second floor balcony, Amakasu and Eastern Jewel watch the pathetic Henry walk back to the palace. They hold hands, fingers entwined.
Consequences. The prisoners are in the prison auditorium. A newsreel showing diving Japanese fighter bombers is being aired. It begins with the words "With Manchukuo now firmly in their grasp, the Japanese soon controlled most of North China." The newsreel continues to chronicle the Sino-Japanese war commencing in 1937 and the atrocities committed by Japanese forces. When Pu Yi sees his image in the newsreel, he rises from his seat and remains standing, staring agog as the film goes on to show the piled bodies of the victims of Japanese biological experiments conducted in Manchukuo followed by scenes of opium processing and consumption.
Capture, 1945. The sound of Japanese Emperor Hirohito's surrender broadcast in the newsreel takes Pu Yi back in time once again. Eastern Jewel sits beside a radio. She listens to Hirohito's surrender broadcast as in a trance, but she lurches at the crack of a gunshot. Amakasu has shot himself in the left temple. Head down, Amakasu's blood spreads across his desk.
The Manchukuo palace is being evacuated when Elizabeth returns from exile. She has gone quite mad. She spits in the faces of the Japanese soldiers. When she reaches Henry she pauses and stares at her husband as though she can't quite figure out who he is. She twitches uncontrollably and then shuffles on aided by her nurse.
Henry is being hustled along by Colonel Yoshioka who wants to beat his way out of Manchuria ahead of Russian soldiers, but Henry delays. He turns and follows Elizabeth. He watches as she spits on Amakasu's corpse. Then, with eyes glistening, he follows her as she ambles to her bedroom. She pauses at the bedroom door allowing him to approach and then, without looking directly at him, she shivers and goes through the door. Inside, she turns and vacantly gazes at Henry as she closes the door. Henry is left standing outside the door, shattered. At the end of the hallway, Yoshioka is adamant. "Now!" he shouts.
As the hanger doors are opening, the twin-engine escape plane is warming up. Colonel Yoshioka, Henry, and Henry's principal ministers are aboard. Yoshioka hears distant shooting and looks out through the windscreen to see Russian paratroopers floating down to earth. They have been captured.
Responsibility. The prison governor leaves his office and enters the compound. The prisoners are scattered throughout the compound playing ping-pong, except for Pu Yi. Pu Yi is tending his flower garden. As he works the soil, the governor stops and faces him. The governor castigates Pu Yi for admitting to crimes that he couldn't possibly have known about, the biological experiments, for example. When asked why he signed every accusation hurled against him, Pu Yi breaks his silence and matter-of-factly replies, "I was responsible for everything." "You are responsible for what you do!" the governor honestly counters. He continues. "All your life you thought you were better than everyone else. Now you think you are the worst of all!" Referring to his suicide attempt in the railroad station, using words fraught with past implications, Pu Yi says, "You saved my life to make me a puppet in your own play." He puts down a watering can, turns, and intently addresses the governor. "You saved me because I am useful to you." Stunned that Pu Yi has come so far without fully appreciating the worth of an ordinary life, the governor asks, "Is that so terrible, to be useful?"
Reformed, 1959. The prisoners are arrayed as a chorus, singing. They finish the song and sit down. A motion picture cameraman is filming. The prison governor is on the stage at a microphone. Pu Yi's name is called. As he walks toward the stage, Pu Yi hears a prison official read the proclamation that releases him from prison. He is handed the proclamation and, as the governor shakes his hand, he hears the governor say, "You see? I will end up living in prison longer than you." They smile warmly to each other as their handclasp lingers.
Freedom, 1967. Pu Yi leaves the Beijing Botanical Gardens where he works as a gardener. He has been free these past seven years for the first time in his life. He smiles a lot. On his bicycle ride home he stops at an open air market. His brother, Pu Chieh, is there. Up the street a large group of young people approach as a parade. They carry banners and pictures of Chairman Mao. A twelve piece accordion band leads the way. The young people are chanting and waving little red books. They are Red Guard. In their midst, a group of dunce hatted, revisionist lackeys are being herded along. Among them is Pu Yi's former prison governor! Pu Yi goes up to him. He tells the nearest Red Guard that there must be a mistake, that this is a good man. The guardsman tells Pu Yi to fuck off. "But what has he done?" Pu Yi asks. "He's been accused," the young man replies. The guardsman turns to face the governor. "Confess your crime," he commands. "I have nothing to confess," the former prison governor replies. Pu Yi's former keeper is then repeatedly forced to kowtow.
Pu Yi tries to talk to the Red Guard but they frog march him to the side of the street and push him to the ground. As Pu Yi lies on the asphalt, the lackeys are hustled ahead. Their former place on the street is now occupied by a flag waver and a troop of schoolgirls. The schoolgirls march around in a choreographed display while singing a stirring patriotic song.
Pu Yi leaves the street and visits the Forbidden City. It is near closing time. Shadows stretch across the courtyard in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. He enters the building in which he held court so very long ago. Magically, he is alone. He looks up at his former throne, then steps over the decorative rope that demarcates the line beyond which the public is not to go. "Stop!" a small boy cries. "You are not allowed in there!" the boy shouts as he runs toward Pu Yi. When the boy asks who he is, Pu Yi replies, "I was the emperor of China." When asked to prove it, Pu Yi climbs the steps to the throne and recovers a cricket cage. He hands it to the boy. The boy descends the steps and pops the top off the cricket cage. He then turns back as though to ask Pu Yi what it is, but Pu Yi is not there. He has disappeared. The boy runs back up the stairs, looks around, and then stares at the cricket cage he holds. An elderly cricket crawls out and onto the boy's shirt.
Heritage, today. A tour guide playing a synthesized version of Yankee Doodle Dandy leads a horde of American tourists into the throne room. She explains that this is the room where emperors of China were crowned. "The last emperor to be crowned here was Aisin Gioro Pu Yi," she announces. "He was three years old. He died in 1967."
Ed. Notes: The film makers slightly altered the time line of Pu Yi's early life. Re, The Emperor of China, 1908: Pu Yi was only two years of age when he was invested. Re, Brothers, 1914: The wall, from which Pu Chieh points to the president of China and which is clearly under construction, was actually constructed in 1912, thus, Pu Yi would have been only six years of age and his brother would have been five. Re, Education, 1919: Pu Yi would have been only thirteen years of age and his brother would have been twelve. Wan Jung was nicknamed Elizabeth at the American missionary school in Tientsin which she attended as a girl. Pu Yi was jocularly nicknamed Henry, after Henry VIII and as suggested by Pu Yi's relationship to Elizabeth, by Reginald Johnston. Pu Yi's Manchu clan name was Aisin Gioro (Gold Clan) but he would not have been called Aisin Gioro Pu Yi as clan names are not used in that manner. Pu Yi's name is also often spelled "Puyi". Pu Chieh's name is also often spelled "Pujie". After leaving Pu Yi's service in 1924, Reginald Johnston became commissioner of the British Weihaiwei lease located at the end of the strategic Shandong Peninsula until that prefecture was returned to China in the autumn of 1930. Eastern Jewel (Dongzhen) was the courtesy name for Yu Aixinjueluo (or Xianyu) of the Manchu Aisin Gioro. She was a Qing princess and a distant relative of Pu Yi. She was raised in Japan where she was called Yoshiko Kawashima. (Sources: Numerous Wikipedia articles from both English and Chinese sites and the Encyclopedia Britannica.)