Empress Wanrong

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Empress Wanrong, Elizabeth
Empress Wan Rong.jpg
Official Portrait of the Empress
Empress Consort of China
Reign 30 November 1922 – 5 November 1924 (2 years 25 days)
Predecessor Empress Xiaodingjing
Empress Consort of Manchukuo
Reign 1 March 1934 – 20 June 1945
Born (1906-11-13)13 November 1906
Beijing, Qing Dynasty
Died 20 June 1946(1946-06-20) (aged 39)
Yanji, Jilin, Republic of China
Burial 2006
Western Qing Tombs, China
Spouse Xuantong Emperor (m. 1922)
Full name
Gobulo Wanrong 郭布羅·婉容
Posthumous name
Empress Xiaokemin 孝恪愍皇后
Father Gobulo Rongyuan
Mother Aisin-Gioro Hengxinyu (stepmother)
Chinese 婉容
Lady Gobulo, Empress Xiaokemin
Chinese 孝恪愍皇后郭博勒氏

Lady Gobulo, Empress Xiaokemin (Lady Gobulo, Empress Hsiao-ko-min; 13 November 1906 – 20 June 1946), better known as Empress Wanrong (Empress Wan-jung), was the empress of Puyi, the last Emperor of China and final ruler of the Qing Dynasty. She became empress of the puppet state of Manchukuo when Puyi was installed as its nominal ruler during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Her English name is Elizabeth.

Early life and marriage to Puyi[edit]

Wanrong was of Daur ancestry. She was the daughter of Rongyuan (榮源), a Minister of Domestic Affairs (內務府大臣) in the Qing imperial court. Wanrong's real mother died when she was two years old, she never have an impression or any memory with her real mother, but seen from an old photograph, she is a beautiful young woman with beautiful almond eyes. Wanrong only shares one blood brother, Gobulo Runliang, her older brother. Gobulo Runqi is her younger brother who was born from her stepmother. Her stepmother Aisin-Gioro Hengxinyu was the fourth daughter of Yuchang (毓長), a descendant of Puxu (溥煦), an heir to the line of the Qianlong Emperor's eldest son Yonghuang (永璜). She and her brothers call Aisin-Gioro Hengxinyu the stepmother as "Grandma". Wanrong was educated in an American missionary school in Tianjin, where she was tutored by Isabel Ingram, and was given the Western name Elizabeth.[1]

It was decided by the four dowager consorts (the widows of the Tongzhi and Guangxu emperors, the predecessors of Puyi) and the Prince-Regent Prince Chun (Puyi's father), that Puyi would marry. Puyi was shown a selection of poor quality photographs of several young women, from which to choose a wife. The photos were of such a poor quality that Puyi had trouble distinguishing one person from another. He had decided that since he could not tell them apart, it did not matter which one he chose, so he selected Wenxiu. Upon discussion with the imperial consorts, he learned that Wenxiu was merely a 12-year-old girl. It was suggested by them that he choose Wanrong, who was of the same age and with whom he shared a similar family background. This met with his approval, but since he had already chosen Wenxiu, it was decided that he should marry her as well to fulfill the Manchu tradition of having both a primary and a secondary wife. After Wanrong was selected by the imperial court, a big group of eunuchs were sent to prepare her for an imperial marriage. She received an extensive amount of instruction in how to behave as an empress of China.

Puyi made frequently telephone calls to Wanrong's house. Puyi requests for a promise from Wanrong that she will fulfil his loneliness, and she agreed. Wanrong wept numerous times before and during her wedding, knowing that her days of freedom and happiness were soon to end upon her entry into the Forbidden City. The wedding of Puyi and Wanrong took place on November 30, 1922, at 3 AM according to Manchu custom.[2]

Quotation during their phone call in the afternoon from Puyi's palace to Wanrong's residence:[3]


Life as Empress[edit]

The Forbidden City[edit]

Life in the Forbidden City was full of daily rituals and observances for Wanrong. So much in fact, that she would often stay up studying until 2am with her tutor, Isabel Ingram. Puyi would frequently interrupt their studies by stopping in to see what they were doing, playing jokes, or calling Wanrong on the phone. Despite these interruptions, she remained a dedicated student, often surprising her tutor with her progress.[5]

She was also often visited by and enjoyed the company of friends and family as well as spending time with Puyi. She enjoyed reading mystery novels, playing the piano, writing in English, and photography.[5]


After Puyi was forced out of the Forbidden City by the warlord Feng Yuxiang in 1924, he fled with Wanrong, Wenxiu, and the remaining imperial court to the Quiet Garden Villa within the Japanese concession in Tianjin.[6] In the Quiet Garden Villa, they lived in relative peace and enjoyed an active public and social life. It was in Tianjin that Wanrong adopted the Christian name of Elizabeth (after the English queen regnant Elizabeth I) in response to Puyi's own Christian name of Henry (after Henry VIII of England). Puyi showed a preference for Wanrong and spent more time with her, which successively led Wenxiu to divorce him in 1931. Puyi blamed Wanrong for forcing away Wenxiu and consequently neglected Wanrong.[7]

The American journalist Nora Waln met and befriended Wanrong in Tianjin in 1927. Waln described her as a person of with, intelligence and remarkable beauty. Wanrong told Waln of the Manchu wedding pageant when she married Pu Yi in 1922, of their two years of living in the Forbidden City, and of their being driven out by soldiers in 1924.


With hope of restoring the Qing Dynasty, Puyi accepted offers from the Empire of Japan to head the new puppet state of Manchukuo and relocated to Changchun, Jilin, which had been renamed Hsinking, in March 1932. In 1934 the Japanese government proclaimed Puyi as the first Emperor of Manchukuo and Wanrong as Empress. The couple lived in the Russian-built Weihuang Palace (now the Museum of the Imperial Palace of the Manchu State), a tax office that had been converted into a temporary palace while a new structure was being built.[8]

Wanrong took to smoking tobacco, and, typical for Chinese women of the time, she mixed her tobacco with small doses of opium as a relaxant. However, she was a heavy smoker, and, combined with her husband's neglect and her loneliness in Manchukuo, she became a heavy opium addict. By 1938, she was reportedly smoking two ounces of opium a day. Out of her loneliness, Wanrong had a sexual affair with her husband's chauffeur. While arrangements were made for the illegitimate daughter to be raised outside the imperial household, the Japanese Imperial Army had her daughter slaughtered after birth, a fact she only found out more than a year later. After the discovery of her daughter's death, Wanrong lived in a constant daze of opium consumption. She became a superstitious believer in luck and spat and blinked at whatever she thought was unlucky. She also ate ravenously at dinner parties and refused to make a display of good manners, and even her father stopped visiting her in Manchukuo due to her transformation.[9]

During the Evacuation of Manchukuo during the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in 1945, Puyi attempted to flee Manchukuo, leaving behind Wanrong, his concubine Li Yuqin, and some other imperial household members, ostensibly because his immediate entourage was at risk of arrest and the women would be safe.[10]

Wanrong, her sister-in-law Hiro Saga, and the other members of her group attempted to flee overland to Korea but were arrested by Chinese soldiers in Talitzou, Manchukuo, in January 1946. In February they became involved in the Tonghua Incident.[11] In April they were moved to a police station in Changchun, eventually released only to be rounded up again and locked up at a police station in Jilin. Wanrong's opium supply had run out for a long time, and she was suffering the effects of withdrawal. When Chiang Kai-shek's army bombed Jilin, Wanrong and Hiro Saga were both moved to a prison in Yanji, Jilin.[12]

Death and burial[edit]

Suffering from the symptoms of opium withdrawal in Yanji, Wanrong was cared for in her most frail and vulnerable state by her sister-in-law Hiro Saga, despite Wanrong's professed hatred and distrust of the Japanese. During this time Wanrong hallucinated being Empress in the Forbidden City again, and on one instance she used a commanding tone to speak to prison guards, who laughed at her in response. After Hiro Saga was separated from her, Wanrong died in prison at age 39 on June 20, 1946 from the effects of malnutrition and opium withdrawal. She was discovered in a pool of her own bodily fluids. Her body is suspected to be buried in a common grave at the prison. Puyi did not receive news of her death until three years later.

In October 2006, Wanrong's younger brother, Gobulo Runqi (1912–2007), had a monument built for her at the Western Qing Tombs[13] that contained Wanrong's hand mirror.


Maternal ancestors[edit]

  • Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799)
    • Yonghuang, Prince Ding'an of the First Rank (1728–1750)
      • Minun, Prince Dinggong of the First Rank (1747–1822)
        • Yizhao, Prince Dingduan of the First Rank (1776–1836)
          • Zaichuen, Prince Ding'min of the First Rank (1794–1854)
            • Puxu, Prince Dingshen of the Second Rank (1828–1907)
              • Yuchang, General who guard the nation (1851–1903)
                • Xin Yu Heng Aisingiorro - Wan Rong's Mother


Portrayal in media[edit]

Empress Wanrong was portrayed by Joan Chen in Bernardo Bertolucci's 1987 film The Last Emperor.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Gunther, John, Inside Asia. pp.146
  2. ^ Puyi, The Last Manchu
  3. ^ Pu Yi 1988, p 310
  4. ^ Translated this part from http://tieba.baidu.com/p/220147175
  5. ^ a b The personal diary of Isabel Ingram
  6. ^ Rogaski, R: Hygienic Modernity, page 262. University of California Press, 2004
  7. ^ Gobulo Runqi, Pu Yi — The Last Emperor of China, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyE-3Q5pkQA&feature=related
  8. ^ Edward Behr, ibid, p. 247
  9. ^ http://beingbutmen.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/so-here-is-last-bit-about-last-emperor.html
  10. ^ Edward Behr, ibid, p. 264
  11. ^ Saga, Hiro (1992). 流転の王妃の昭和史 (in Japanese). Shinchosha. pp. 153–154. ISBN 4101263116. 
  12. ^ Edward Behr, ibid, p. 268–9
  13. ^ 末代皇后婉容衣冠冢入葬清西陵. http://news.sina.com.cn/s/2006-10-24/012710306918s.shtml


External links[edit]


Chinese royalty
Preceded by
Empress Xiaodingjing
Empress of China (titular)
Succeeded by
None (Imperial Titles Abolished)