Tuesday, April 22, 2008

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #6: Kids Who Rule

LIVEbrary Lesson Plan #6:
"Henry Puyi -- Last Emperor of China"

(for a colorful, downloadable PDF version, click here)

Topic/Subject: World History
Age Range: 9-13
Grade Level: 4-8

- Reading
- Assignment
- Quiz
- Discussion Questions


"Emperor Puyi of China: 1906-1967"
an excerpt from the book
The Remarkable Lives Of Five Child Monarchs

by Charis Cotter
Published by Annick Press.
Reprinted here with permission.

Puyi snuggled closer to his nurse, Ar Mo. He was sleepy and warm.

"Nearly bedtime," Ar Mo murmured.

"Nooooo," he replied, but he didn't really mean it. Ar Mo's arms were soft, and she smelled sweet, like the white jasmine flowers in the garden. His eyes closed.

Suddenly there was a loud knocking in another part of the house, then running footsteps, then a whole lot of people talking at once.

Puyi sat up and looked at Ar Mo. She was as startled as he was, but she tried to quiet him.

"It's all right. It must be some late visitors," she began. But the racket was getting closer, swelling up outside the room they were in. As the door burst open, a crowd of people rushed in like an angry wave flooding a sandcastle on the beach.

Ar Mo jumped up, still clutching Puyi, who screamed and clung to her neck. Everybody was talking at once: his father, his mother, some servants, and many large men Puyi had never seen before.

His father's face was pale, and he looked strange and sick. "You must go with these men, Puyi," he said. "They have come to take you to the Imperial Palace. The dowager empress is asking for you."

"No!" screamed the terrified boy. Puyi jumped down from his nurse's arms, ducked under his father's legs, and took off out the door. Behind him the noise rose wildly again, with women screaming, men cursing, and somebody yelling, "Catch him!"

Puyi headed straight for the back room, where his hiding place was. He scrambled into the cupboard and shut the door, holding it fast as his heart beat loudly in his ears. But the babbling voices followed close behind, and soon the door was wrenched open.

His father looked down at him sternly.

"Puyi, you must come!" he ordered, grabbing the boy by the arm.

Puyi kicked and screamed and cried as he was dragged out. Soon he was making as much noise as the crowd of grownups. Ar Mo spoke softly with his mother, and people began to leave Puyi's room. Ar Mo sat down and started to rock him.

"You must go, little one," she whispered. "But I will come with you."

~ A New Emperor for China ~

Against all royal protocol and tradition, the next emperor of China was accompanied by his wet nurse in the royal palanquin that carried him from his father's house to the Forbidden City. There the dying Dowager Empress Cixi lay waiting for him. The little boy saw an ancient, wrinkled face peeking out at him from behind a curtain. That set him off screaming again.

"Give him some candy," the old lady croaked to her servants. But Puyi didn't want candy. He wanted Ar Mo, who had been left outside the door. He threw himself on the floor, and kicked his feet and kept screaming. He was two and a half, after all, and screaming was what he did best.

From behind the curtain came a raspy laugh. "What a naughty boy," said the old lady with some satisfaction. "Take him away."

Despite Puyi's naughtiness, the dowager empress had made up her mind. She had the power to appoint the new emperor, and she thought the little screaming one would do very well. For more than 50 years she had been the most powerful figure in China, ruling from behind the throne. Young emperors were easy to control, and as soon as they grew up, she found a way to get rid of them. Puyi's father, Prince Chun, was a nervous, indecisive sort of person, and the empress was sure she would have no trouble from him. The doctors said she was on her deathbed, but she didn't really believe them. She had been very sick, it was true, and she had eaten a huge bowl of crabapples and cream that had violently disagreed with her. But she was a tough old lady, and she thought she would get better.

The empress didn't get better, though. She died two days after her midnight meeting with Puyi. The little boy became a permanent resident of the Forbidden City -- as the Supreme Emperor of China, the Son of Heaven. For the next 16 years Puyi lived shut inside its high red walls.

About 500 years before Puyi was born, the Emperor Yongle had built the Forbidden City as a royal sanctuary in the heart of Beijing. Designed to be a city within a city, safe from attack and outside influences, it took 14 years and 200,000 workers to complete. The Forbidden City occupied a rectangle about one kilometer (.75 miles) long and .8 kilometers (.5 miles) wide, and it was protected by 10-meter (33-foot) walls and a moat seven meters (20 feet) deep. There were towers at each corner of the rectangle and gates in each wall.

Inside the walls, the city was laid out in an intricate maze of palaces, walled courtyards, temples, bridges, and gardens. Many of the roof tiles were yellow, the special color that only the emperor was allowed to use. Everything possible was done to create an exquisitely beautiful hidden city for the emperor, filled with all he could desire. Over the years the Forbidden City became the cultural center of China. Everything new and beautiful found its way there: valuable treasures such as jewels, porcelain, and precious manuscripts, as well as talented musicians, actors, and artists.

Twenty-four emperors lived out their lives within the Forbidden City's high red walls, along with their wives, children, courtiers, and servants. Although it could be a bustling, lively place (as many as 10,000 people lived there at one point), it was also considered a holy site where the emperor could communicate directly with God. According to Chinese tradition, the emperor was an exalted figure greater than all other human beings; he alone had the right to speak to heaven. In the Forbidden City, the emperor was surrounded by rituals to support his lofty position and keep him at a distance from the world.

By the time Puyi became emperor of China in 1908, the Qing dynasty (the royal family) was losing its grip on power. China's government wasn't working, and different groups fought over who would replace it. Everything was falling apart, and the royal court no longer ruled the country from within the walls of the Forbidden City. When Puyi was six, China became a republic, and he was forced to give up his position as supreme leader.

The royal family was still respected in China, however, and life in the imperial court continued much as it had for centuries. Four key women helped to maintain the royal rituals. These were the consorts: wives of former emperors who were now dead. The rulers of China were allowed to have several wives each. Once an emperor died, the most important wife (the empress) became the dowager empress, and the other consorts became dowager consorts. They stayed in the Forbidden City for the rest of their lives. The four old women still living there when Puyi was a little boy did their best to preserve their privileged way of life.

~ The Forbidden City ~

When Puyi entered the Forbidden City at the age of two, it was as if he had stepped 400 years back in time. The inhabitants lived as if they were in medieval China, preserving all the traditions of the imperial court. It was considered undignified for the emperor to walk, for example, so Puyi was carried everywhere on a litter or in a special sedan chair.

According to an ancient Chinese tradition, all the servants in the Forbidden City were castrated men called eunuchs. Puyi couldn't go anywhere without a procession of eunuchs to cater to his every need. Because most people weren't supposed to look at the emperor or even to see him, one eunuch went ahead making a kind of honking noise. This was to warn everyone that the emperor was coming and they should get out of the way double quick. Then came the two head eunuchs, followed by Puyi on his litter, with two more eunuchs on either side. They were followed by a line of eunuchs carrying everything that might be wanted on the walk: medicine, tea and cakes, a teapot, hot water, umbrellas, extra clothes, and a chamber pot (in case Puyi had to pee). The eunuchs walked silently, showing great respect for their emperor.

At first, when Puyi was feeling frisky and wanted to get down and run, the eunuchs would gather up their long robes and try to run after him. This proved too awkward, so after a while the whole procession would stop and wait while Puyi had a little run, then proceed when he felt like "walking" again.

Anyone meeting Puyi, even his parents, had to kowtow to the emperor: they had to get down on their knees and touch their foreheads to the ground nine times, to show how exalted he was and how humble they were.

The emperor's special shade of yellow was used for all Puyi's personal items. The lining of his clothes was yellow. So were his hats, belts, cushions, sedan chair, dishes-even the reins for his horse. This too emphasized how special the emperor was, and how different from ordinary people. When Puyi's brother Pujie first came to play with him in the Forbidden City, Puyi threw a fit when he saw yellow on the lining of his brother's jacket. Pujie quickly learned not to wear that color again.

~ The Strange Life of a Child Emperor ~

Perhaps the strangest traditions in the Forbidden City were the rituals around food. There were no set mealtimes. When Puyi said he was hungry, the word was passed from servant to servant until it reached the building where the food was cooked. Almost immediately, 100 servants in clean uniforms would proceed to the Palace of Mental Cultivation, carrying tables, the imperial dishes, and a huge amount of food. The food was laid out in the emperor's special yellow porcelain dishes that were emblazoned with the imperial five-toed dragon. It was the tradition to serve 25 dishes to Puyi; this number had been reduced from 100. They included duck, poultry, pork, beef, vegetables, and bean curd (tofu). There was even a special dish to honor Puyi's ancestors, called Ancestor Meat Soup. One month, when Puyi was four, the palace records showed that he had eaten 90 kilograms (200 pounds) of meat and 240 ducks and chickens.

Of course nobody could eat that much. All this food was just for show. What Puyi actually ate were the rather plain meals cooked by the dowager consorts' chefs. The fancy buffet was cooked ahead of time and sometimes the same dishes were put out day after day, going rotten and crawling with maggots. But the food had to be presented this way, because it was the tradition.

Another expensive imperial tradition held that the emperor should never wear the same thing twice. Many tailors were kept busy, using up reams of cloth, hundreds of buttons, and many spools of thread to make new silk tunics, waistcoats, and jackets. When Puyi had worn his clothes once, they were discarded.

It was a very strange life for a little boy. At first Ar Mo cared for Puyi. She nursed him with her breast milk, comforted him when he cried, and slept with him in his bed at night. Although Puyi didn't see his real mother again till he was eight, his father, Prince Chun, visited him briefly every couple of months.

Puyi had no one to teach him right from wrong, except Ar Mo. All the other servants treated him like a god. Ar Mo tried to give him a little guidance. She had a calm, peaceful air about her, and Puyi clung to her side. The dowager consorts, who were always scheming to get control of the young emperor, resented Ar Mo's influence on the boy. They had kept Puyi's mother away because they didn't approve of her, and when Puyi was eight they sent Ar Mo away too. They didn't even give Puyi a chance to say goodbye.

Puyi called all of the dowager consorts "mother." They provided him with food from their kitchen, and every day he made an official visit to exchange formal greetings with them. But that was the extent of their communication. When Puyi was sick, all the dowager consorts made visits to his room with their servants, but none of them showed him any affection.

Once, when Puyi was quite small, he got indigestion from eating too many chestnuts. Dowager Empress Lung Yu decided the best cure would be to put him on a diet of rice porridge for a month. Puyi was so hungry he ate the stale bread used to feed palace fish. Nobody seem to care or even to notice that the little boy was starving.

After Ar Mo left, Puyi had to make do with eunuchs for company. They dressed him, fed him, played with him, and told him ghost stories about the statues and carvings of animals in the Forbidden City, which supposedly had magical spirits and could come to life. Puyi loved the stories and always begged for more, but he got so scared he couldn't be left in a room by himself.

~ School at the Palace ~

When Puyi reached his eighth birthday, he began his schooling in earnest. He had already learned to read and write. Now some other little boys were brought into the Forbidden City to be his classmates. One was his younger brother, Pujie; the others were sons of noblemen. The students and teachers treated Puyi with great respect in the classroom, lining up and bowing to him at the beginning of each day. If Puyi was bad and made a fuss or didn't learn his lessons, they beat one of the other kids instead, because no one was allowed to strike the emperor.

The schoolrooms were located in a big, empty building called the Palace of the Cultivation of Happiness. From eight until eleven in the morning, Puyi and his schoolmates studied classical Chinese and Confucian texts. (Confucius was a Chinese philosopher whose values and ideas had formed the basis of Chinese society for hundreds of years.) Puyi also studied Manchu, the language of his ancestors.

He wasn't particularly good at any of his lessons. What Puyi really liked to do was watch the long line of ants in the tree outside the school window, as they carried food to their nests. As he grew older, he loved to read adventure stories about knights and magic, and he would make up his own stories and illustrate them. But none of his teachers encouraged him in these skills, because they weren't considered important. Neither was math, science, or geography, so Puyi didn't learn much about the outside world. He didn't even know where China was located on a map.

When Puyi was 11, the chaos of China's politics suddenly broke into his secluded life. A powerful army officer, General Zhang Xun, had decided to restore the monarchy, and he had the support of a strong faction of royalists, including Puyi's tutors. For 12 days Puyi was a real emperor again, signing proclamations. Throughout Beijing, people hung out imperial flags emblazoned with dragons and wore court robes, hats with peacock feathers, and false pigtails, to show their loyalty to the emperor. (The pigtail was the traditional hairstyle worn by royalists.)

But the situation could not last. When a republican pilot flew a small plane over the Forbidden City and dropped three bombs, Puyi's attendants hustled him into his bedroom for safety. The bombing didn't do much damage, and only one eunuch was hurt, but it signaled the end of Puyi's brief return to the throne. The republicans took over the country again, people threw away their false pigtails, and the Forbidden City returned to its sleepy routines.

~ The Johnston Era ~

Puyi's life was shaken up two years later with the arrival of a messenger from the outside world. Reginald Johnston, a Scotsman who had spent 20 years in Asia, had been hired to teach Puyi English, but he ended up giving the boy a crash course on life beyond China's borders, with an emphasis on the British Empire. As a result, Puyi developed a mad crush on everything British, from clothes to afternoon tea. Using Johnston as his model, he transformed himself into a proper little English gentleman, complete with waistcoat, tie, and cufflinks. Puyi chose an English name, Henry, after one of his heroes, King Henry VIII. He gave his brother and sister English names too-William and Lily-and began speaking a strange mixture of Chinese and English, which annoyed his Chinese tutors.

Before he met Johnston, Puyi had harbored a deep-seated fear of white people. He found it strange and spooky that, instead of black, their hair and eyes could be any of various colors. The eunuchs didn't help, telling him that white people carried canes to beat people with and that their trousers were pleated because they couldn't bend their legs. When Puyi first met Johnston, with his upright military bearing, gray hair and blue eyes, the boy was terrified. But his fear slowly changed to respect.

Johnston had a passion for royalty and a sincere affection for his pupil, and he became Puyi's loyal friend. He cherished a hope that some day the monarchy would be restored in China and Puyi would rule as a true emperor. In the meantime, despite his love of Chinese culture, he encouraged Puyi to take on the manners and values of an Englishman, including mastering the art of small talk and using a knife and fork instead of chopsticks.

Johnston didn't approve of the Chinese pigtail, so Puyi cut his off, much to the alarm of the dowager consorts and the entire Chinese court. Johnston insisted that Puyi wear glasses because he was half-blind without them. Although the old ladies declared that glasses would make the emperor look weak, Puyi eventually got his specs. Johnston encouraged Puyi to make occasional trips outside the Forbidden City, and he supported Puyi's desire for a telephone. Even though this request was seen as a threat to their influence, the dowager consorts finally gave in. Soon, in a spurt of juvenile glee, Puyi was making crank calls to famous actors and ordering restaurant meals to be sent to false addresses.

Johnston's influence spread to nearly every part of Puyi's life. The boy started reading newspapers voraciously and learning everything he could about politics. He tried to understand how his country worked and to figure out his place in it. When Puyi was 15, he had a power struggle with Dowager Consort Duankang. He felt it was time to become involved in hiring and firing employees, and he tried to assert himself. Duankang sent for his mother and grandmother, and gave them such a terrible scolding about Puyi's behavior that they begged Puyi to apologize. Puyi reluctantly agreed. But two days later, tragically, his mother killed herself. Some people thought it was because she was so terrified by Duankang and so full of shame about the whole affair.

The dowager consorts grew more and more concerned about Reginald Johnston's influence on Puyi. The boy was showing signs of growing into a man who would want to make his own decisions. If he left the Forbidden City, the dowager consorts would have to leave too, and so lose all their privileges. They decided it was high time that Puyi got married and produced an heir. Once Puyi was married, they reasoned, he would no longer need a tutor.

Puyi wasn't interested in girls. He dreamed of leaving China and studying at Oxford University in England, as Johnston had done. He and his brother Pujie cooked up a plot to escape, but when they asked Johnston for help, the Englishman refused, worried that his involvement might cause problems between Britain and China. Puyi was devastated. He wanted to live life as himself, not as a pretend emperor manipulated by the dowager consorts or the Chinese warlords.

But it was not to be. The consorts gave him four photographs of young women they approved of, and Puyi chose two of them: Wan Rong, a beautiful, educated young woman of 16 as his first wife, and Wen Xiu (who was rather plain and only 13) as his second wife. Both weddings took place when Puyi was 16, with celebrations that lasted five days. Many expensive gifts were given to the brides and their families, and a glorious wedding procession for the first wife wound through the city of Beijing. But Puyi hadn't wanted to get married, and he showed little interest in either of his wives. Reginald Johnston's role as his tutor officially ended, but Puyi still depended on him as a trusted advisor.

Two years after his weddings, Puyi's make-believe life as emperor of China came to an abrupt end. Feng Yuxiang, a warlord who disapproved of spending money on Puyi and his court, marched into Beijing and took control of the city. When his troops surrounded the Forbidden City, Puyi was forced to leave and find sanctuary in his father's house. He would never again live within the high red walls of the ancient city.

~ The End of the Story ~

Puyi was eager to embrace the world he had been sheltered from for so long. When he reached his father's house after leaving the Forbidden City, he said, "I had no freedom as an emperor. Now I have found my freedom." But, sadly, Puyi was destined to be a puppet all his life. The scenery would change as he moved from place to place, but he was always manipulated and always in some sort of prison.

After he left the Forbidden City, Puyi needed to find a safe haven away from the chaos of Beijing. The Japanese were planning to take control of China, and since they thought Puyi would be useful, they welcomed him into their country with open arms. A few years later they installed him as the emperor of a new state in China they dubbed "Manchukuo."

Puyi's life had taken a cruel turn. He had no real power in his new role, and he was being used by China's enemies to oppress his own people. For the next 16 years he had all the trappings of an emperor: the title, a mansion, a luxurious lifestyle. But the majority of Chinese people considered Puyi a traitor. Wan Rong, his first wife, became addicted to opium and died in prison many years later. Wen Xiu, his second wife, divorced him.

When the Japanese were defeated in the Second World War, Puyi was imprisoned for five years in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, China's neighbor to the north. Chinese Communists took control of China in 1949, and Puyi was shipped back to his homeland. He expected to be executed, but the Communists had something else in mind. Puyi's extravagant life as emperor had made him public enemy number one. If the Communists now running China could reform him, it would be a triumph for their cause. Puyi was taken to a prison where those who were deemed to be wrong-thinking citizens were subjected to endless lessons on what it meant to be a good Communist.

For the first time in his life, Puyi had to learn to live with other people as an equal. He never was much good at looking after himself-all those years of being carried around the Forbidden City and waited on hand and foot had left their mark. He was always the last to be dressed, he dropped things, he misplaced his belongings, and he could never quite get organized. But he did what his captors wanted of him: he said he regretted his former life and was sorry for all the terrible things he had done. Puyi became a model Communist citizen, eager to humble himself at any opportunity and to obey all the rules of the Chinese Communist Party.

After nine years in prison, Puyi was released. The Communists were pleased with their transformation of the evil emperor into a responsible citizen. One of the first things he did after being released was to take his fellow prisoners on a tour of the Forbidden City, which had been made into a museum. Puyi dutifully showed them the palaces and courtyards where he had lived for so many years in his make-believe kingdom.

Puyi was given a job at the Botanical Gardens in Beijing, and he puttered around doing some light gardening in the mornings. In the afternoons, he worked on his memoirs. With the help of another writer, he eventually completed the story of his life, and it was published and widely read. Puyi married again, this time to a Communist Party member. He died from cancer at the age of 61.

Nearly 30 years after Puyi was cremated, his widow obtained permission to have his ashes buried at a cemetery near the Qing dynasty tombs south of Beijing. Four former emperors were buried there, along with many other members of the royal family. Puyi had joined his ancestors. He would always be remembered not as the strongest, or the wisest, or the most powerful emperor of China, but as the last.

# # #

Copyright 2007 by Charis Cotter. Excerpted from the book, KIDS WHO RULE: The Remarkable Lives Of Five Child Monarchs. Published by Annick Press, ISBN 9781554510627 (library binding), ISBN 9781554510610 (paperback). Reprinted with permission. For more information, please visit http://www.annickpress.com. Thank you.


King or Queen for a Day

Imagine that you are made King or Queen of your school and have absolute authority over how things are to be done at your school. How would you change things? Please describe changes you might make in each of these areas:
  • School Hours. What hours of the day or days of the week would your school operate?
  • Subjects Taught. What subjects of study will be offered in your school. Would you offer math, science, history, language? Or maybe something a little more unusual?
  • The Food. The food in the cafeteria or in the vending machines. What food options would you offer?
  • The Dress Code. If you had a dress code, what would it be? What colors or patterns would your uniforms have?
  • Extracurricular Activities. What sports activities would your school offer? What about clubs or other organizations -- what groups could expect support from Your Highness?
If you knew that students or teachers or parents could revolt against your rule and imprison you for 15 years, would it change the way you rule the school? How so? Do you think students or teachers or parents would revolt against your rule? Why or why not?


NOTE: Quiz answers are available to teachers upon request from LIVEbrary@annickpress.com. Quiz answers will be revealed during the live Skype Chats and made a part of the Skype Chat Transcripts.

1) Multiple Choice. What is a "consort"?

A. A musical show held in an auditorium.
B. A close friend you seek advice from.
C. The process of separating prisoners by gender.
D. Title of an emperor's lower-ranking wives.

2) Multiple Choice. In the reading selection, what activity was performed in the Palace of the Cultivation of Happiness?

A. Eating.
B. Going to school.
C. Playing games.
D. Dancing.

3. Multiple Choice. Which letter corresponds best to the definition of "Manchukuo"?

A. Region of China once ruled by Puyi.
B. One of the martial arts.
C. Name of a Chinese dynasty.
D. A hearty stew made with beef.

4. Multiple Choice. Why didn't the communist government execute Emperor Puyi when the communists came to power in 1949?

A. They considered Puyi to be their true and rightful leader.
B. The Emperor is seen as a god and above politics.
C. They were unable to capture Puyi, who went into hiding when the communists took over.
D. They wanted to reform Puyi rather than kill him.

5. Multiple Choice. Why was Puyi picked to be Emperor of China?

A. He was the son of the previous Emperor, who died.
B. He was too young to be a threat to the Dowager Empress.
C. Even at a young age, he Puyi showed the calm temper and regal bearing of an emperor.
D. His name, "Puyi," means "born to rule."

  • Henry Puyi had a love for writing and illustrating stories, but his teachers considered such activities frivolous and didn't encourage them. Do you have a natural born talent that no one seems to notice? What is it?
  • Emperor Puyi came under the influence of a man named Johnston and decided to take an English name for himself: "Henry," after King Henry VIII of England. If you were to pick a Chinese name for yourself, what name would you pick and why?
  • If you were an Emperor, what shade would you pick as your official color? Why?
  • When the young Emperor Puyi misbehaved, other children were spanked in his place, since you could not spank the Emperor. Have you ever been punished falsely? What did you do about it?
  • Emperor Puyi's official seal was the five-toed dragon. If you were Emperor, what would your official seal be? Why?

Copyright 2008 by Annick Press. All rights reserved. Printed here with permission of the publisher. Please request permission from LIVEbrary@annickpress.com before posting this lesson plan in any public place. Thank you.

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