Li Shuxian (1924–1997)

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Li Shuxian (1924–1997)

Chinese wife and widow of the last emperor of China. Born in 1924; died in Beijing on June 9, 1997; arranged marriage with Pu Yi, later known as Henry Puyi, in 1962 (died 1967).

In 1962, Li Shuxian, a nurse, was chosen by the prime minister of the People's Republic of China, Zhou Enlai, to be the wife of Pu Yi (Henry Puyi), who had been the last emperor of China. Born in 1906, Pu Yi was child-emperor of China for only three years before he was deposed and a republic proclaimed in 1911. With his forced abdication, the 268-year rule of the Qing Dynasty, and more than three millennia of imperial rule, ended in China. From 1931 to 1945, Pu Yi was first president and then emperor of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo (now China's province of Manchuria). Imprisoned soon after Communist China was created in 1949, Pu Yi was a captive for fully a decade until his release in 1959. The ex-emperor was then invited to dine with Mao Zedong at Mao's Zhongnanhai, Beijing's equivalent of the Moscow Kremlin. Soon after this, the Communist regime chose Li Shuxian as a bride for Pu Yi.

Their arranged marriage was never a love match, and Li Shuxian is said to have been disappointed that the impotent Pu Yi was unable to give her the child she had long desired. But being married to a celebrity of sorts did have advantages, and she went dancing and to the opera with her husband. The couple's last years together were often difficult, at least in part because the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s often disrupted the life of Pu Yi, who was ill with cancer and was moved from the private room to the public ward of a state hospital. On one occasion, Li Shuxian's house was ransacked by Red Guards who were determined to smash any reminder of the old, feudal China they hated. After her husband's death in 1967, Li Shuxian was rarely mentioned in the state-controlled media. She did emerge from obscurity on April 5, 1995, China's annual Tomb Sweeping Day, when Pu Yi's ashes were reburied on a hillside in Hebei province among the tombs of other Qing Dynasty emperors. Li Shuxian died in Beijing on June 9, 1997.


"Li Shuxian," in The Times [London]. June 12, 1997, p. 25.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia