The Empty Throne

The Empty Throne book cover

The Empty Throne:
The Quest for an Imperial Heir
in the People’s Republic of China

By Tony Scotland

With a Foreword by Patrick Leigh Fermor

The last Emperor of China – immortalized in Bertolucci’s epic film – died in 1967. Despite an Empress, three successive concubines and a Communist wife, he left no issue. In the old days of the Ch’ing dynasty an imperial heir was essential for the rituals of ancestor-worship; the childlessness of a sitting tenant was no obstacle, for any Manchu prince of the next generation was eligible to succeed to the Dragon Throne – and the choice was the Emperor’s own.

Aisin-Gioro P’u-yi ruled China, as an infant, for only three years before the dynasty was politely overthrown; in adulthood he reigned for eleven years as puppet Emperor of the Japanese state of Manchukuo; in 1950 he was convicted of war crimes and sent away for ‘re-education through labour’; ten years later Citizen P’u-yi left prison and started a new life, first as a gardener, then as a Manchu archivist in the Forbidden City. But he was born the Son of Heaven, with a divine obligation to provide an heir for his ancestors.

So whom did he choose to succeed him as nominal Lord of Ten Thousand Years, Grand Khan of Tartary, claimant to the empty throne of China? Somewhere, speculated writer and broadcaster Tony Scotland, there must be a living heir. So, with the help of maverick historian Professor Wang, and an exuberant guide called Loud Report, he set out on a a search for the Ch’ing Pretender. Described variously as a detective story, a travel book, an imperial saga and romance of modern China, this is an account of the author’s quixotic quest to track down the heir of the last emperor of China whom he eventually found destitute in a mud hovel in a hutong in old Peking. It’s a fascinating story of false trails and racy adventures and of the changing politics and ideologies of modern China. A paperback of 186 pages, with 62 black and white illustrations, a map, a glossary, a Genealogy, a Bibliography, first published by Viking in 1993 and published by Penguin Books in this edition in 1994 (measuring 197 x 129 mm; ISBN 13: 9780670849802).

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