Erdet Wenxiu – The Imperial Consort who divorced the Emperor (Part two)




Erdet Wenxiu
(public domain)

Read part one here.

Erdet Wenxiu (formally known as Imperial Consort Shu) was the last Consort to live in the Forbidden City. She lived there for two years and never saw it again. However, there would be more sorrows that awaited her. In this article, I will chronicle the events that led to her decision to divorce Puyi, the Last Emperor of China. Her decision to divorce led to The Consort’s Revolution, which sparked a major feminist movement in China. Imperial Consort Shu became a symbol of women’s rights in China.

After the royal family was expelled from the Forbidden City, they settled into Prince Chun’s mansion, where they became prisoners. Emperor Puyi became close to Empress Wanrong and Imperial Consort Shu.[1] He even listened to Imperial Consort Shu’s advice.[2] Because Emperor Puyi became close to Imperial Consort Shu, he gave her permission to visit her mother. She had a very emotional reunion with her.[3] Afterwards, Emperor Puyi decided to visit Imperial Consort Shu’s family. The visit was a very grand affair, and he gifted Lady Jiang with royal gifts.[4]

Emperor Puyi decided to turn to the Japanese for refuge. He believed that by turning to the Japanese, they would restore his throne.[5] When he told of his intentions to Imperial Consort Shu, she immediately opposed it because she believed that he would be bullied and oppressed.[6] However, Puyi ignored her advice and left for the Japanese Legation.[7] Upon his arrival, Emperor Puyi sent for Empress Wanrong and Imperial Consort Shu to follow him. Imperial Consort Shu was so distraught that her husband had turned to the Japanese.[8] She feared there would not be a good outcome for him.[9] However, she had to obey her husband and follow him to the Japanese Legation.[10] Once they arrived, they were treated as prisoners. Imperial Consort Shu fell into a deep depression.[11] 

Much to Imperial Consort Shu’s chagrin, Emperor Puyi began to rely heavily on the Japanese to restore his throne.[12] She strongly urged him not to rely on the Japanese, but Emperor Puyi often ignored her advice.[13] He continued his meetings with the Japanese. On New Year’s Day in 1925, Imperial Consort Shu publicly protested against Puyi being restored to his throne under Japanese hands.[14] Emperor Puyi was so outraged that Imperial Consort Shu dared to oppose him publicly that he took a feather duster and beat her in front of everyone.[15] This was a huge blow to Imperial Consort Shu because it was the first time Emperor Puyi had ever beaten her.[16] She did not get comfort from Empress Wanrong. Instead, Empress Wanrong was thrilled that Imperial Consort Shu was beaten.[17] She gleefully gloated by asking why the Consort had to make the Emperor angry on New Year’s Day.[18]

A few days later, Emperor Puyi moved to Tianjin. On 27 February 1925, Empress Wanrong and Imperial Consort Shu followed him to Tianjin. They moved into the villa of a former Qing Dynasty Governor. Empress Wanrong and Puyi lived on the second floor. Imperial Consort Shu lived on the first floor. Emperor Puyi did not forgive Imperial Consort Shu for publicly opposing him.[19] He took Empress Wanrong out to the city, leaving Imperial Consort Shu alone in the house. It was only on a few occasions when he was in a pleasant mood that he finally took Imperial Consort Shu for a drive.[20] However, Emperor Puyi was still angry at Imperial Consort Shu for being against his Japanese alliance that she began to live in loneliness and isolation.[21] He not only ignored her but insulted her for not going along with his plans.[22] Thus, Imperial Consort Shu spent her time reading and writing poetry.

On 7 June 1931, Imperial Consort Shu finally reached a breaking point. While she was eating in the garden, she accidentally spat while Empress Wanrong was there taking her daily walk.[23] Empress Wanrong was so furious that Imperial Consort Shu had spit in her presence.[24] Imperial Consort Shu went on her knees and apologized to the Empress. However, Empress Wanrong was not sympathetic.[25] She immediately reported it to Emperor Puyi. He was outraged that his Consort had very rude manners.[26] Emperor Puyi locked Imperial Consort Shu in her room and sent his eunuchs to scold her. Imperial Consort Shu said that it was accidental.[27] However, her words only further enraged Emperor Puyi.[28] He constantly sent eunuchs to scold her twice a day until she admitted she did it on purpose.[29] Imperial Consort Shu had no choice but to admit it.[30] However, Emperor Puyi still did not forgive her and kept her imprisoned in her own room.[31] Imperial Consort Shu was so miserable that she spent her days in tears.[32]

Imperial Consort Shu fell into a further state of depression. She stopped eating and did not have the will to live.[33] On 7 July 1931, Imperial Consort Shu took out a pair of scissors and tried to stab herself. However, her palace eunuch stopped her.[34] Her palace eunuch reported the incident to the Emperor. Emperor Puyi was furious with Imperial Consort Shu’s attempt at suicide.[35] He thought it was a trick and told her eunuch to let her continue her theatrics.[36] A few days later, Imperial Consort Shu took scissors and actually stabbed herself. However, the wound was small because the eunuch took the scissors out of her hands before she could seriously injure herself.[37] When Emperor Puyi heard that Imperial Consort Shu had injured herself, he finally realized that her intention to commit suicide was serious.[38] He was afraid that she would kill herself soon.[39] He then sent for Wenshan (Imperial Consort Shu’s sister) to cheer her up. He hoped that Wenshan would dissuade her sister from committing suicide.[40]

When Wenshan saw the miserable state that Imperial Consort Shu was living in, she was horrified and concerned for her.[41] Wenshan advised her sister to get out of her marriage to Emperor Puyi.[42] She told her that her marriage to the Emperor was not worth her life and personal happiness.[43] She also told her that either death or divorce were the only options that lay before her.[44] If Imperial Consort Shu wanted to get out of her miserable situation, then she must get a divorce.[45] Imperial Consort Shu thought her sister gave her good advice.[46] She decided to leave the Emperor behind and pursue her own freedom.[47] Imperial Consort Shu secretly began to make arrangements with Wenshan to flee the Emperor.

Imperial Consort Shu momentarily had Emperor Puyi’s favour. Because she strongly urged her husband not to ally himself with the Japanese (which, in hindsight, was sage advice), Emperor Puyi was angry at her and ignored her. Imperial Consort Shu was often neglected and abused by her husband. With the help of her sister, Imperial Consort Shu found the courage to leave the Emperor. However, in her time, it was still rare for a woman to divorce her husband, and Imperial Consort Shu planned to divorce the Emperor.[48] It would not be an easy feat because Emperor Puyi would try everything he could to prevent the divorce. Yet, Imperial Consort Shu’s bravery would inspire many women, who also suffered neglect and abuse from their husbands, to get a divorce.[49] Thus, Imperial Consort Shu was a champion of women’s rights in the People’s Republic of China.[50]

Read part three here.

Sources:

iNews(n.d.). “Wenxiu: 13-year-old married Puyi 16-year-old, 22-year-old ran away filed for divorce: living together for nine years, not lucky” Retrieved on 21 September 2022 from https://inf.news/en/history/e45d88f73b5b6c726b76f9c2b975b7a2.html.

The World of Chinese. (March 30,2022) “Romance and Rebellion in Republican China”. Retrieved on 21 September 2022 from https://www.theworldofchinese.com/2022/03/romance-and-rebellion-in-republican-china/.

Wang, Q. (2014). The Last Emperor and His Five Wives. (Translated by Jiaquan Han et al.). Beijing, China: China Intercontinental Press.


[1] Wang, 2014

[2] Wang, 2014

[3] Wang, 2014

[4] Wang, 2014

[5] iNews, n.d., “Wenxiu: 13-year-old married Puyi 16-year-old, 22-year-old ran away filed for divorce: living together for nine years, not lucky”

[6] Wang, 2014

[7] iNews, n.d., “Wenxiu: 13-year-old married Puyi 16-year-old, 22-year-old ran away filed for divorce: living together for nine years, not lucky”

[8] Wang, 2014

[9] Wang, 2014

[10] Wang, 2014

[11] Wang, 2014

[12] iNews, n.d., “Wenxiu: 13-year-old married Puyi 16-year-old, 22-year-old ran away filed for divorce: living together for nine years, not lucky”

[13] iNews, n.d., “Wenxiu: 13-year-old married Puyi 16-year-old, 22-year-old ran away filed for divorce: living together for nine years, not lucky”

[14] iNews, n.d., “Wenxiu: 13-year-old married Puyi 16-year-old, 22-year-old ran away filed for divorce: living together for nine years, not lucky”

[15] Wang, 2014

[16] Wang, 2014

[17] Wang, 2014

[18] Wang, 2014

[19] Wang, 2014

[20] Wang, 2014

[21] Wang, 2014

[22] Wang, 2014

[23] Wang, 2014

[24] iNews, n.d., “Wenxiu: 13-year-old married Puyi 16-year-old, 22-year-old ran away filed for divorce: living together for nine years, not lucky”

[25] Wang, 2014

[26] Wang, 2014

[27] Wang, 2014

[28] Wang, 2014

[29] Wang, 2014

[30] Wang, 2014

[31] Wang, 2014

[32] Wang, 2014

[33] Wang, 2014

[34] Wang, 2014

[35] Wang, 2014

[36] iNews, n.d., “Wenxiu: 13-year-old married Puyi 16-year-old, 22-year-old ran away filed for divorce: living together for nine years, not lucky”

[37] Wang, 2014

[38] Wang, 2014

[39] Wang, 2014

[40] Wang, 2014

[41] iNews, n.d., “Wenxiu: 13-year-old married Puyi 16-year-old, 22-year-old ran away filed for divorce: living together for nine years, not lucky”

[42] Wang, 2014

[43] Wang, 2014

[44] Wang, 2014

[45] Wang, 2014

[46] Wang, 2014

[47] Wang, 2014

[48] Wang, 2014

[49] The World of Chinese, 30 March 2022, “Romance and Rebellion in Republican China”

[50] The World of Chinese, 30 March 2022, “Romance and Rebellion in Republican China”






About Lauralee Jacks 178 Articles
I am a former elementary teacher in Tennessee. I have a bachelor’s degree in Liberal and Civic Studies from St. Mary’s College of California, a master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. Because my family are from East Asia, I have a passion for historical Chinese and Korean television shows. I always wanted to separate fact from fiction in dramas. Writing articles from History of Royal Women gives me a chance to dig deeper and explore these royal women as they might have been in real life. Also, it gives me a chance to look at the history and culture of where my family originated. I love researching East Asian royalty because they rarely get enough attention in the West often being overshadowed by European royalty. I find these royal women to be just as fascinating and their stories deserve to be told. Thus, I am excited to write for History of Royal Women!

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