A Memoirs of the Last Chinese Emperor – From Emperor to Citizen

我的前半生

       -From Emperor to Citizen

This book is an autobiography of Puyi, the last emperor of China. He became the emperor of China at the age of 2 but his reign only lasted fewer than 4 years. Because the Qing Dynasty eventually collapsed in 1912, Puyi was forced to announce his abdication. Puyi, as the emperor of China’s last imperial dynasty, experienced the transition from a sovereign to a prisoner, and ended up as a citizen of the People’s Republic of China. The book provides valuable historical materials about the royal life in the Forbidden City (紫禁城) and the historical events during that turbulent time, all in the former emperor’s point of views.

However, we need to keep in mind that this book was written by Puyi when he was in jail in Fushun as a political prisoner of the new government of China. Hence, many of the opinions in the book might be edited by the government officials. But because of its unique historical background and the special author, this book became the best seller once it was officially published. It’s worth reading if you are curious about Eastern culture before China was open to the world.

Today’s article is a comparison between the Chinese version of the book and its translated version. I have revised many wordings so that Chinese learners will have an easier time reading. The video below is a movie about Puyi – “The Last Emperor”, which aired in 1987 and was directed by Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci. This movie not only became popular in western countries, but Chinese people also translated the original English version into Chinese and aired it in China. It has become the authoritative movie whenever the last emperor is mentioned in China.

dìèrzhāng wǒde tóngnián
    第二章       我的       童年       

  èr dìwáng shēnghuó
二    帝王         生活

Chapter Two Childhood

    Living as an Emperor

měidāng huíxiǎng qǐ zìjǐ de tóngnián, wǒ nǎozi lǐ jiù fúqǐ huángsè:
  每当        回想       起   自己 的   童年 , 我   脑子 里   就 浮起   黄色 : 
liúlíwǎdǐng shì huángde, jiàozi shì huángde, yǐdiànzi shì huángde,
 琉璃瓦顶       是     黄的 ,   轿子   是      黄的 ,  椅垫子  是     黄的 , 
yīfu màozide lǐmiàn wúyī búshi huángde.
衣服    帽子的       里面 … … 无一    不是     黄的 。 
zhèzhǒng zhǐyǒu wǒ yǒude mínghuángsè,
      这种           只有   我     有的       明黄色 , 
cóngxiǎo bǎ wéiwǒdúzūn de yìshí máijìnle wǒde xīndǐ,
      从小   把   惟我独尊      的   意识    埋进了     我的 心底 , 
gěilewǒ yǔzhòngbùtóngde tiānxìng.
给了我          与众不同的          「 天性 」 。

Whenever I think of my childhood my head fills with a yellow mist.

The glazed tiles were yellow, my sedan-chair was yellow, my chair cushions were yellow,

the linings of my hats and clothes were yellow… everything was yellow.

This color, which used exclusively by me

made me feel from my earliest years that I was unique

and had a “heavenly” nature different from that of everybody else.

wǒ shíyīsuì de nànián, dìdi hé mèimei lái péiwǒ wánjǐtiān.
我   十一 岁  的   那年, 弟弟 和   妹妹      来   陪我      玩几天 。 
tāmen dìyīcì láide nàtiān, fēicháng méiyìsi.
他们   第一次 来的    那天 ,    非常      没意思 。 
hòulái, wǒ xiǎngqǐ yīgè bànfǎ,
后来 ,   我     想起  一个  办法 , 
bǎ     dìdi hé mèimei dàidào wǒ zhùde dìfāng,   wǒ wèn pǔjié:
把  弟弟 和       妹妹     带到      我   住的    地方 , 我   问    溥杰 : 
nǐmen zàijiālǐ wánshénme?
「 你们      在家里    玩什么 ? 」

When I was ten, my brother Pu Chieh and sister came to play with me for a few days.

Their first visit started off very drearily.

Later it occurred to me

to take them along to the place which I lived. I asked Pu Chieh

“What games do you play at home?”

pǔjié wán zhuōmícáng.
「 溥杰   玩    捉迷藏 。 」 
xiǎowǒ yísuì de dìdi gōnggōngjìngjìng deshuō.
   小我   一岁   的   弟弟      恭恭敬敬             地说 。 
nǐmen yě wán zhuōmícángya? nà tài hǎowánle!
「    你们    也   玩      捉迷藏呀 ?   那   太    好玩了 ! 」 
wǒ hěn gāoxìng. yúshì wǒmen jiù wán qǐ le zhuōmícáng.
 我    很       高兴 。于是   我们     就   玩  起 了  捉迷藏 。 
yuè wán yuè gāoxìng.
越     玩      越    高兴 。

“Pu Chieh can play hide-and-seek”

said my brother, who was a year younger than me, in a very respectful way.

“So you play hide-and-seek too? It’s a jolly good game”

 I was very excited. So we started to play hide-and-seek

We got more and more excited.

wǒ yòu jiào tāmen xiǎng gè xīnxiān yóuxì.
我    又     叫    他们     想     个     新鲜    游戏 。 
pǔjié xiǎngle yíxià, méi shuōhuà, jiù kāishǐ shǎxiào.
溥杰   想了     一下 , 没   说话 , 就    开始     傻笑 。 
nǐ xiào shénme?
「 你   笑    什么 ? 」 
shuō, shuō! wǒ zháojí de cuīcù tā,
「    说 , 说 ! 」 我 著急   地   催促   他 , 
yǐwéi tā yídìng xiǎngchū xīnxiān de yóuxìle,
  以为  他   一定   想出         新鲜      的   游戏了 , 
shéizhīdào tā shuō:
      谁知道     他 说 :

I told them to think of some new game.

Pu Chieh was thoughtful for a while, then a silly smile appeared on his face.

“what are you grinning at?”

“Tell me! Tell me.” I urged him impatiently,

thinking that he must certainly have thought out some new game.

To my surprise he came out with

wǒ xiǎng de, ō,   pǔjié xiǎng de shì,
「   我  想  的, 噢 ,  溥杰   想   的 是 ,
huángshang yídìng hěn bùyīyàng, yǒu hěn cháng de húzi
皇上               一定      很  不 一 样 ,  有     很     长     的     胡子 」
shuō zhe, tā táishǒu zuò le yīgè mō húzi de dòngzuò.
说 著 ,     他   抬手     做 了一个 摸     胡子  的   动作 。
shéizhīdào zhège dòngzuò gěi tā rě le huò,
谁知道          这个        动作      给  他 惹 了 祸 ,
yīnwèi wǒ yìyǎn kànjiàn tā de xiùkǒulǐ,
因为   我    一眼     看见    他  的   袖口里 ,
yǒu nàge shúxī de yánsè.     wǒ lìkè  chén  xià  liǎn lái:
有   那个    熟悉  的    颜色 。 我  立刻   沉    下    脸    来 :

“I thought, oh, Pu Chieh  thought that Your Majesty would be different from ordinary people.

must have long beards…”

As he spoke he pretended to be stroking his beard.

This gesture was his undoing.

As he raised his hand I noticed that the lining of his sleeve

was a very familiar color. My face blackened.

pǔjié, zhèshì shénme yánsè, nǐyě néngyòng?
「   溥杰 ,这是     什么    颜色 ,你也      能 用 ? 」 
zhè, zhè zhèshì xìnghuáng de ba?
「 这 , 这     这是           杏黄     的   吧 ? 」 
xiāshuō! zhèbushì mínghuángma?
「    瞎说 !     这不是             明黄吗 ? 」 
zhē, zhē pǔjié máng chuíshǒu lìzài yìbiān. wǒháiméiwán:
「 嗻 ,嗻 … … 」 溥杰    忙      垂手       立在    一边 。  我还没完 : 
zhèshì mínghuáng! bùgāi nǐyòngde!
「    这是           明黄 !     不该  你用的 ! 」 
zhē!
「 嗻 ! 」

“Pu Chieh, are you allowed to wear that color?”

“but… but… but isn’t it apricot?”

“Nonsense! It’s imperial brilliant yellow.”

“Yes, sir, yes, sir…” Pu Chieh stood away from me, his arms hanging respectfully by his sides. But I’m not done yet.

“It’s brilliant yellow. You have no business to be wearing it.”

“Yes, sir.”

zài zhē zhē shēngzhōng, wǒde dìdi yòu huīfùle chénpú de shēnfèn.
在    嗻     嗻       声中 ,       我的  弟弟   又     恢复了    臣仆  的 身份 。 … … 
zhē zhē de shēngyīn zǎojiù tīngbúdàole.
   嗻   嗻  的       声音         早就        听不到了 。 
xiànzài xiǎngqilai, nà shēngyīn hěn hǎoxiào.
    现在     想起来 ,  那        声音      很     好笑 。 
dànshì wǒ cóngxiǎo jiù xíguàn le tā,
    但是     我    从小      就     习惯 了 它 , 
rúguǒ biéren bú zhèyàng huídáwǒ, wǒ fǎnér bùnéng róngrěn.
 如果      别人 不         这样    回答我 , 我  反而       不能    容忍 。

With his “yes, sir” my brother reverted to being my subject.

The sound of “yes, sir” died out long ago

 and it seems very funny when one thinks of it today.

But I got used to it from early childhood,

and if people did not use the words when replying to me I would not stand for it.

guì dì                       kētóu,                            yě shì zhèyàng.
跪   地 ( kneeling ) 磕头 ( kowtow ) ,也 是       这样 。 
wǒ cóngxiǎo jiù kànguànle biéren gěi wǒ kētóu,
  我        从小    就      看惯了     别人   给   我   磕头 , 
dàbùfen shì niánjì bǐ wǒ dà shíjǐbèi de.
 大部分  是  年纪    比 我  大  十几倍 的 。

It was the same with kneeling and kotowing.

I was accustomed to having people kotow to me,

most of them are people over ten times my own age.

 

Join our Book Club, read the article and learn more!

Chinese Book Club – From Emperor to Citizen 我的前半生

Saturday, Aug 8, 2020, 7:00 PM

Online event
,

1 Chinese lover Attending

Hi all! We will read a memoirs of the last Emperor of China. You may find some wordings are hard to understand, but no worries, we are here to help. We will read the article together and talk about Chinese culture that the book reflects. A preview of the article will help your study tremendously, check out the link below: http://lovinchinese.net/ch…

Check out this Meetup →



LEAVE A COMMENT