One hundred years ago, I lived in the Forbidden City. From 7th February 1906 to 17th October 1967, my spirit was known by the name Aisin-gioro Pu Yi, the Xuan Tong Emperor. I was the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, a life that was used against me early in this life, as if being reborn as Laurel A. Rockefeller was merely a continuation of who and what I was before.
Can it be any wonder that in “The Ghosts of the Past” many of my characters have exactly the same problem, continuing in each new incarnation as if they still lived as each previous self?
I remember one of the earliest rituals done to me as a little girl, memories burned into my mind because they were so hurtful. In a circle of candles a small Manchu-style crown was placed. The dagger used to cut my throat just below the left ear was covered in Chinese characters in a message conveying some sort of evil purpose. In the ritual, my former life was evoked many times. I was still responsible for my mistakes, they said, mistakes born out of a very different time and situation. On my head they placed guilt, claiming that I was responsible for the millions slaughtered in my name as the Emperor of Manchukuo — a paper emperor.
I was a coward, unwilling or unable to stand up for myself, to counter the relentless humiliations and bullying. On one hand, people flattered me with “wan sui,” the traditional salute calling for an emperor to reign ten thousand years. They bowed and called me by honorific titles. But at the same time, they bullied me and demeaned me, constantly playing mind games and controlling me.
My spirit never broke, but I found myself very lost.
Evoking the past made me start this life feeling just as lost as I was in the 1940s. That was by design, of course, to make me think that God hated me for “letting” the Japanese commit their crimes. As if I could really be responsible for the concentration camps across Manchuria. As if my hand slaughtered the countless civilians in 1937 in Nanjing. Guilt, sorrow, despair. How can a three year old be yoked with such as these?
On top of this, my church called me “evil sorceress” for saying no when my body was sexually violated. What their logic was, I cannot understand. No three year old is a sexual wanton!
Still through these dark times, I remember feeling as if someone watched over me in a truly kind and loving way. In my dreams, I saw him in the guise of a medieval knight like in the stories of King Arthur, my own appearance like a fine English princess locked up in a tower like in the storybooks.
In my dreams, my “prince charming” told me all was not lost, that I was me, not Pu Yi. He said he did not know where I was, but he would find me and rescue me from my despair. He said he loved me. He said he has always loved me across every life, every incarnation. Fear not! Believe in tomorrow! Believe in love and true love’s kiss. For he would never stop searching for me until he found me — even unto the ends of the world.
I only heard him in my dreams. I only knew him on the deepest levels of my mind. But he never left me. I still feel him in my dreams. Only this time I know he lives in England. This time I have a clue who he is.
With my feelings of loss and isolation over the completion of Boudicca, I chose to watch the movie, The Last Emperor, the story of the life I lived as Henry Pu Yi. One might call that emotional torture — not the thing you really want to watch when you are already feeling lonely and sad. But I am rather pleased with how I handled it. Before I would get lost in those memories. Tonight I finished the movie (half last night; half tonight) mostly feeling just the weight of all that bullying.
I have been told that I am too humble, that I do not credit myself enough for my abilities and my accomplishments. What really struck me about the movie was just how relentlessly I was bullied and controlled.I was never granted the freedom of normal men; everyone used me for something.
In some ways, it feels like not much has changed. And yet it has. Pu Yi is dead. Laurel is alive.
How can I ever soar on the wings of success as long as I feel chained into the ground by that yoke put upon me as a little girl.
But here is news and this I hereby affirm: Pu Yi is dead. When he died, all responsibility for his actions died with him. Whatever cowardice characterized his life, I have a new start as Laurel. His life is his. My life is mine. I am Laurel. I am Laurel.
As Laurel, I get to decide my own future. I refuse to live Pu Yi’s life anymore.
I live mine.
Love will come to me. Success is mine already. My writing is beautiful. I am beautiful. Rest in peace, Pu Yi. Your life is over. Laurel’s has just begun.