WanRong: The Last Empress of China by Lisa Powers

I created a series of photographs representing my interpretation of WanRong, in hopes of giving her the recognition she never received in life.

WanRong’s story:

The last Empress of China was the beautiful and American-educated WanRong who was selected (against her will) to marry Emperor PuYi when she was just 16. PuYi selected his bride from photographs of eligible young girls. The photographs that were presented to PuYi were not of fine quality and he chose a girl who was inappropriate for his wife as she was only 12 years old. PuYi’s family then selected WanRong for him and they married. His original choice, the 12-year-old girl, became his concubine. WanRong was trapped between her sophisticated modern Western education which she embraced, and the confinement of Chinese Imperialist culture in the Forbidden City. After only a couple of years of marriage, PuYi and WanRong were forced out of the Forbidden City by the Japanese invasion of China and installed as Emperor and Empress of the Japanese puppet state, Manchukuo in Manchuria. WanRong had no love for her husband PuYi and had affairs with his aides. She even gave birth to a daughter but the whereabouts of this child are unknown. It's clear that WanRong was not permitted to raise her baby girl as PuYi was enraged at her infidelity. There were rumours that PuYi killed the child, and rumours that the child was given away. WanRong was in such despair that she started using opium as a sedative. In 1945 (around the end of WWII) the Soviets invaded Manchuria, where Manchukuo was located. PuYi fled for his life leaving his wife behind. As as a result, she was captured by the Chinese Communist guards. She lived in different internment camps and eventually died of opium withdrawal and malnutrition in prison in 1946 at age 39. Three years later, when PuYi was told of her death, he couldn't have cared less.
To this day, her remains were never found. She vanished completely.

I hope to honour her in these photographs.

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