Aisin Gioro Puyi, properly known as the Xuantong Emperor, is the monarch of the restored Qing Empire and ostensible de jure ruler of China. While on paper the holder of the Mandate of Heaven and the highest instance in all of China (excluding Manchuria, according to the resolutions of the 1928 Shanghai Conference), the true power within the Empire lays in the hands of Imperial Commissioner Wu Peifu of the Zhili Clique.
The Boy Emperor
Born in his family's home in Beijing, Puyi was chosen as the new Emperor by the Dowager Empress Cixi on the 2nd of December, 1908. It is widely believed that she assassinated his predecessor, the Guangxu Emperor, and chose the young boy to ensure that the control and power of the Manchu nobility would not be threatened. His father Zaifeng, formally Prince Chun, ruled as his regent until the Xinhai Revolution toppled the dynasty. The "Imperial Edict of the Abdication of the Qing Emperor" was signed by the new regent Empress Dowager Longyu (Consort of the Guangxu Emperor) on February 12th, 1912, ending over two millennia of imperial rule in China- for the time being.
The Emperor of Nothing
According to the "Articles of Favourable Treatment of the Great Qing Emperor after His Abdication", Puyi was to retain his title and be treated as befitting a foreign monarch. The Imperial Court kept control of the north half of the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Puyi remained confined in the Forbidden City until he was an adult, the only interruption being General Zhang Xun's "restoration" of the Qing Empire from July 1st to July 12th, 1917. Educated by the Scottish gentleman Sir Reginald Johnston from 1919 to 1924, he became enamoured with western ways of life and thinking and resolved to reform the court once he came of age. Almost as soon as he had married his first wife, the Empress Wanrong, the eunuchs and other servants began to loot the palace, culminating in the June 27th, 1923 fire that destroyed the Palace of Established Happiness. Fearing for his life, Puyi expelled the eunuchs from the Forbidden City. He began his reforms by appointing the monarchist administrator Zheng Xiaoxu to run the imperial household, but this was abruptly cut short as events in China at large intruded.
Losing and Regaining the Throne
On October 22nd, 1924, General Feng Yuxiang of the Zhili Clique turned traitor and seized control of Beijing. While his main objective was overthrowing the despised President Cao Kun, he also had Puyi removed from the Forbidden City two weeks later to curry favour with other republicans and the populace. Fleeing to his father's house in the city for several days, he made his way to the German Embassy and later their concession in Tianjin. Some of his advisers suggested asking Japan for help, but Germany's support of the Zhili Clique Feng betrayed and Puyi's belief that Feng was aligned towards Japan (He was actually leaning towards the Kuomintang) swayed him. Housed in the Queue General's Mansion, he became a popular socialite and slowly ingratiated himself to the Germans, while planting the seeds of an idea that would grow all the way to Berlin...
When the Kuomintang's Northern Expedition began and brought the spectre of a French-aligned China with it, the Germans offered to support the Zhili in their campaigns against them and the Fengtian Clique, on the condition of numerous economic and territorial concessions to be negotiated later, and the restoration of Aisin-Gioro Puyi not just to the Forbidden City, but also as the Xuantong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. The Germans believed that the Republic of China was innately chaotic and unsalvageable, and hoped that a single, long-lasting Head of State would bring stability. While the idea of restoring the fallen dynasty was shocking, after it was agreed (Without Puyi's knowledge) that the Emperor would only be a figurehead monarch, Marshall Wu Peifu signed off on the deal. Germany's support proved decisive, shattering the KMT and driving Fengtian back into the Northeast. Wu made good on his promise and ordered the National Assembly in Beijing to vote to dissolve the Republic of China and restore the Qing Dynasty. With the Beiyang government almost destroyed by Fengtian's occupation, the remnants of the assembly vote in favour of the restoration out of fear, gratitude, or spite.
The Emperor of the new Qing Empire
In April 1927, after the victory of Wu Peifu's Zhili Clique in the Third Zhili-Fengtian War, Aisin-Gioro Puyi was formally restored to the Dragon Throne as the Xuantong Emperor of the Great Qing. He soon discovered his limited authority, and while he was no longer a prisoner in the Forbidden City, he was almost as powerless as he had been before. However, his presence did bring the stability the Germans had hoped for, with China's warlords one-by-one acknowledging him as the rightful ruler of the country, followed by much of the international community. The exception was Zhang Zuolin and his "Fengtian Government of the Republic of China", who were recognized only by their backers in Tokyo.
Almost 9 years after regaining his throne, Puyi and his court have become a centre of soft power in China. Marshal Wu still effectively controls the government from his army headquarters in Luoyang, but his grasp on the Assembly is almost gone after several political defections and a near defeat in the 1933 election, and some of his opponents are willing to support the Emperor in the name of ending Wu's tyrannical grip on power.
Puyi is married to Wanrong, a girl born in the Gobulo (郭布羅) clan, under the Plain White Banner of the Eight Banners. Wanrong's father Rongyuan (榮源) had held office under the Qing Dynasty until the revolution of 1911. When Wanrong became Empress in 1922 he then took employment in the Imperial Household Department until she was expelled.