Pu Jie, the younger brother of the last emperor of China and a possible ruler himself, died Monday of cancer and other illnesses. He was 87.
The official Xinhua News Agency announced the death in a two-paragraph report that said he succumbed to "illness." An official at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body, said the cause was prostate cancer and a failure of various organs.
Pu Jie's early years were spent behind the crimson walls of the Forbidden City with his elder brother, Pu Yi, who was 7 when he was deposed in the 1911 republican revolution that toppled the Manchu rulers of the Qing dynasty. Pu Yi was the subject of the 1987 Bernardo Bertolucci film The Last Emperor, which won nine Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.
The brothers collaborated with Japanese invaders and later were jailed as traitors by the Chinese Communists.
Pu Jie was released in 1960 after a decade of "re-education" and spent his final years in retirement in his family's old 16-room courtyard home in Beijing, where he practiced calligraphy, worked in his garden and cared for his cats.
A slight, bespectacled man, Pu Jie occasionally met with reporters to reminisce about his aristocratic past and pronounce himself pleased with his new life.
During a 1981 interview with the Associated Press, Pu Jie walked through the Forbidden City palaces and described what life once was like there. "Those days were like a dream, but now I am happy," he said.
"In the past I was a drop of foul water," he said. "Now I am submerged in the ocean of 1-billion people. Before, I cared only about myself and the restoration of the Qing dynasty. Now my goal is to do what I can for the people."
Japanese invaders placed China's last emperor on the throne of Manchukuo, a puppet state in northeast China, in 1934, and Pu Jie was trained in Japan and became his brother's aide-de-camp. The Japanese arranged a marriage for Pu Jie with a cousin of Emperor Hirohito and changed the rules of succession to permit him to follow the childless Pu Yi to the throne. Had Japan won World War II, Pu Jie could have become the emperor of China.
Instead, the brothers were captured by the Soviet army in 1945 when Japan surrendered and were imprisoned in the Soviet Union. They were handed over to the Chinese Communists the year after the Communists came to power in 1949.
Instead of executing the last Manchu aristocrats, the Chinese Communists decided to use them for propaganda purposes.
After his release from prison, Pu Jie's request to do historical research on the Manchus, who ruled China from 1644 to 1911, was granted by then-Premier Chou En-lai.
Pu Yi died of cancer in 1967.