When the Japanese occupied Manchuria in the early 1930s, Jílín’s capital, Chángchūn, became the centre of Japan’s puppet government. In 1932, the Japanese installed Henry Puyi – who had earlier become the 10th (and last) emperor of the Qing dynasty at the tender age of three – as their ‘puppet emperor’, the executive nominally in charge of the government of the Manchukuo puppet state. Puyi governed the region from a palace in Chángchūn until 1945. After Japan’s defeat in WWII, Puyi attempted to flee to Japan. He got as far as Shěnyáng, where Russian troops captured him. In 1950, he was returned to China, where he spent 10 years in a re-education camp. Puyi died in 1967.
Jílín’s border with North Korea has dominated the region’s more recent history. Since the mid-1990s, thousands of North Koreans have fled into China to escape extreme food shortages. Many try to pass through China, en route to South Korea or to a supportive third country, while others remain in Jílín province, attempting to blend in with the local Korean population, particularly in the Korean Autonomous Prefecture. The Chinese government has not looked favourably on these migrants, refusing to grant them protected refugee status; those captured by Chinese authorities and returned to North Korea face a grim future.