This is the former residence of Puyi, the Qing dynasty’s final emperor, famously depicted in Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Last Emperor (1987). His study, bedrooms, temple, his wife’s quarters and opium den, as well as his concubine’s rooms, are all on show, but it’s the exhibition on his extraordinary life, told in part with a fantastic collection of photos, that is most enthralling. An English audio guide is well worth the extra ¥40.
In 1908, at age two, Puyi became the 10th Qing emperor. His official reign lasted just over three years until the old Imperial order was overthrown in 1911, but he was allowed to remain in the Forbidden City until 1924. He subsequently lived in Tiānjīn until 1932, when the Japanese installed him at this palace as the ‘puppet emperor’ of Manchukuo. After Japan’s defeat in 1945, Puyi was captured by Russian troops. In 1950 he was returned to China, where he spent 10 years in a re-education camp before ending his days as a gardener in Běijīng. Puyi died in 1967.
While you're here, look out for the swimming pool (Puyi never used it as an emperor wasn't permitted to show his body in public), Puyi's horse track (now a riding school), and the chilly underground air-raid shelter where he retreated with his family when the bombs fell. Across the city at Culture Sq, a more permanent palace was being constructed for Puyi, but he never got to use it, and the buildings were later repurposed into the Chángchūn Institute of Geology.