Photo/IllutrationA photograph belonging to the daughter of Lt. A.K. Zhelvakov shows Puyi being interrogated by a Soviet officer sometime after World War II.

  • Photo/Illustraion

Researchers have found a photograph of Puyi (1906-1967), the last emperor of China, being interrogated shortly after his capture by the Soviets at the end of World War II.

Discovered by a joint research group from Japan and Mongolia, the snapshot is significant as writing on the back reveals the previously unknown route the Soviets used to transport Puyi to his place of captivity.

“The memo is interesting because it depicts the tense atmosphere of the mission to secretly escort Puyi,” said Hisaya Okazaki, the 53-year-old head of the research group. "He would be the Soviet’s trump card in the competition among the Allied nations to gain the initiative in the postwar process.”

The photo of the former Manchukuo emperor was found in a house on the outskirts of Moscow, the residence of a daughter of Lt. A.K. Zhelvakov, a commissar of the Soviet 6th Guards Tank Army. It was discovered in May among her late father’s possessions.

The handwritten note on the back reveals the route used to transport Puyi between Mukden (now Shenyang), where he was captured, and Chita in Russia's Siberian region, where he was placed under house arrest for several months.

The handwriting confirms that the note was written by Lt. Zhelvakov, who was in charge of the transfer mission.

“My father told me that it was a mission with the utmost level of secrecy,” said his 67-year-old daughter. “My father sympathized with Puyi for the hardships he had gone through.”

After being forced to abdicate the Qing Dynasty throne in 1912, Puyi became the emperor of Manchukuo in 1934, a puppet state established by the Japanese military in northeastern China.

Puyi attempted to seek political asylum in Japan when Manchukuo collapsed after the Japanese surrender in 1945, but he was captured by the Soviet military on Aug. 19, 1945, at an airport outside Mukden.

A year later, he was summoned by the Soviets as a witness for the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo. After the war crime trials, Puyi was placed under house arrest in Russia, living in Chita and southeastern Habarovsk.

After being handed over to China in 1950, the former emperor was imprisoned in the Fushun War Criminals Management Center in Fushun, China. In 1959, Puyi received a pardon as a model prisoner and was released.