Gold Winner

WanRong: The Last Empress of China

Photographer

Lisa Powers

Category

People Photography - Conceptual

Company

Lisa Powers Photographic Artist

Submission Group

Professional

Year

2021

Country / Region

New Zealand

I created a photographic art series of portraits of Empress WanRong after I learned of her short and tragic life. The last Empress of China was beautiful and American-educated. WanRong was selected (against her will) to marry Emperor PuYi when she was just 16. PuYi selected his bride from photographs of eligible young girls and he first chose a girl who was inappropriate for his wife as she was only 12 years old. PuYi’s family then selected WanRong for him and they married. WanRong was trapped between her sophisticated modern Western education which she embraced, and the confinement of Chinese Imperialist culture in the Forbidden City. She called herself “Elizabeth” and wore Western fashions. After only a couple of years of marriage, PuYi and WanRong were forced out of the Forbidden City by the Japanese invasion and installed as "Puppet" Imperials of the Japanese state Manchukuo in Manchuria. WanRong had no love for PuYi and had affairs with his aides. She gave birth to a daughter but the whereabouts of this child are unknown. It's clear that WanRong was not permitted to raise her baby girl as PuYi was enraged at her infidelity. There were rumours that PuYi killed the child, and other rumours that the child was given away. WanRong was in such despair that she started using opium and became addicted. In 1945 the Soviet Army invaded Manchuria, where Manchukuo was located. PuYi fled for his life and left his wife behind. She was captured by the Chinese Communist guards. She lived in internment camps and died of opium withdrawal and malnutrition in prison at age 39. To this day, her remains were never found. She vanished completely. I hope to honour her in these photographs.

Credits

Photographic Artist
Lisa Powers
Art Director, Art&Antiques Magazine NY
Chris Leoni
Make-up artist and hair dresser
Daisy Harrison
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