After his expulsion from the Forbidden City in 1924, China's “last emperor,” Henry Puyi 溥儀 (1906–1967), settled in Tianjin, where he later presented parting gifts to his former English tutor, Reginald F. Johnston [Zhuang Shidun] 莊士敦 (1874–1938), among them an album by the Nanjing painter Chen Shu 陳舒 (active ca. 1649–ca. 1687) from the ex-Qing (1644–1911) imperial collection and an inscribed folding fan. These are now reunited in the library collection of SOAS University of London, where Johnston taught Chinese after his return to Britain in 1931. Together with Puyi's preface transcribed by courtier-calligrapher Zheng Xiaoxu 鄭孝胥 (1860–1938) for Johnston's memoir, Twilight in the Forbidden City (1934), these artworks pave the way for an investigation of the practice of connoisseurship at Puyi's court-in-exile in China's era of modernism, including Puyi's use of the imperial collection and his selection of these gifts even while he was shaping to become Japan's puppet emperor in Manchuria (r. 1934–1945). The study roams beyond the well-known network of Puyi and his court advisers among the yilao (Qing “old guard”) to uncover an unexpected modernist connection with the progressive young artist, publisher, and tastemaker Zheng Wuchang 鄭午昌 (1894–1952), a leading actor in the reform of guohua 國畫 ink painting. This study rediscovers how Zheng Wuchang contributed the painting to an inscribed handscroll, Flight of the Dragon (or, A Storm and a Marvel 風異圖), which commemorated, for the court's inner circle, Puyi's dramatic escape from the Forbidden City amid the realities of a modern, Republican world.

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