By Cecily Huang
I have been in Australia for almost a year now and one of the things that I didn’t expect is how interested Australians are in the royals. The popularity of Prince Harry and his Royal family in Australia reminds me of a fortunate encounter I had with Runqi Gobulo, the last living member of China’s Royal family and how different our history with royals.
In the 1920s Prince Runqi was as famous in the press as Prince Harry is today. The black and white photos of him in crisply ironed western linen suit with his head turning wife, Princess Yun Ying were the newspaper favourites back in their time.
Living in two centuries, Runqi experienced China’s most turbulent times. He was imprisoned in labor camps in both Russia and China for more than 10 years. He survived the Cultural Revolution. Born with power and fortune, he lived as a Prince and later as an ordinary citizen, working as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner.
In 2007, my friend, Mark O’Meara brought me to the small family clinic of Runqi. Like many of Runqi’s foreign patients, Mark would fly from Canada to Beijing to benefit from his renowned acupuncture and cupping that could cure injures such as whiplash.
In the bustling heart of the city, Runqi’s house was an anonymous flat in a concrete apartment block. The stairwell was gloomy and cluttered.
Runqi specialized in treating dermatological and gynecological diseases with Traditional Chinese Medicine. However despite Runqi’s skill, his assistant, Anna Gobulo, told me the clinic did not make any money. When the clinic was set up, it was free for years. Runqi did not want to charge money if the patients were poor.
With a pair of brown framed spectacles and a full head of silver hair, Runqi, in a home comfy jacket seemed more lively than his age, 95. He was sitting next to the computer, while talking to us. Anna said he loved to use the internet to know what was happening in the world.
Until Runqi was 90 years old, he still rode a motor bike around the city – he was the only person at his age to get the special permission from the Chinese Public Security Department to continue riding, according to Jia Yinghua, a Chinese author in his book, The Last National Brother In Law, Runqi.
Before we recorded the interview, Runqi asked Anna to bring him a comb. He gently brushed all his hair to the back and then asked Anna whether he looked respectable. We all said he looked handsome. He had a satisfying smile.
Runqi had an aristocratic temperament and a distinguished upper class Beijing accent. He adorned his speech with rhetorical flourishes, which revealed his education and identity. He mastered four languages including Mandarin, Japanese, German, and Russian, and a little bit Manchu, the native language of Qing dynasty.
Runqi’s house was 15 minutes’ away by car from the Forbidden City, where he spent most of his childhood with his good friend, Pu Yi, the last Chinese emperor. The Oscar winning film, The Last Emperor, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci was inspired by Runqi’s recollection.
Runqi sighed “I don’t want to go back to the Forbidden City. I have been there too many times.”
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