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This week we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Sir Reginald Fleming Johnston: scholar, writer, traveller and teacher

Tutor to China's Last Emperor

Sir Reginald Fleming Johnston KCMG, CBE (13 Oct 1874- 6 March 1938) was born in Edinburgh exactly one hundred and thirty-eight years ago this week.

Reginald Fleming Johnston, pictured with Empress Wan Rong and his fellow tutor, Isabel Ingram, in the Forbidden City (c) Wikimedia Commons
Johnston spent much of his life away from Scotland, after entering the colonial service in 1898 and being sent initially to Hong Kong.

In 1919, he was appointed tutor to China’s non-sovereign Manchu emperor, Pu Yi, who was then 13 years old. Pu Yi had abdicated in 1912, becoming 'The Last Emperor'. At the time, Johnston and his colleague, Isabel Ingram, were the only foreigners in history to be allowed inside the inner court of Qing Dynasty. Johnston loved China and continued to serve there as a diplomat after Pu Yi was expelled from the Forbidden City in 1924.

On his return to Britain, Johnston was appointed Professor of Chinese at the School of Oriental Studies in London. He wrote Twilight in the Forbidden City (1934), an account of his time in China and of his relationship with his young charge. In 1987, Johnston’s memoirs, were used as a source for Bertolucci’s sumptuous multi-Oscar winning film, The Last Emperor, which marks its 25th anniversary this year. In the film, Johnston was played by Peter O'Toole. You can see a clip from the film, when Johnston meets Pu Yi for the first time, at

Poster for the film, The Last Emperor (1987)
Sir Reginald Fleming Johnston died on the 6th March 1938 and was cremated two days later at Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh. His ashes were scattered on his home island of Eilean Righ.
The Crematorium Register entry for Sir Reginald Fleming Johnston can be found on the Deceased Online database
After leaving China, Johnston had remained in touch with Pu Yi, and last visited him at Manchukuo in 1935. Pu Yi died in Peking, now part of the People's Republic of China, on 17 October 1967. He was 61 years old.

As always, do let us know of your discoveries in the database. You can leave a comment below, send a tweet or write on our Facebook page.


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