An Imperial Personality

Aisin Gioro Zhoudi with cellphone

No, it's not a break during filming of the latest costume drama. This is Mr. Aisin Gioro Zhoudi (爱新觉罗·州迪), who claims to be a distant relative of Puyi, the last emperor of China. By itself this claim is nothing unusual; the former imperial Aisin Gioro clan was large, and its members are still around, mostly having changed their surnames. They occasionally surface in the media — Puyi's nephew Yulan, a Chinese teacher in Beijing, was recently profiled in the Beijng Youth Daily, for example.

Zhoudi is notable for the unusual manner in which he has chosen to express his heritage. In his home full of imperial yellow accoutrements he has set up a memorial to Qing dynasty patriarch Nurhaci. In 2002 he decided the time was right to go public, and he started growing out his hair and wearing yellow gowns. It's a testament to the changing times that he is able to walk the streets unaccosted in a Manchu queue and imperial dress, although his wife would not allow their son to wear traditional clothing to school.

Having spent time living in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, he has worked as a bus driver and fortune-teller, but now he seems to be spending most of his time at home in Guangzhou. He's in the news this week for his willingness to undergo a DNA test to prove his link to the royal family, although it does not seem that many people are doubting him. Puren, the younger brother of the last emperor, met with him last year and advised him to stop trying to make himself special.

Like his elder relative Henry Puyi, Zhoudi has an English name: Dick. The Information Times reports that to his foreign friends he is affectionately known as "Yellow Dick".

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