Hung Liu, 1995

Baby King
oil on canvas
182.9 x 152.4 cm
Private collection, New York. Courtesy Steinbaum Krauss Gallery
© 1995 Hung Liu

Baby King depicts Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, who was named heir to the Chinese throne in 1908 at the age of three by the Empress Dowager Ci Xi. (She is depicted in both The Ocean is the Dragon's World and Five Eunuchs.) Wrenched from his family as an infant, then manipulated by the Japanese in World War II as the puppet emperor of Manchuria, Pu Yi spent his life adrift in personal and political currents well beyond his control. Pictured here on the eve of his marriage to two women and still unable to tie his shoes, the last emperor seems overcome by the fear of an uncertain future. The image bespeaks this American artist's Chinese heritage. Deeply expressive of Pu Yi's distress and critical of the glorified child abuse his life represents, the painting also relates to the pain of lost childhood everywhere.