"The Puppet Emperor's Palace" is where Aisin-Gioro "Henry" Puyi, China's last emperor, spent 13 years as an impotent sovereign under Japanese control. This complex of imperial-style buildings, formerly criticized by travelers as shabby and boring, recently underwent a multimillion-dollar makeover and is now among the Northeast's premier historical attractions.

Installed as emperor of China in Beijing in 1908, at the age of 3, Puyi was deposed by Republican forces in 1912 (at a time when he was still breastfeeding) and eventually fell into the hands of the Japanese. In 1932, eager to use Puyi's Manchurian face as a screen for its war efforts in the Northeast, Japan convinced him to move to Changchun and made him president (later emperor) of Manchukuo. He lived a futile life here, taking orders from the Japanese army and subsisting on Qing restoration fantasies, until he was captured by the Soviets in 1945. He spent 14 years in prison, was "rehabilitated," and worked as a gardener until his death in 1967.

The palace was damaged when Soviet troops occupied Changchun, so much of the furniture and trappings on display here are replicas. Otherwise, the restoration is meticulous. Most impressive is the Tongde Dian (originally the Jilin Salt Tax Collection Office, and therefore sometimes referred to as the Salt Palace because it was built using money from Japan's salt-mining operations), a building Puyi supposedly never used for fear the Japanese had bugged the rooms. The main hall is recognizable as the setting for a dance party scene in The Last Emperor, although it was never actually used for that purpose.