Blinged-Out Mobile Not the First Telephone Controversy at the Forbidden City

A tempest over a telephone has erupted at the Forbidden City. State media and netizens this week poured derision on the Palace Museum’s decision to partner with phone manufacturer 8488 Phones on a luxury smartphone, the RMB 19,999 Titanium Palace Edition, but it’s not the first time a phone has caused an uproar in the palace.

The first telephone controversy in the Forbidden City occurred nearly a century ago. In 1921, the then 15-year-old former emperor Puyi insisted his staff install a phone for his personal use. Puyi's became fascinated with phones after he learned about them from his tutor, Reginald Johnston. Johnston would later have reason to regret this role in spurring the young monarch’s enthusiasm for telephony.