The film is primarily a child is snatched from his mother and family to become the new emperor of China. He moved to live in the Forbidden City and begin to educate him as emperor. When China becomes a republic, the Ching dynasty was forced to abdicate and the consequent breakdown of centuries of imperial tradition, but Pu Yi does not understand. What they do in the palace is to continue treating him as an emperor but can not leave the palace which is not liked by Pu Yi. The days until you must leave the Forbidden City, Pu Yi is treated with the respect they deserve but do not have the facilities of an emperor until it becomes commander and ends his days as such.
The film begins in Manchuria in 1950 where a man tries to commit suicide by slitting his wrists. Then there's a time warp and back to the past, to Beijing, where a child in 1908, Pu Yi, three years is taken from his mother and taken to the Forbidden City. He witnesses the death of the empress and emperor and becomes "The Lord of the ten thousand years", in "Son of Heaven." It is a lonely boy since he can not leave the palace. One day he receives a visit from his brother and his mother that coincides with the establishment of a republic in China with the result that Pu Yi only has power inside the palace and this is not understood by the emperor. Pu Yi is aware of the riots that are happening outside the palace (the ending the First World War and China is mired in a crisis.
Comes a new tutor for Pu Yi and it brings new things: A bicycle, she teaches me things from outside China, makes him wear glasses ... but not enough for the Emperor because it still wants to leave the palace and more when he learns of the death of his mother and not let him leave the palace. Therefore, the tutor attempts suicide but saves his life. Time passes and you get to choose Pu Yi consort, choose which you like best and move to the palace. But there comes a day when you must leave the palace because the head of the republic so ordered. Pu Yi then completely changes his life becomes a "playboy" becomes revolutionary, his wife wants to divorce him, he becomes commander... until, the last scene of the film, gives a child a cricket that gave the small when it was still emperor.