With her gray hair and blue suit, Jin Yun Xin looks like any other elderly resident of Peking. Except for her memories of the Qing Court and her courtly manners, it would be easy to forget she is a sister of the last emperor of China and one of the few remaining members of the Manchu imperial family.
''I was very close to him in the last few months,'' she says of her late brother, Emperor Henry Pu Yi. But when they were young, she says, ''we were together often, but of course it was not a sister-brother relationship. He was still the Emperor; there was a gap between him and other people.''
Ms. Jin, who worked as an accountant for most of her life, says it was only in the early 1960s, after her brother had undergone more than a decade of ''reeduca-tion through labor,'' that this changed. ''He finally became just a brother.''
Jin - who was four years old in 1911 when Sun Yat-sen and his revolutionaries finally overthrew the Manchu Dynasty - had the same mother as Pu Yi. (Some of the Emperor's other siblings were born to his father's concubine.)
''We lived by the lake then. I remember dressing up to visit the Forbidden City,'' says Jin, who apparently lived outside the Imperial Palace walls in her early life.
Her emperor brother was six years old when he was dethroned in 1911. He had been appointed four years earlier by his grand-aunt, the Empress Dowager, after Pu Yi's father had displeased her.
The family was left alone by the Nationalist forces and for another 13 years continued to reside in the splendid isolation of Peking's Forbidden City - the place where China's current leader, Deng Xiaoping, made his first address to the nation in October.
In the '20s, while Pu Yi and another brother, Pu Jie, accepted appointments as emperor and heir-apparent of Japanese-occupied Manchuria, Manchukuo, Jin Yun Xin began earning a living for herself as an accountant.
It was only the protection of Chou En-lai, who was then Chinese premier, that saved her family from harassment during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), she says. In that decade, thousands of other Chinese were persecuted and died because of their ''class'' origins.
''Premier Chou gave special orders that we were not to be persecuted. It is hard to imagine what might have happened to us without his protection. Even with it, I was very scared,'' she says in a soft voice uncommon among Peking women.
Then, sounding like an ordinary Chinese, she notes, ''The Cultural Revolution caused our country many difficulties and much tragedy; I'm glad it has been negated.''
Despite this special protection, Jin says, one band of Red Guards did manage to break into the hospital where her brother Pu Yi was being treated.
Jin lives with a granddaughter a few doors from Pu Jie. She spends her days following the progress of her four children, five grandchildren, and seven remaining brothers and sisters - the sole survivors of a system that ruled China for thousands of years.