Shi Pei Pu

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Shi Pei Pu
Born (1938-12-21)21 December 1938
Shandong, China
Died 30 June 2009(2009-06-30) (aged 70)
Paris, France
Nationality Chinese
Alma mater University of Kunming
Occupation Opera singer, spy
Partner(s) Bernard Boursicot
Children Shi Dudu
Shi Pei Pu
Traditional Chinese 時佩璞
Simplified Chinese 时佩璞

Shi Pei Pu (Chinese: 时佩璞; pinyin: Shí Pèipú; 21 December 1938 – June 30, 2009)[1] was a Chinese opera singer from Beijing. He became a spy who obtained secrets during a 20-year-long sexual affair in which he convinced an employee in the French Embassy that he was a woman, later producing a child that he insisted had been born through their relations. The story made headlines in France when it came to light and became the basis for the 1988 play M. Butterfly and the 1993 movie of the same title.

Biography[edit]

Shi's father was a college professor, and his mother was a teacher. He had two sisters who were significantly older than he was. Shi grew up in Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where he learned French and attended the University of Kunming, graduating with a literature degree. By 17, Shi was an actor/singer who had achieved some recognition. In his 20s, Shi wrote plays about workers.[2]

Bernard Boursicot was 20 years old and had obtained a job as an accountant at the French Embassy in Beijing, which had just been opened in 1964 as the first Western mission in China since the Korean War.[2] As recorded in his diary, Boursicot had only previously had sexual relations with fellow male students in school and wanted to meet a woman and fall in love.[3] He first met Shi, who was 26 and dressed as a man, at a Christmas party in December 1964.[2] Shi had been teaching Chinese to the families of Embassy workers and told Boursicot that he was "a female Beijing opera singer who had been forced to live as a man to satisfy his father's wish to have a son". The two developed a sexual relationship maintained quickly and in darkness in which Boursicot was convinced that he was with a woman.[3]

After being discovered by the Chinese government, Boursicot was pressured into providing secret documents from his postings in Beijing from 1969 to 1972 and in Ulan Bator, Mongolia from 1977 to 1979, with over 500 documents taken.[2] Boursicot was stationed outside of China and saw Shi infrequently, maintaining their sexual relationship. Shi later showed Shi Du Du to Boursicot, a four-year old child that Shi insisted was their son who had been born to him.[3]

Shi and his adopted son were brought to Paris in 1982, after Boursicot was able to arrange for them to enter France. Boursicot was arrested by French authorities on June 30, 1983, and Shi was arrested shortly thereafter.[2] In police custody, Shi explained to doctors how he had hidden his genitals to convince Boursicot that he was a woman, and explained that Shi Du Du, their purported son, had, in fact, been bought from a doctor in the Xinjiang province of China. Boursicot, upon discovering the truth of their relationship, attempted suicide by slitting his throat but survived. The public disclosure of the affair made Boursicot the subject of widespread ridicule.[3]

Shi, together with Boursicot, was convicted of espionage in 1986 and sentenced to six years in prison.[3] Shi was pardoned by President of France François Mitterrand in April 1987, as part of an effort to defuse tensions between France and China over what was described as a "very silly" and unimportant case, while Bouriscot received a pardon in August of that year.[2]

The incident became the basis of David Henry Hwang's 1988 play M. Butterfly, in which B. D. Wong played Song Liling, a Chinese opera singer and spy based on Shi Pei Pu in the original Broadway production of the play.[3]

After his pardon, Shi performed as an opera singer. He was reluctant to share the details of his relationship with Boursicot, stating that he "used to fascinate both men and women" and that "What I was and what they were didn't matter." Shi spoke infrequently with Boursicot over the subsequent years, as recently as months before Shi's death, telling Boursicot that he still loved him.[3]

Shi was said to be 70 years old when he died on June 30, 2009, in Paris. Shi is survived by his adopted son, Shi Du Du, who had three sons of his own. Notified at a French nursing home of Shi's death, Boursicot wearily said that "He did so many things against me that he had no pity for, I think it is stupid to play another game now and say I am sad. The plate is clean now. I am free."[1][3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Shi Pei Pu - Telegraph". London: telegraph.co.uk. July 3, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-16. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Wadler, Joyce. "The True Story of M. Butterfly; The Spy Who Fell in Love With a Shadow", The New York Times, August 15, 1993. Accessed July 2, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Wadler, Joyce. "Shi Pei Pu, Singer, Spy and ‘M. Butterfly,’ Dies at 70", The New York Times, July 1, 2009. Accessed July 2, 2009.

Further reading[edit]