Du Yuesheng

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Du Yuesheng
Du Yuesheng2.jpg
Born (1888-08-22)22 August 1888
Gaoqiao, Shanghai, Qing Empire
Died 16 August 1951(1951-08-16) (aged 62)
Hong Kong
Nationality Chinese
Occupation Criminal
Du Yuesheng
Chinese 杜月笙
Du Yong
Traditional Chinese 杜鏞
Simplified Chinese 杜镛
Du Yuesheng
(original name)
Chinese 杜月生

Du Yuesheng (22 August 1888 – 16 August 1951), nicknamed "Big-Eared Du" (because of his enourmous ears),[1] was a Chinese mob boss who spent much of his life in Shanghai. He was a key supporter of Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang in their battle against the Communists in the 1920s, and was a figure of some importance during the Second Sino-Japanese War. After the Chinese Civil War and the Kuomintang's retreat to Taiwan, Du went into exile in Hong Kong and remained there until his death in 1951.

Early life[edit]

Du was born in Gaoqiao, a small town east of Shanghai, during the reign of the Guangxu Emperor in the late Qing dynasty. His family moved to Shanghai in 1889, a year after his birth. By the time he reached nine years old, Du had lost his immediate family — his mother died in childbirth, his sister was sold into slavery, his father died, and his stepmother vanished — so he went back to Gaoqiao and lived with his grandmother. He returned to Shanghai in 1902 and worked at a fruit stall in the French Concession but was later fired for theft. He wandered around for some time before becoming a bodyguard in a brothel, where he became acquainted with the Green Gang. He joined the gang at the age of 16.

Rise to power[edit]

Du was soon introduced by a friend to Huang Jinrong (zh), the highest-ranked Chinese detective in the French Concession Police (FCP) and one of Shanghai's most notorious gangsters. Huang's wife was a notable criminal in her own right, and she favoured the young Du. Even though Huang was not a member of the Green Gang, Du became Huang's gambling and opium enforcer. A stickler for fine clothing and women, Du was now cemented; he wore only Chinese silks, surrounded himself with White Russian bodyguards, and frequented the city's best nightclubs and sing-song houses. Du was also known for having a superstitious streak — he had three small monkey heads, specially imported from Hong Kong, sewn to his clothes at the small of his back.

Du's prestige led him to purchase a four-storey, Western-style mansion in the French Concession and have dozens of concubines, four legal wives and six sons, but his meteoric rise as Shanghai's best known mobster only came after Huang Jinrong was arrested in 1924 by the Shanghai Garrison police.[2] Huang had publicly beaten the son of the warlord ruling Shanghai, and his arrest required Du's diplomacy and finances to get him released. He stood down almost immediately after his release, turning his criminal empire over to Du, who became known as the "zongshi" (宗師) or "grandmaster" of the criminal underworld. Du now controlled gambling dens, prostitution and protection rackets, as well as setting up a number of legitimate companies — including Shanghai's largest shipping corporation and two banks. With the tacit support of the police and colonial government, he also now ran the French Concession's opium trade, and became heavily addicted to his own drug.

Former residence of Du Yuesheng, a historic house in Hangzhou, Zhejiang.

Alliance with the Kuomintang[edit]

As the leader of the Green Gang, Du dominated Shanghai's opium and heroin trade in the 1930s, and secretly funded the political career of Chiang Kai-shek.[1] In contrast to his views on legality, Du was politically a staunch Confucian conservative. He had close ties with Chiang Kai-shek, who in turn had ties to both the Green Gang and other organised secret societies from his early years in Shanghai. Chiang forged political alliances throughout the 1920s, with some of the secret societies going as far as to offer their support in the 1927 Shanghai Purge. The resulting massacre ended the First United Front, and as a reward for Du's service, Chiang appointed him as the president of the National Board of Opium Suppression Bureau. The end result was that Du came to officially control the entirety of China's opium trade.

The Green Gang's support for the Nationalist Government included funding and equipment, even going as far as to purchase a German Junkers 87 emblazoned with the Board of Opium Suppression Bureau logo. In return, Du was given leeway to run labour unions and keep business flowing freely. In 1931, Du had the financial and political clout to open his own temple — one dedicated to his ancestors and family members — and hold a three-day-long party to honour its grand opening. It was one of Shanghai's largest celebrations, with hundreds of celebrities and political figures attending. Within months of its opening, however, the temple's private wings had been turned over to the manufacture of heroin, making it Shanghai's largest drug factory.

When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, Du offered to fight the Japanese by scuttling his fleet of ships at the mouth of the Yangtze River, but he eventually fled to Hong Kong and later to Chongqing. Green Gang operatives cooperating with Dai Li, Chiang's intelligence chief, continued to smuggle weapons and goods to the Kuomintang throughout the war, and Du himself was a board member of the Chinese Red Cross. Following Japan's surrender in 1945, Du returned to Shanghai, expecting a warm welcome but was shocked when he was not received like a hero. Many Shanghai residents felt that Du had abandoned the city, leaving its civilians to suffer under the atrocities of the Japanese occupation.

The relationship between Du and Chiang Kai-shek soured further after the war, when corruption and crime committed by top-ranking politicians and gangsters caused great problems within the Kuomintang. Chiang Kai-shek's son, Chiang Ching-kuo, launched an anti-corruption campaign in Shanghai in the late 1940s, with Du's relatives among the first to be arrested and thrown into jail. Although Du successfully managed their release by threatening to expose the embezzlement activities done by Chiang's relatives, the arrest and imprisonment of Du's sons effectively ended the partnership between Chiang and Du.

Exile in Hong Kong and death[edit]

Du escaped to Hong Kong after the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan in 1949 following their defeat in the Chinese Civil War. Tales on Du's finances and power during this period vary largely — some argued that he lived in practical squalor while others said he had built up a sizable nest egg. As he gradually became blind and possibly senile, Du decided it was safe to move back to China in 1951. However, before he could return to China he died in Hong Kong, of illness apparently caused by his addiction to opium. Allegedly, his body was taken by one of his wives to Taiwan, and buried in Xizhi District, New Taipei, though some are sceptical that his tomb actually contains his body.[3] Following his internment the Taiwanese authorities constructed a statue of Du in Xizhi. The four-character inscription on the statue praises Du's "loyalty" and "personal integrity".[1]


Du's original name was Du Yuesheng (Chinese: 杜月生; pinyin: Dù Yuèshēng; Wade–Giles: Tu4 Yüeh4-sheng1). Later, on the advice of Zhang Binglin, Du changed his name to Du Yong (traditional Chinese: 杜鏞; simplified Chinese: 杜镛; pinyin: Dù Yōng; Wade–Giles: Tu4 Yung1), pseudonym Yuesheng (Chinese: 月笙; pinyin: Yuèshēng; Wade–Giles: Yüeh4-sheng1; same pronunciation as his original name but written differently in Chinese).[4]

In popular culture[edit]

For many years, media on Du and his exploits were officially banned in China on the grounds that they encourage criminality. Many Chinese-language biographies of Du were banned, and writers and sellers of these books were arrested. Only until recently did critical studies on Du become more open, but the official ban has never been entirely lifted by the Chinese government.

Some depictions of Du in popular culture include:


  1. ^ a b c Lintner, Bertil. Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948. Silkworm Books. 1999. p.309
  2. ^ Wakeman, Frederic, Jr. (1988). "Policing Modern Shanghai". China Quarterly (115): 417.  (downloadable PDF[permanent dead link])
  3. ^ (in Chinese) 杜月笙--汐止文化網
  4. ^ (in Chinese) 杜月笙的经典语录