Yoshiko Kawashima

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For the Hong Kong film, see Kawashima Yoshiko (film).
Yoshiko Kawashima
Gen Yoshiko Kawashima.jpg
Yoshiko Kawashima, Colonel General of Manchukuo, in uniform
Born (1907-05-24)24 May 1907
Beijing, Qing Empire
Died 25 March 1948(1948-03-25) (aged 40)
Beijing, Republic of China
Aisin Gioro Xianyu
Yoshiko Kawashima in recording studio 1933.jpg
Yoshiko Kawashima in recording studio, 1933
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 金璧輝
Simplified Chinese 金璧辉
Birth name
Traditional Chinese 愛新覺羅·顯玗
Simplified Chinese 爱新觉罗·显玗
Courtesey name
Traditional Chinese 東珍
Simplified Chinese 东珍
Literal meaning Eastern Jewel
Yoshiko Kawashima
Traditional Chinese 川島芳子
Simplified Chinese 川岛芳子
Japanese name
Kanji 川島 芳子
Hiragana かわしま よしこ

Yoshiko Kawashima (川島 芳子 Kawashima Yoshiko?, 24 May 1907 – 25 March 1948) was a Qing princess brought up in Japan, who served as a spy in the service of the Japanese Kwantung Army and Manchukuo during the Second World War. Originally named Aisin Gioro Xianyu (Aisin Gioro Hsien-yu; 愛新覺羅·顯玗) with the courtesy name Dongzhen (Tung-chen; Chinese: 東珍; literally: "Eastern Jewel"), her Chinese name was Jin Bihui (Chin Pi-hui; simplified Chinese: 金璧辉; traditional Chinese: 金璧輝; pinyin: Jīn Bìhuī; Wade–Giles: Chin1 Pi4-hui1). She is sometimes known in fiction by the pseudonym as the "Eastern Mata Hari”. She was executed as a traitor by the Kuomintang after the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Early life[edit]

Aisin Gioro Xianyu was born in Beijing as the 14th daughter to Shanqi, the 10th son of Prince Su (肅親王) of the Aisin Gioro Manchu imperial family and a concubine.

She was given up for adoption at the age of eight to her father's friend Naniwa Kawashima, a Japanese espionage agent and mercenary adventurer after the Xinhai Revolution, but she was raised and educated in her grandfather's home in the city of Matsumoto, Japan. Her step-father changed her original name Aisin Gioro Xianyu to (Kawashima) Yoshiko. She did not find an appropriate family either. As a teenage girl, she was raped by Kawashima's father and later had an affair with Kawashima himself.[1]

Meanwhile, her biological father Shanqi Su died in 1921. His concubine, who had no official identity, committed the traditional suicide or "following-in-death". Yoshiko was sent to school in Tokyo for an education that included judo and fencing and then lived a bohemian lifestyle for some years in Tokyo with a series of rich lovers, both men and women.[2]

Espionage career[edit]

In 1927, Kawashima married Ganjuurjab, the son of Inner Mongolian Army General Jengjuurjab, leader of the Mongolian-Manchurian Independence Movement based in Ryojun. The marriage ended in divorce after only two years, and Kawashima moved to the foreign concession in Shanghai.[3] While in Shanghai, she met Japanese military attaché and intelligence officer Ryukichi Tanaka, who utilized her contacts with the Manchu and Mongol nobility to expand his network. She was living together with Tanaka in Shanghai at the time of the Shanghai Incident of 1932.

After Tanaka was recalled to Japan, Kawashima continued to serve as a spy for Major-General Kenji Doihara. She undertook undercover missions in Manchuria, often in disguise, and was considered "strikingly attractive, with a dominating personality, almost a film-drama figure, half tom-boy and half heroine, and with this passion for dressing up as a male. She possibly did this in order to impress the men, or she may have done it in order to more easily fit into the tightly-knit guerrilla groups without attracting too much attention".[4][5]

Kawashima was well-acquainted with former Qing Emperor Pu Yi who regarded her as a member of the Royal Family and welcomed her into his household during his stay in Tianjin. It was through this close liaison that Kawashima was able to persuade Pu Yi to become a figurehead for the newly Japanese-created state of Manchukuo. However, Kawashima privately criticized Pu Yi for being too amenable to Japanese influence.[6]

After the installation of Pu Yi as Emperor of Manchukuo, Kawashima continued to play various roles and, for a time, was the mistress of Major General Hayao Tada, chief military advisor to Pu Yi. She formed an independent counter insurgency cavalry force in 1932 made up of 3,000-5,000 former bandits to hunt down anti-Japanese guerilla bands during the Pacification of Manchukuo, and was hailed in the Japanese newspapers as the Joan of Arc of Manchukuo.[7] In 1933, she offered the unit to the Japanese Kwantung Army for Operation Nekka, but it was refused. The unit continued to exist under her command until sometime in the late 1930s.[8]

Kawashima became a well-known and popular figure in Manchukuo society, making appearances on radio broadcasts, and even issuing a record of her songs. Numerous fictional and semi-fictional stories of her exploits were published in newspapers and also in the pulp fiction press. However, her very popularity created issues with the Kwantung Army, because her utility as an intelligence asset was long gone, and her value as a propaganda symbol was compromised by her increasingly critical tone against the Japanese military's exploitative policies in Manchukuo as a base of operations against China in the Second Sino-Japanese War, and she gradually faded from public sight.

After the end of the war, on 11 November 1945, a news agency reported that "a long sought-for beauty in male costume was arrested in Peking by the Chinese counter-intelligence officers." The Supreme Court of Hebei originally addressed Kawashima as "Chuandao Fangzi" (the Chinese pronunciation of her Japanese name); when her interrogations began a month later, Kawashima identified herself with her Chinese name "Jin Bihui", which eventually became the name court officials used. However, in accordance with her lawyers' strategy to deflect her charge of treason, she gradually began to emphasize a Japanese or banner identity. The court rejected the defense's bid to have her be tried as a war criminal rather than as a domestic traitor, based on a combination of jus sanguinis and Kawashima's failure to formally renounce her citizenship through China's Department of Civil Affairs.[6] Found guilty in 1948, she was executed by a pistol shot into the back of her head.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

Yoshiko Kawashima (left) with Ryukichi Tanaka (right) the man who put her on the Intelligence payroll at the time they lived together

Kawashima has been depicted in numerous movies from 1932 until the present day by many actresses. She was featured in the movie The Last Emperor, where she appeared as "Eastern Jewel", played by Maggie Han. A film titled Sen'un Ajia no Joō about her was released in Japan in 1957.[10] Anita Mui played Kawashima Yoshiko in a 1990 Hong Kong-produced film, The Last Princess of Manchuria. She is a prominent character in the 2007 drama Ri Kouran, which tells the story of the life of Yoshiko Yamaguchi, also known as Li Xianglan (李香蘭). She was portrayed by Japanese idol Rei Kikukawa. In the Chinese language, Kawashima's name (both Chuandao Fangzi and Jin Bihui) are synonymous with the idea of a "female spy" or a Hanjian.[6]

Meisa Kuroki portrays Kawashima in the 2008 Japanese drama Dansō no Reijin: Kawashima Yoshiko no Shōgai.


  1. ^ Zhu, Aijun. Feminism and Global Chineseness: The Cultural Production of Controversial Women Authors, p.254 Cambria Press, 2007, ISBN 9781934043127.
  2. ^ Yue, Audrey. Ann Hui's Song of the Exile, Hong Kong University Press, 2010, ASIN B004E9U7SS
  3. ^ Yamamuro, Manchuria Under Japanese Domination, pp.98
  4. ^ Deacon,A History of Japanese Secret Service, 1982, p.151
  5. ^ Grant, Battle Cries and Lullabies, pp.260
  6. ^ a b c Shao, Dan (2005). "Princess, Traitor, Soldier, Spy: Aisin Gioro Xianyu and the Dilemma of Manchu Identity". In Tamanoi, Mariko Asano. Crossed Histories. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 83–120. she did not use the term 'Manzu' (Manchu) or 'Manren' in her vocabulary of identity. 
  7. ^ Woods, Princess Jin.
  8. ^ Jowett, Rays of the Rising Sun, vol. 1, p.31.
  9. ^ TIME magazine, Monday, April 5, 1948 Foreign News: Foolish Elder Brother
  10. ^ James Kirkup (20 July 1995). "Obituary: Ryoichi Sasakawa". The Independent. Retrieved 14 February 2015. 


  • Deacon, Richard (1986). A History of the Japanese Secret Service. Berkley Publishing Company. ISBN 0-425-07458-7. 
  • Jowett, Philip (2005). Rays of the Rising Sun, Volume 1: Japan's Asian Allies 1931-45, China and Manchukuo. Helion and Company Ltd. ISBN 1-874622-21-3. 
  • Grant De Pauw, Linda (200). Battle Cries and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3288-4. 
  • Lee, Lillian (1992). The Last Princess of Manchuria. William Morrow & Co;. ISBN 0-688-10834-2. 
  • Woods, Willa Lou (1937). Princess Jin, the Joan of Arc of the Orient. World Publishing Company. ASIN B00085H5CI. 
  • Yamamuro, Shinichi (2005). Manchuria Under Japanese Domination. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-3912-1. 
  • Lindley, Maureen (2008). The private papers of Eastern Jewel. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-0-7475-9116-0. 

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