Yoshiko Kawashima, Colonel General of Manchukuo, in uniform
24 May 1907|
Beijing, Qing Empire
|Died||25 March 1948
Beijing, Republic of China
|Aisin Gioro Xianyu|
Yoshiko Kawashima in recording studio, 1933
|Literal meaning||Eastern Jewel|
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.
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.
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.
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. 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".
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 return to the Manchu homeland as head of the newly Japanese-created state of Manchukuo.
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, who was the 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. 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.
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." In 1948, Kawashima was tried as a traitor (Hanjian) by the Nationalist Government under her Chinese name (Jin Bihui). She was executed by a shot into the back of her head.
In popular culture
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. 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.
More scholarly and peer-reviewed research exists on Kawashima Yoshiko in English in Dan Shao's Princess, Traitor, Soldier, Spy: Aisin Gioro Xianyu and the Dilemma of Manchu Identity and in Crossed Histories: Manchuria in the Age of Empire, edited by Mariko Asano Tamanoi.
Meisa Kuroki portrays Kawashima in the 2008 Japanese drama Dansō no Reijin: Kawashima Yoshiko no Shōgai.
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- (Chinese) 男裝女諜川島芳子
- Discussion forum postings (Warning: contains graphic photos of executed corpses)
- Execution of Kawashima Yoshiko (Warning: Webpage advertisements contain spyware/malware.)