This is the second article in the “Tientsin at War” series, written to remember a mysterious Manchurian spy, presumed dead in 1947. She was officially executed as a traitor to China by the Kuomintang, but recent evidence suggests that she evaded the final bullet and lived until 1978. She was a dreamer, a warrior, a bisexual that charmed her way into the inner workings of her many enemies. Called the Human Devil by the Kuomintang, she was a hailed a heroine by the Japanese. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit back, and enter a world of sexual predators, espionage, murder and betrayal.
By C.S. Hagen
TIANJIN, CHINA – Some days Eastern Pearl dressed as a young soldier boy. She wrapped her small breasts with silk, cut her hair and pulled on a uniform. Other days she wore a hanbok, and became a Korean prostitute, teasing her way up her enemy’s chain of command, almost within reach of the Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to discover Nationalist secrets.
The Japanese hailed her a hero, and named her Yoshiko Kawashima.
“Whenever a section of the Japanese Army found itself in difficulties, the rumor was spread that Yoshiko was on her way,” the Daily News
reported on March 22, 1934. “Flagging troops fought like demons, it is said, and every time her name was invoked it meant victory.”
The Nationalists wanted a bullet between her eyes, and called her the Human Devil. According to some newspaper reports in the early 1940s, she was stabbed once by an assassin and while convalescing was visited again by Nationalist soldiers disguised as doctors who beat her nearly to death with little hammers.
Weighing no more than ninety-five pounds, lithe and fox clever, skin pale as silken tofu, twenty-three year old Eastern Pearl survived to pursue her dreams with the fleetness of a Mongolian pony. Born Aisin Gioro Xianyu (愛新覺羅顯玗), with a courtesy name of Dongzhen (東珍), or Eastern Pearl, and a traditional name of Jin Bihui (金璧辉), she was a Manchu princess and cousin to the Qing Dynasty’s last emperor Puyi. Her father fled the Qing Court in disgrace to Japan after the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, and on his deathbed when Eastern Pearl was only a child made her swear to free her Manchu homeland from Chinese bondage and see the Dragon Throne restored.
Her blood was of a prouder strain than her cousin’s, the boy emperor, a 1934 story published on Eastern Pearl in the Daily News wrote. “Sexually she was what is known as an intermediate type, an individual in whom glandular unbalance produces features, bones and build, texture of skin, hair and flesh, character and desires that are as much feminine as masculine.”
Eastern Pearl dedicated her life to the resurrection of the Manchu supremacy. From the Badlands of Shanghai, to the whorehouses of Peking to the opium dens and glitzy cabarets of Tientsin, she laughed at danger often times shifting her shape to slink behind enemy lines.
Step into Tientsin’s Underground
Tientsin (天津), known today as Tianjin, means Ford of Heaven, and is a sprawling port city southeast of Peking (Beijing), the capitol of China. The Tientsin Concessions were areas of the city sectioned off by Qing Emperor Doro Eldengge after the Chinese lost both opium wars to eight allied and foreign nations. Tientsin was also a retirement home for beaten warlords known for their chests of gold and silver.
A charming city, an interesting city, according to the Cambridge University Press, a city that washed the wealthy and fortunate ashore and into the foreign concessions. Shanghai was called a pearl, but real power – silver and gold – was buried in secret hiding places beneath the Astor Hotel.
The concessions were a haven for abdicated emperors, such as Puyi who resided in the Japanese Concession, and for ex-presidents like Xu Shichang, who enjoyed literature and gardening inside his British Concession mansion. After Republican President Cao Kun and his clique were beaten and betrayed by “Christian General” Feng Yuxiang, he came to Tientsin to lick his wounds. Few Tientsiners in the “Who’s Who in China” wanted to miss one of Cao’s birthday parties.
At the opposite end of the morality pole, Duan Qirui, once known as the most powerful man in China, lost his power through shady deals, and retired to Tientsin to build a private Buddhist temple. He was a weiqi player, and was quoted once as saying the troubles of China were demons sent down to earth and until they had all been killed the troubles would continue.
For up and comers like Eastern Pearl, and anyone else wanting to see and be seen, the “Paris” cabaret in the Japanese Concession was the hotspot during Tientsin’s roaring thirties. “Like moths to candles,” the Queenslander reported on April 16, 1936, “the wealth and fashion, the rapturous, the lost and the damned are attracted nightly to the tinsel and glitter of the “Paris” cabaret.”
Royalty and opium kings, soldiers and gunrunners, all were welcome, as long as they had silver.
Chinese, Polish and White Russian dancing girls lounged at postage stamp tables surrounding a dance floor, and were willing to romp for four shillings. Under pointed lights sparkling off lead glass decanters, the “Happy Hans” and his Russian musicians played the latest jazzy hits. The nightclub was always packed, always sizzling with intrigue.
Careful, weapons aren’t allowed, but nobody really checks.
Descending a short flight of stairs, the entryway opens up into a circular room. A piano enlivens the mood with a rendition of the Vernor Duke song “Autumn in New York.”
The nightclub hits all the senses. First the dim lighting, and as the eyes adjust the ole factories are buffeted by waves of thick smoke, the choking blues of cigarettes and sickly-sweet greens from opium. A fiery woman in a low-cut dress nudges past and heads toward the dance floor, wafting Old English Mitcham Lavendar – the “perfume that is England.”
The nose wants to follow, but the knees are suddenly weak.
Uniforms and golden epaulettes swallow the redhead, and a dozen languages, each vying for dominance in the room sound more like geese, late for their southern sojourns.
After a careful study, a White Russian hostess steps up to say the tables are taken, but there’s room at the bar. Before taking a short flight of stairs, she asks if company is needed…
In one dark corner, sandwiched between two concubines, the “Young Marshal” Zhang Xueliang, former Manchurian warlord, sips champagne. Hair neatly trimmed and slicked, Zhang’s boyish face is deceitfully innocent as he watches a well-known rebel leader dance the foxtrot with a woman in a bright pink dress. His gaze shivers the soul.
The most fashionable concubine leans into Zhang’s ear, momentarily distracting him. Jewels dangle from her neck, and as she whispers sweet nothings the second concubine pouts; her blood red lips form a perfect circle while she flicks ash from a long stem cigarette to the floor.
Wu Yiting, the fox trotting man, may not have the Young Marshall’s armies, but he is no one to be trifled with either, and everyone in the “Paris” knows this. In Tientsin, however, it’s safer to be careful. Two bodyguards sit rigidly at a nearby table, light glinting off slender Nambu pisols, half hidden under napkins.
At the bar a scowling Japanese Gendarme, or Kempeitai, throws a sneer toward the British Consul-General Lancelot Giles. The Englishman is pale, even under the dim lighting, and pretends not to notice by listening in to a joke from an American explorer. Both are drinking Johnny Walker Red. A well-known Nazi talks up a Polish girl, too young for her line of work. Her face holds a jade sheen, sure tell sign she’s a heroin addict.
On the other side of the rounded bar, an Italian naval officer exuberantly agrees to a price from a fresh White Russian beauty in a tailored sailor’s suit. She jumps from her chair displaying legs even the Young Marshall notices, and into the Italian’s arms.
A backslidden American missionary, a group of smarmy silver smugglers and a Japanese detective take up the remaining chairs. Standing room only. Except for one last table, opposite the Young Marshall’s, where the Manchu Princess, Eastern Pearl, dances with a hostess. Like usual, she’s dressed in men’s clothes: white linen pants, riding boots, a white shirt tucked in, starched collar, loose, with a man’s tie. Her hair is short, parted slightly to the side. Step a little closer and a stocky man with one long eyebrow materializes from the shadows. Only her sideburns, hair pulled to a point across her cheeks, give her sex away, and then again… Her eight-year old son, born from her first marriage with a Mongolian prince, wants to go home.
He calls her father.
Hunter of Military Secrets
When the Qing Dynasty fell, Eastern Pearl was whisked secretly east to Japan, and brought up by Namiya Kawashima, a Japanese spy and adventurer. She was rechristened under a Japanese name, Yoshiko Kawashima, schooled in the Japanese system with an education befitting a high born lady, learning among other subjects judo and fencing.
As a child, she was aloof and quiet, rarely joining her classmates in games or friendship.
As a teenager her adopted father enjoyed raping her, and she turned to a bohemian lifestyle funded by rich lovers. She appeared to settle down for two years with a Mongolian Prince, but the marriage in actuality was her first mission, arranged by General Kenji Doihara, leader of the terrorist Black Dragon Society. She provided him with intelligence on Mongolian defenses, maps and weak points.
The first time Eastern Pearl met Doihara she was dressed as a woman. He ordered her out of his office, and asked how she got in.
“By my charms and my wits,” Eastern Pearl reportedly said. “I want to work for you.”
Doihara threw her out anyway. He had little use for a stick-thin, saucy Chinese woman.
Three days later Eastern Pearl arrived again, but as a man. According to The World’s News, Doihara came close to shooting her.
“I am the girl who was here three days ago,” Eastern Pearl said. She was dressed in a mandarin’s suit and skullcap, her hair was cut short. “And I still want to work for you.”
In Doihara, Eastern Pearl saw the one man she could yield to as a woman, The World’s News reported. To Doihara, Eastern Pearl was the one woman who could match his one hundred faces, “from sweetheart to as many sacrifices as were needed on the altar of Japan.”
“I determined to bob my hair when I was 16, and become a man,” Eastern Pearl said in The World’s News story. “My reason is the condition of China. I resolved to help China. But another reason is that I received many proposals of marriage. Some were of a kind that I could hardly with decency refuse if I remained a girl. I have not had any proposals or love-letters since I became a man.”
She led four hundred horseback soldiers in her homeland of Manchuria, never meeting defeat. When Japan’s invasion of Manchuria finished, she was hailed a heroine.
Eastern Pearl went on to Shanghai, becoming Dr. Sun Fo, Sun Yat-sen’s younger brother’s secretary.
“He was not aware of who I was,” Eastern Pearl said for a Japanese magazine interview in 1933. “And it was well for Japan he did not know. I could not reveal my mission in Shanghai.”
After gleaning information from the Nationalist Party, she hurried back to Tientsin, disguised herself as a coolie and pulled up to the back door of the boy emperor Puyi’s mansion. Although the mansion was guarded, she had lived with her cousin and the Empress Wanrong when she stayed in Tientsin, and knew the secret passageways. She found her way to her cousin’s bedside and whispered into his ear.
“I am just a rickshaw man, your Lordship, but mighty friends of yours have sent me. I have clothes that are an indignity for you to wear, but they will help you get a throne.”
Initially, Puyi resented the idea of Japanese assistance in retaking the Dragon Throne, but Eastern Pearl persisted, saying that once he had the throne and was made emperor, no one would dare to stand in his way.
She slipped him out the back door, into the rickshaw. Guards yelled and gave chase. Night prowlers tried to stop the rickshaw, but Eastern Pearl ploughed her way through.
Two days later she delivered the last emperor to the Manchurian throne.
Eastern Pearl became mistress to Puyi’s advisors, married a total of three Chinese princes, each time disappearing shortly after she learned what she needed and successfully procuring their fealty to Japan.
Enemies said she was evil since seventeen.
“She has spotless skin, looks like a prostitute and has got too familiar with Japanese generals, prominent politicians and leading financiers,” Chinese newspapers said of her at the time.
Eastern Pearl wouldn’t have disagreed. She was their plaything and she was doing nothing more than fulfilling her training. She chose the life of a courtesan rather than a wife because she was influencing wills and had a purpose – the restoration of the Manchurian throne.
With her cousin on the throne, she had two ambitions left to fulfill: the real independence of Manchuria, and the conquest of China.
She failed in both.
The Japanese offered Puyi lip service only. When rich Manchurian natural resources were exploited and sent to Japan, Eastern Pearl raged. She denounced Japan, called on her lovers to keep their promises. She caused dissension in the ranks of the Japanese Kwantung and Manchurian puppet armies and reported to North China Nationalist authorities.
Nobody trusted her any longer. The Japanese Black Dragon Society decided to assassinate her, and then changed its mind. The Nationalists reportedly made two attempts on her life and missed.
“They [Japanese] are so proud of what they did in establishing Manchuria that they regard the Manchurians as inferior people,” she is quoted as saying in an article in The News. “Even a Japanese beggar in Changchun looks down on a Manchurian beggar.”
She disappeared for a time, resurfacing in Peking as the proprietor of “Pearl’s Place,” a restaurant and meeting point for Japanese agents, their collaborators and her lovers. Her restaurant didn’t make money. She spent thousands on trinkets and opium. When she grew tired of one lover, male or female, she found another.
“A favorite method of disposing of a lover who displeased her, or failed in the carrying out of a promise, was to encourage jealousy,” The World’s News reported on September 1, 1951. “This was easy [for her] as few prominent men were strong enough to resist her beauty and fascination once she set after them.”
“She was the most remarkable woman spy the East has known,” reported The News on April 7, 1948. “A woman who was termed the Pearl of Asia, the Jeanne d’Arc of China and Japan’s Mata Hari.”
After more than a decade of undercover work, indiscriminate sex and opium, Eastern Pearl lost her luster. Her near forty-year-old body was racked with illness, which, according to some newspapers, was syphilis.
Ironically, it was a Chinese spy, posing as her servant, who betrayed her to Nationalist police. She was arrested after World War II on November 11, 1945 wearing a Japanese general’s uniform. Defeat and opium had dulled her mind and body. Her face, according to the Chinese press at the time, resembled the English letter V.
Eastern Jade spent her last days poorly clad, shivering and almost toothless in a prison. In Peking Central Court the “Human Devil” admitted her relationships to Japanese war criminals, but pleaded not guilty on treason against China. On October 23, 1947 Eastern Pearl was sentenced to death. Among other crimes she was accused of participating with the kidnapping of the Generalissimo, assistance with the assassination of warlord Zhang Zuolin, and as being the number one lieutenant of General Kenji Doihara. She would have been sentenced earlier if not for thronging crowds striving to catch a glimpse of her while on her way to a Peking court. When the judge read her death sentence, “she smiled with seeming unconcern,” reported The West Australian.
A black and white photograph taken after her execution was released and given to the Generalissimo, but rumors persisted that she had enticed a woman to take her place and she escaped. Only two American photographers were allowed to take Eastern Jade’s picture, who is named as Chuandao Fangzi (川岛芳子), after her Japanese name. The Chinese press was banned. The photograph is grainy, and out of focus. Not proof enough, with half her face missing, that the woman in the picture is Jin Bihui, Dongzhen – the Eastern Pearl, Yoshiko Kawashima – the Mata Hari of the East, the Human Devil.
In 2008 a Chinese artist named Zhang Yu (张钰) rocked Chinese media with an announcement that a person she had grown up with was none other than Eastern Jade, who passed away in 1978, not in 1947. She had been living in Changchun as a woman named “Granny Fang” (方姥姥). The Chinese Phoenix News Media featured the story in 2011, but said there was no concrete evidence to prove Zhang Yu’s claims. Both bodies had been cremated; DNA samples could not be investigated. Her fingerprints were not left behind on books as “Granny Fang” used tweezers to turn the pages. Among other artifacts “Granny Fang” left behind was a gold lion reportedly a gift for her former male secretary Xiaofang Balang (小方八郎), which she was unable to give. A cryptic and poetic note was found inside the statue, which had a filled-in crack at the bottom. The note is difficult to translate.
The cryptic note Eastern Jade allegedly left behind – from the Chinese Phoenix News Media
芳魂回天 Fang hun hui tian
至未归来 Zhi wei gui lai
含悲九泉 Han bei jiu quan
达今奇才 Da jin qi cai
Fang’s spirit returns to the heavens, not to return. There’s sadness from the nine springs, reach for genius only.
Investigators also found a pair of binoculars with Eastern Jade’s Japanese phonetic initials – HK – engraved into the adjustment rings inside a locked suitcase, Chinese Phoenix Media reported. According to some top police officials who performed handwriting comparisons, the evidence was enough; Granny Fang was Eastern Pearl. If true, the Human Devil would have been 71 years old at the time of her death, which then begs the question, who was the girl in the photograph? A lover? A fellow spy? A paid patsy? Or are Zhang Yu’s claims simply a desperate reach for attention, and Eastern Jade was executed when official records say she was?
“If you say she used tweezers to read books, you can’t help but suspect she was a spy,” the Chinese Phoenix Media commentator said. “Very mysterious.”
According to official sources from 1947 Eastern Pearl pleaded with authorities not to make a show of her execution. She wanted no press, and one clean shot to the back of the head. An unknown Japanese monk collected her body for cremation, sending her remains to a Japanese monastery.