As usual, history can be much wilder than pulp fiction.
Thinking of the Mysterious East, we often read stories of dragon ladies, of dangerous women and mysterious seductresses.
So, in the name of pulp history, consider, if you will, Yoshiko Kawashima, aka Jewel of the East or Eastern Jade.
For starters, her name was not Yoshiko Kawashima, but Aisin Gioro Xianyu, and she was a princess of Manchu origin – her father a lesser character in the Imperial Court at Beijing.
But when she was eight years old, her family sold her to a Japanese called Kawashima. She was, after all, just the fourteenth daughter.
Kawashima-san was an adventurer and a spy – and he thought that breeding a Chinese princess to become a tool of the Japanese empire might be a neat trick.
The girl’s life with Kawashima became an experiment in the thorough bending of a human mind.
It was probably more successful than Kawashima himself dreamed.
According to the available literature, the girl now known as Yoshiko was subject to a number of psychological and physical manipulations throughout her teenage years.
Among the other things, she was repeatedly raped – by her adoptive grandfather, among others – and was finally taken as a lover by her adoptive father.
Then she was let loose in the Meiji Tokyo artist set – where she was free to indulge in whatever “pastime” she preferred.
She was almost certainly a member – or a friendly supporter – of the Black Dragon Society, a Japanese extreme right wing secret group and terrorist organization – and on behalf of the Black Dragons in 1927, when she was 20, her father/lover had her marry a Mongolian general. She spied on him, had a child by him, and divorced him two years later, moving to Shanghai first, and to Tientsin later.
She became a regular of the nightclubs – where she often was seen with her lovers, wearing male attire.
In Shanghai she became the lover of one of the field men of the Japanese secret services – a guy called Tanaka.
She was then introduced at court, and became friends with Pu Yi, the Last Emperor.
She also became the lover of Pu Yi’s wife, and her controller on behalf of the Japanese secret services.
When Japan took the Manchukuo and this resulted in war with China, Yoshiko Kawashima donned a General’s uniform, put together a rabble of bandits and cutthroats and became Japan’s official guerilla huntress.
The Chinese of course hated her, and dubbed her The Human Devil, but the Japanese forces in Manchuria were not so hot either – Kawashima was a loose cannon.
She was tolerated for propaganda purposes but she was de facto an independent warlord or bandit chieftain – she had her private army of a few thousand mens sworn to serve her, and used to take money from Chinese merchants to let then ply their trade.
While the Japanese propaganda machine presented her as the Joan of Ark of the war against the Chinese, Yoshiko was still a fixture of the Tientsin night scene – where she was notorious for her drugs and alcohol abuse, for her promiscuity, for her Cossack bodyguards and for the habit of taking her son along to nightclubs and dance halls. The child had been instructed to call her “father”.
Her latest lover was Riyoichi Sasakawa, again an adventurer and a spy, and a future war criminal1. According to Sasakawa, Yoshiko was an opium fiend and a nymphomaniac, the sort that would usually take at least a dozen lovers – both men and women – to her bed every night.
Then, in 1945, the curtain dropped – Kawashima tried to escape from China, but was captured, imprisoned, tried, and in 1947 killed with a single shot to the head – she was after all a princess, and the firing squad would have been impolite.
Her legend proved to be harder to kill than her body – and a lot of people believed she had somehow escaped the death sentence, carrying on her lecherous, scandalous adventures up to the year 2006.
But it’s just that – a legend.
Yoshiko Kawashima was the subject of a number of movies – one shot in 1957 and one in 1990 – and of course appears in the movie The Last Emperor.
But I actually discovered Yoshiko Kawashima in the final phases of my research for my novel, The Ministry of Thunder, but I was not able to use her as a character in that book.
She does appear in my short story Cynical Little Angels, and is likely to cross paths with Felice Sabatini sometimes soon, il 2016.