For those readers wishing to explore further the fascinating life of Yoshiko Yamaguchi - Li Xianglan and the historic times she survived through.
This will be a work in progress so please bear with the unorganized format - my intent is to post first and then organize and comment later (ie, in other words I'm lazy :)
[if some words are 'whited out' you can highlight the text with your mouse]
(a somewhat misleading name for a major scholarly review of Chinese History in the 1900 - 1950 period). The full text of this valuable book is available on line here.
Preferred Citation: Yeh, Wen-hsin, editor. Becoming Chinese: Passages to Modernity and Beyond. Berkeley: University of California Press, c2000 2000. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/kt5j49q621/
John Gunther's Inside Asia (written in 1939) is an excellent source of candid impressions and accurate opinions about China and Japan, including Manchuria (of course from a westerner's perspective).
Japanese War Brides: here's a concise university study of the JWB phenomenon.
King Vidor's Japanese War Bride (1952, starring Yamaguchi Yoshiko) is the best Hollywood film on the subject. Other notable films with an inter-racial motif were Three Stripes in the Sun (1955), Sayonara (1957), and The Mountain Road (1960).
This next work is not about Yoshiko Yamaguchi, although Yoshiko's memoirs are cited by the author. The "two Yoshiko's" are often confused with one-another, unfortunately.
In April 2015, the below book was published. It contains many rare photos and interesting details about Kawashima Yoshiko's short life.
Here's a good basic summary of Yamaguchi's life story, with a great list of her movies: wikipedia article on Yamaguchian amazing Japanese silent film: a historic record of the Lytton Commission's visit to Manchuria in 1932 to investigate the circumstances of the "bombing on the SMR railroad tracks" termed the Manchurian Incident: Silent film of Lytton Commission in Manchuria.
an interesting link which addresses the history of Japan's (and Russian, Chinese) interests in Manchuria going back to 1891 or so: Solving_the_Manchurian_Problem
for those wishing to know more about the history of Fushun and the SMR (South Manchuria Railway) company: I found this link when I came across a book called "Company Towns" which had a whole chapter on the Fushun area by Limin Teh. Google books has many pages of this chapter up on the net. Here is the above referenced doc: LiminTeh.pdf
the Japanese positive view of Manchuria in 1933, in a pdf book form:
Manchuria - 3 Cities by K. Adachi: 3cities.pdf
Changchun was the "New Capitol" of Manchuria: in this video you see the actual construction techniques used to build the massive government buildings (and you hear some interesting Japanese jazz, 1930's style): Changchun "Founding Spring" [Documentary] Manchukuo period: Changchun Founding Spring
but that's not all, you also get to see "the good life" in Manchuria. Here is another interesting 1937 video called "The Newborn Empire" youtube.com/watch
(this video also has an excellent summary of Manchuria's history.)
(is Manchuria getting popular or what?) here's an entertaining new travel book published in 2015 by Michael Meyer called "In Manchuria": In-Manchuria-Village-Wasteland
(despite a good general summary of Manchurian history from ancient to modern times, there is inexplicably no mention made of one of Manchuria's most famous people: our Yoshiko Yamaguchi.)
An excellent summary of Ri Koran's China movies is contained in this scholar's book about Japanese film called The Imperial Screen by Peter B. High.
Here is Pan-Asianism and Japan’s War 1931–1945 (in pdf form) by scholar Eri Hotta (wife of Ian Buruma, author of The China Lover). Her writing on Yamaguchi is interesting, straightforward and deserves to be quoted:
"The first woman of note is the Manchurian-born Japanese actress Yamaguchi Yoshiko (1920–), who appeared in propaganda films produced by the Mantetsu-run Manchurian Film Association (Man’ei) under her Chinese name Li Xianglan (pronounced Ri Ko- ran in Japanese). Born to a father who taught Chinese to Mantetsu staff and having studied as a Chinese under the guardianship of her Chinese godfather in Beijing, Yamaguchi grew up to be thoroughly bilingual and bicultural. With what many Japanese at the time considered to be striking and exotic looks and with her voice rigorously trained from a young age by a Russian-Italian émigré opera singer, she became hugely popular in Japan in the late 1930s Manchukuo and the Dream of Pan-Asia 131 pal-hotta-04 10/23/07 4:49 PM Page 131 as a pro-Japanese Chinese actress. Curiously, Yamaguchi’s feigning of Chinese identity was done in the exact mirror image of her namesake and the legendary spy Kawashima Yoshiko (1907–48), better known as “the beauty in man’s clothes” as she preferred to wear the Kwantung Army military uniform, who was in reality a Japanese-educated Aisin Gioro princess, a Manchurian royal.
Yamaguchi’s postwar career was just as dramatic as her wartime role as Manchukuo’s top film star. The numerous twists and turns of her extraordinarily turbulent and public life are difficult to convey in this space. Having barely escaped execution by the Kuomintang Army as a Chinese spy at the end of the war, she recommenced her singing and acting career in Japan and even in Hollywood. In the United States, she found a soulmate in another cross-cultural product who suffered as a result of Japan’s war—the half-Japanese, half-American sculptor and son of the poet Noguchi Yonejiro- , Isamu Noguchi, to whom she was married for a few years. Later, in her more overtly political incarnation, she served as a television talk-show hostess in Japan. In that capacity, she reported from Vietnam and the Middle East, adopting the Palestinian cause somewhere on the way, and eventually served as the member of the Upper House of the Japanese Diet from 1974 until her semi-retirement in 1992.
Throughout the Manchukuo phase of her career, Yamaguchi’s Japanese identity was not revealed even to her colleagues at the film studio, which was led, from 1939, by the notorious Military Police Captain Amakasu Masahiko (1891–1945), the alleged instigator of the 1923 assassination of the anarchist _ Osugi Sakae and his associates. Her Chinese colleagues suspected that something was different with her because the Japanese treated her as one of their own, allowing her to live in a hotel room rather than in a communal dormitory, being served white rice as opposed to inferior sorghum, and being paid more than her Chinese colleagues (ten times more), leading them to conclude that she must be at least half-Japanese.50 Even though both her parents were Japanese, reconciling with such a state of in-between-ness became her lifelong challenge, in real life as well as on film. On her first trip ever to Japan, upon entering her “home” country at the Port of Shimonoseki in 1941, an immigration officer rebuked her for acting like a Chinese, speaking Chinese, and wearing a Chinese dress despite carrying a Japanese passport. He said “Don’t you know that we Japanese are a superior people? Aren’t you ashamed of wearing thirdrate Chink clothes and speaking their language as you do?”51
Yamaguchi was caught by a similar dilemma on-screen as well. In the film The Chinese Nights (Shina no Yoru), which was a huge hit in Japan but 132 Pan-Asianism and Japan’s War 1931-1945 pal-hotta-04 10/23/07 4:49 PM Page 132 flopped in Manchukuo, she played a Chinese who was saved by a Japanese sailor. Her character has lost her parents amid a struggle against the Japanese, and for that reason, she abhors any Japanese, even though the sailor saved her from destitution. She stubbornly rejects the sailor. Though sympathetic to her plight in the beginning, the sailor finally loses his cool and admonishes her by slapping her face, telling her to snap out of it. Somehow touched by his display of attention on her, she falls in love with him, repenting her earlier recalcitrance and rejection of Japanese commitment to putting her and her compatriots on the right path.
The film’s plot infuriated the Chinese audience. Yamaguchi herself, in her 1987 recollection, attributed the severe Chinese reaction to cultural differences. The finer nuances of affection, such as in the case of parents disciplining children, or of military superiors slapping lower-ranking soldiers as a rite of passage, were completely lost in translation. From the Chinese perspective, it simply told a story of a Chinese woman being slapped by a barbaric Japanese. And as if that were not enough, the Chinese woman fell in love with the man who slapped her, making this film an exercise in “dual humiliation.”52 As such, Yamaguchi’s part in this film led to the Kuomintang indictment of her as a Chinese traitor, from which she narrowly escaped by proving her genuine Japanese identity.
Various contradictions and ambivalence in Yamaguchi’s life as the star of Manchuria mirrored Japan’s artificial and narcissistic effort in the making of Manchukuo’s identity. The idea that Japanese were the superior nation leading other Asian nations in the construction of a Pan-Asian state, in an area where chaos, corruption, and disorder had earlier prevailed, provided higher moral grounds for many Japanese involved, starting from very young children to well-educated adults. For example, a female sixth-grader in a Japanese primary school in Jiamusi in the Jilin province in 1940 noted in a school essay, with a mixture of affection and condescension:
[Manchu women] love wearing bright clothes, and they have a taste for lavishness. Our former babysitter powdered her face, and moreover, wore lipstick, and didn’t bother to go to school, loafing around all day and somehow amusing herself. . . . The other day, on the way to the photographer’s studio, I bumped into her on the street. As I was wearing a beautiful dress [especially for that occasion], she noticed it and walked towards me while munching peanuts. As she touched my dress, I could not help but notice that her finger nails had been painted bright red. Sensing that I had noticed them, she quickly recoiled and hid her hands. . . . But the Manchus, I must say, are an artless and lovable people indeed.53
The idée fixe communicated in this little composition that a Japanese girl of eleven or twelve could think of herself as a more prudent and virtuous disciplinarian is illuminating. The air of superiority and pride, mixed with a not insincere fondness and concern for her older Chinese or “Manchurian” babysitter is something that was directly translatable to the top diplomat Saito- Hiroshi’s reading of the Manchukuo situation. In a speech given at the American Academy of Political and Social Science in November 1934, he summarized his impressions of his recent two-week visit to Manchukuo and North China. He was “agreeably surprised to find that the situation there was very much better than I could have imagined in distant parts of the world.”54 This was so largely because of Japan’s modernizing efforts that would “[i]n a few years’ time” transform the Manchukuo capital into “a model city of the Far East, even excelling Tokyo and Osaka in many respects.”55
For genuinely trans-cultural agents whose lives were molded by Manchukuo’s multinational platform, things were not as rosy as Saito- ’s depictions would have us believe. Another extraordinary woman rivaling Yamaguchi in her thoroughgoing involvement with the making of Manchukuo was Saga Hiro (1914–87), a daughter of a Japanese marquis who married Aisin Gioro Pu Chieh (1907–94), a younger brother of the Last Emperor Pu Yi. Though it was orchestrated by the Kwantung Army and was consummated at the worst possible time—only three months before the outbreak of the China War—their union proved to be a lasting and successful meeting of minds that endured many an obstacle, starting from Pu Yi’s lifelong suspicions of Hiro as a Japanese spy, the Kwantung Army’s constant meddling and pressures on her to produce a male heir (which she never did), Hiro’s postwar transcontinental escapes, Pu Chieh’s imprisonment by the Communists, the murder of one of their two daughters, the sixteen-year separation that was ended only by Chou Enlai’s diplomatic dexterity in 1961, and finally, attacks on them by the Red Guards during the Great Cultural Revolution. In their respective memoirs, both the wife and the husband claim love at first sight, and in her action and words, Hiro gave her utmost to become a member of the Manchu dynasty.56"
Like the 1920 marriage between Princess Nashimotonomiya Masako (1901–89), also known by her Korean name Lee Bang-ja, and the so-called Korean Last Emperor Lee Eun (1897–1970), this marriage between a Japanese aristocrat and the Manchukuoan Emperor’s brother was claimed to signify genuine Japanese commitment to Pan-Asianism.57 The earlier Korean-Japanese imperial marriage was portrayed as the ultimate symbol of uniformity of Korean and Japanese peoples, encapsulated in the catchphrases naisen ittai and nissen yu- wa, both suggesting complete assimilation of Korea into Japanese sphere of influence. The Manchukuo-Japanese union, however, had a less blatant claim of assimilation and uniformity, most likely in order to accommodate the multinational Pan-Asianist claims of Manchukuo.
Unlike Nashimotonomiya Masako, who was after all a top bridal candidate for Emperor Hirohito himself and was a full-fledged member of Japan’s imperial family before and after the marriage (precisely because the Japanese made the point of regarding Lee as one of their own also), Saga Hiro was related to, but never a member of the Japanese imperial family, making her more vulnerable to abuses by the Kwantung Army. In Hiro’s memoirs, Lieutenant-General Yoshioka, one of Yamaguchi Yoshiko’s primary supporters, is portrayed as a callous, despicable, and opportunistic officer who could not give a damn “to a lesser being who was married to Manchukuo’s imperial brother,” because “despite the ‘harmony of the five races’ slogan, Japanese were first-class citizens, and among them, the Kwantung Army had the absolute authority over others. If you are not in the Kwantung Army, one did not exist in their eyes.”58 Again unlike Masako, who produced two male heirs (the elder of whom was allegedly assassinated by opponents within the Korean imperial court as an infant), Hiro only produced two daughters to the great dismay of Yoshioka, who had presumably aspired to interlock Japanese interests in Manchukuo by creating a half-Japanese Manchukuoan emperor.
Young, romantic, and idealistic, Hiro in her first year of her life in Manchukuo was hopeful about the role she could play in building a bridge between Manchukuo and Japan. But she was forced to reassess her views shortly after the birth of their first daughter. By regularly strolling with the baby in the park in Manchukuo’s capital city, she gradually made friends with local children, who became her reliable source of information about what ordinary life was like. Uninhibited, the children would tell her how life had suddenly changed for the worse after the Japanese arrival. In listening to various specific episodes ranging from how the price of eggs have gone up ten-fold, to how Japanese police officers and soldiers refused to pay bills at Chinese-run restaurants, she was “shattered, as all those stories were beyond my wildest imagination. And as I began to learn the realities of Manchukuo, I feared for the future of ‘harmony of the five races.’”59
What makes a study of Japan’s Pan-Asianism in Manchukuo so complex are the contradictory aspirations that shaped it. In the end, generalizations about Japanese selfishness and Japanese self-sacrifice in Manchukuo were equally true. The country’s selfishness was made abundantly clear, not only in its “simple” nationalistic desires to secure material gains from its imperial holdings, but also in its “simplistic” assumptions that its leadership would benefit those whom it aspired to lead. At the same time, Japan’s Pan-Asianist ambitions embraced certain elements of self-sacrifice as well. To be sure, the largely unilateral and uninvited character of Japan’s self-sacrifice, especially in light of its horrific consequences in terms of local human lives and livelihood, makes it hard to appreciate such a claim. Nonetheless, sustaining a leadership position involved an enormous dedication of its resources to projects that were not of direct relevance to the changing and pressing situations of war. And in that qualified sense alone, the use of the term “self-sacrifice” makes sense.
From a Japan-centric perspective of “world history,” Manchukuo from the outset represented an overdetermined cultural mission of sorts. Japan’s determination to influence, if not totally to recompose, the educational, intellectual, and cultural landscape of Manchuria was reflected by Manchukuo’s hypercultivated urban planning and educational institutions. However ineffective and even counterproductive these programs proved to be in reality, the fact remains that many Japanese saw reforming implications in what they were doing. They were dedicated to the cultural aspects, at the very least, of Japan’s wartime expansion, carried out under the most comprehensive banner of Asian awakening. Why else would the Japanese have bothered to talk of grand ideals and engage in rigorous programs of “re-education” at all, especially at a time when they were involved in a costly and bloody war?
Hence the case of Manchukuo escapes the readily available categories offered in the study of imperialism and empires. The ideological zeal with which Japan’s kenkoku efforts were carried out also created many practical uncertainties about how best to realize those proclaimed Pan-Asianist ideals. A conceptual realignment of Louise Young’s “total empire” thesis is thus called for: Manchukuo was the type of empire that was total, not so much in its broad-based mobilization, as in its Pan-Asianist delusions, making it a type of pan-nationalist imperialism exercised by a revisionist power with an ambition for leading a new world order and playing a world role.
Such a total delusion, nevertheless, is not at all unique in modern history.60 A compelling analogue to Manchukuo can be found in the Soviet Union of the Cold War era, for example. The Soviet satellite states created in Eastern Europe after World War II can be seen as an extension of the idea of pre-Soviet Pan-Slavism, as a variant expression that closely overlapped more exclusive and narrow Russian nationalism. Like Japan’s PanAsianism of the Meishuron strand, Soviet expansion in the region was a crusading force that claimed to oust the old-style imperialism. Unhappily for both Japanese and Soviet reformers, not to mention the people under their subjugation, such imposition of social and political orders proved, in effect, a regurgitated form of imperialism. Indeed, this may have taken on an even more oppressive form than traditional imperialism and thus proved utterly incapable of attracting the broad-based support from those who were supposedly being liberated. The lack of appeal to other Asians notwithstanding, Manchukuo became a linchpin, or in the widely invoked metaphor of the time, the “cornerstone” of Japan’s Pan-Asianist struggle for many Japanese.
an interesting research paper titled New views of Japanese Colonialism 1931 - 1945
by author Sandra Wilson:
"Recent writing in English shows a range of new approaches to and interpretations of Japanese colonialism between 1931 and 1945. Earlier bodies of work tended to focus on the aims, strategies and structures of Japanese rule throughout the empire, especially the formal empire. Newer studies have not abandoned these concerns, especially in relation to geographical areas, notably Manchuria, that have only just begun to emerge or re-emerge in English-language writing on Japanese colonial practice. At the same time, however, there is now much greater recognition among historians of Japan that the colonial relationship is shaped by the colonised as well as the colonisers; that life in the metropolis itself is affected deeply by its colonies; and that mainstream studies of modern Japanese history should include Japan's formal and informal colonies as a matter of course. In this essay I identify three major trends in works that have appeared in the last five years or so: a spurt of interest in Manchuria and other areas of northern China, a reconsideration of the major stages of empire, and an expanded understanding of what constituted colonialism and who participated in it."
a good article by Craig Watts titled "Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji: Uchida Tomu’s Conflicted Comeback from Manchuria (1955)" with many items of interest : Blood Spear, Mt. Fuji
This link leads to a downloadable pdf document called:
"The Shape-Shifting Diva: Yamaguchi Yoshiko and the National Body"
below link leads to a downloadable pdf document: it contains one of the best descriptions of Li Xianglan's different ethnic roles in her movies during the 1939-1942 period.
The “Ethnic Harmony” of the Manchuria Motion Picture Corporation, 1937–1945
or small link to huge link
This link leads to Yamaguchi's informative 2004 interview:
Looking Back on My Days as Ri Koran Li Xianglan
This link leads to the Asian Women's Fund (AWF) site:
A Discussion with Yoshiko Otaka, Vice-President of the Asian Women’s Fund
the digital museum of AWF:
This link leads to a news article:
an Asahi Shimbun Editorial: Remembering the integrity that became the hallmark of Yamaguchi's life: Asahi Editorial
A proposed movie project about Yamaguchi Yoshiko: you may need to follow several links to get the document: Proposed Movie Project
a massive collection of historical maps of China: http://www.edmaps.com/html/china.html
This beautiful Japanese site is dedicated to Li Xianglan:
it has movie posters and pictures/information regarding the various plays about her life. In particular, you'll find some pictures of the last movie she made in 1958, Tokyo Holiday.
A link to a symposium group of articles titled "Collaboration in the History of Wartime East Asia" by Timothy Brook: http://www.japanfocus.org/-Timothy-Brook/2798/article.html
"This symposium on war and collaboration in East Asia and globally features contributions by Timothy Brook, Prasenjit Duara, Suk-Jung Han, Heonik Kwon, a response by Brook, and a further contribution in the form of a response by Margherita Zanasi. The authors examine war and collaboration in China, Korea, Vietnam, and Manchukuo, in history and memory and in comparative perspective."
Another turgid and jargon-filled essay, full of 'pan-asianism' this and 'transnational' that by Yiman Wang: Beware! Jargon Ahead
The 2008 film Lust - Caution depicts the 1940s Shanghai of Yamaguchi's time. I searched the film's backdrops for her image (her traces were everywhere), but I think they took care not to show any identifiable pictures of her (such as the ubiquitous film and music-stars pinned up on various walls in the movie). There is no doubt in my mind that Yoshiko's image and music could have been central to this movie, if the producers had any musical taste at all. As it is, the movie soundtrack in no way conveyed contemporary music of 1940's China and Japan, except for one delightful song performed so wonderfully by the star Chinese actress Tang Wei:
(Needle and Thread, or, the Wandering Songstress)
here's a fascinating look at the Shanghai milieu which Ang Lee re-created for his blockbuster film "Lust-Caution", set in 1942:
other people have noted the similarity between "China Nights" and "Lust-Caution":
For more basic information on "the Seven Great Singing Stars" see:
for 263 separate items (DVD's, music, films, etc) concerning Yamaguchi: Search - Rakuten
The Sorge Spy Ring:Did a forgotten Japanese spy/journalist named Hotsumi Ozaki turn the tide of World War II? Agnes Smedley, the American reporter makes an appearance in this highly informative piece of WW2 spy history:
The famous soviet spy named Richard Sorge, who recruited Ozaki, and may have saved the Soviets from the German onslaught in 1941:
about Yotoku Miyagi, another key figure in the Sorge spy ring:
an essay devoted to the 1950's Hong Kong mandopop scene:
to be continued.