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Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army

by Phyllis Birnbaum Columbia University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 272 pages
AU$54.99 NZ$58.25
Product Status: In Stock Now
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Aisin Gioro Xianyu (1907–1948) was the fourteenth daughter of a Manchu prince and a legendary figure in China's bloody struggle with Japan. After the fall of the Manchu dynasty in 1912, Xianyu's father gave his daughter to a Japanese friend who was sympathetic to his efforts to reclaim power. This man raised Xianyu, now known as Kawashima Yoshiko, to restore the Manchus to their former glory. Her fearsome dedication to this cause ultimately got her killed.


Yoshiko had a fiery personality and loved the limelight. She shocked Japanese society by dressing in men's clothes and rose to prominence as Commander Jin, touted in Japan's media as a new Joan of Arc. Boasting a short, handsome haircut and a genuine military uniform, Commander Jin was credited with many daring exploits, among them riding horseback as leader of her own army during the Japanese occupation of China.  


While trying to promote the Manchus, Yoshiko supported the puppet Manchu state established by the Japanese in 1932—one reason she was executed for treason after Japan's 1945 defeat. The truth of Yoshiko's life is still a source of contention between China and Japan: some believe she was exploited by powerful men, others claim she relished her role as political provocateur. China holds her responsible for unspeakable crimes, while Japan has forgiven her transgressions. This biography presents the richest and most accurate portrait to date of the controversial princess spy, recognizing her truly novel role in conflicts that transformed East Asia.

Main Characters
A Note on the Text
1. Born to Chaos
2. Little Sister
3. Royalty in Exile
4. Continental Adventurer
5. A New Life in Japan
6. Manchu Prince, Japanese Wife
7. School Days
8. The Beauty in Men's Clothing
9. Extreme Measures
10. Repercussions
11. On Her Own
12. Poisonous Devil's Brew
13. Advance Into Manchuria
14. An Emperor in Flux
15. The Reluctant Empress
16. Powerful Connections
17. Woman of Influence
18. A Growing Awareness
19. Commander Jin
20. Starting Over in Manchukuo
21. In the Bright Light
22. Wild Child
23. A Daughter Looks Back
24. China Nights
25. Emergency Help
26. An Old Love
27. Adrift in Fukuoka
28. Hopeful to the End
29. Narrow Escapes
30. Postwar Justice
31. Go with a Smile

A fascinating tale of a woman who played a prominent role in the muddled conflicts in East Asia before and during the Pacific War.... The writing here is clear and the research is superb.
Phyllis Birnbaum is a novelist, biographer, journalist, and translator. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her books include Modern Girls, Shining Stars, the Skies of Tokyo: Five Japanese Women and a biography, Glory in a Line: A Life of Foujita—the Artist Caught Between East and West. She recently edited an English translation of Clouds Above the Hill: A Historical Novel of the Russo-Japanese War. She lives outside of Boston.