Aisin Gioro Xianyu, 爱新觉罗.显玙, was born a princess of senior Manchu nobility and member of the ruling Aisin Gioro clan of the Qing dynasty that controlled China from 1644 to 1912.
She was born on 24 May 1907 and when she was 5 years old, the Qing dynasty was overthrown. Three years later, she was adopted by a Japanese couple and given her Japanese name Yoshiko Kawashima, 川島芳子 while her Chinese name was Jin Bi Hui, 金壁辉.
In 1927, aged 20, she was married to a Mongolian prince but divorced two years later. She went on to become a Japanese agent, sometimes appearing as a sophisticated lady while on other occasions, dressed in man’s clothes.
Before the start of Sino Japanese War in 1937, China and Japan fought an unofficial war with neither side officially declaring war. As a Japanese agent, Kawashima collected information for the Japanese and was instrumental in engineering a series of incidents that created excuses for the Japanese army to attack China and to set up a series of puppet states.
One of these puppet states was Manchukuo, 满洲国, established in 1932 and headed by Puyi, the last emperor of China. In 1934, Puyi became the Emperor Kangde of Manchukuo Empire, 大满洲帝国.
Kawashima served as an army commander in Manchukuo and harbored dreams of restoring the Qing dynasty. During this time, she was often seen dressed in military uniform.
However, her dream of Qing restoration and attempts to build her own army were thwarted by the Japanese who saw Manchukuo as their puppet state and not a restoration of the fallen Qing dynasty. Kawashima also became critical of Japanese policies in Manchuria and China incurring the wrath of her Japanese masters.
When the Japanese surrendered in 1945 and ended the World War Two, Manchokuo also collapsed. Two weeks later, Kawashima was arrested by the Nationalist Government.
Kawashima appeared in court as Jin Bi Hui charged with treason and handed the death sentence in 1947. Her execution was carried out on the morning of 25 March 1948 and she died as an executed war criminal. Her body was collected by a Japanese monk for cremation and her remains were sent to her Japanese adoptive family and later deposited in a monastery (正鱗寺)in Matsumoto, 松本市, Nagano Prefecture, Japan
Despite release of the execution photos, there were persistent rumors that she escaped. In 2006, a Chinese women offered evidence that Jin Bi Hui escaped the execution and lived in Changchun as Aunt Fang, 方姥, till her death in 1978.
Hero or Traitor? Victim or defeated?
Jin Bi Hui’s ambition to restore the Qing dynasty was no different from the desires of Chinese war lords at the time who hoped to establish their own centers of power. However, her close co operation with the Japanese and their brutality hardly justify her ambition.
On the other hand, she can be argued to be making the best of a bad situation. Puyi was under the illusion that the Japanese was assisting him to restore the Qing dynasty and discovered otherwise after he arrived in Manchuria. That might explained Jin Bi Hui’s criticism of Japanese policy in Manchukuo and during the Sino Japanese war.
In life and in death, Aisin Gioro Xianyu, Yoshiko Kawashima, or Jin Bi Hui continues to be controversial. The Nationalist Government condemned her as a Demon of the East while some in Japan see her as a hero who helped push Japanese ambition in Asia.
Was Aisin Gioro Xianyu, Yoshiko Kawashima, or Jin Bi Hui a victim of global politics or did she pay for the price of her political gamble? We let you decide.