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Fragrant Orchid

Fragrant Orchid: The Story of My Early Life

Yamaguchi Yoshiko
Fujiwara Sakuya
Translated, with an Introduction, by Chia-ning Chang
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 416
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    Fragrant Orchid
    Book Description:

    The acclaimed actress and legendary singer, Yamaguchi Yoshiko (aka Li Xianglan, 1920- 2014), emerged from Japan- occupied Manchuria to become a transnational star during the Second Sino-Japanese war. Born to Japanese parents, raised in Manchuria, and educated in Beijing, the young Yamaguchi learned to speak impeccable Mandarin Chinese and received professional training in operatic singing. When recruited by the Manchurian Film Association in 1939 to act in "national policy" films in the service of Japanese imperialism in China, she allowed herself to be presented as a Chinese, effectively masking her Japanese identity in both her professional and private lives. Yamaguchi soon became an unprecedented transnational phenomenon in Manchuria, Shanghai, and Japan itself as the glamorous female lead in such well-known films asSong of the White Orchid(1939),China Nights(1940),Pledge in the Desert(1940), andGlory to Eternity(1943). Her signature songs, including "When Will You Return?" and "The Evening Primrose," swept East Asia in the waning years of the war and remained popular well into the postwar decades.

    Ironically, although her celebrated international stardom was without parallel in wartime East Asia, she remained a puppet within a puppet state, choreographed at every turn by Japanese film studios in accordance with the expediencies of Japan's continental policy. In a dramatic turn of events after Japan's defeat, she was placed under house arrest in Shanghai by the Chinese Nationalist forces and barely escaped execution as a traitor to China. Her complex and intriguing life story as a convenient pawn, willing instrument, and tormented victim of Japan's imperialist ideology is told in her bestselling autobiography, translated here in full for the first time in English. An addendum reveals her postwar career in Hollywood and Broadway in the 1950s, her friendship with Charlie Chaplin, her first marriage to Isamu Noguchi, and her postwar life as singer, actress, political figure, television celebrity, and private citizen.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-5404-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Notes on Translation
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Chronology
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  5. Introduction Yamaguchi Yoshiko in Wartime East Asia: Transnational Stardom and Its Predicaments
    (pp. xvii-lii)

    It is at once intriguing and sobering to observe that the extraordinary war time career of the Japanese singer and actress Yamaguchi Yoshiko (1920–2014), popularly known by her Chinese stage name, Li Xianglan, or Ri Kōran in Japanese,¹ has generated as much heartfelt admiration as enduring controversies in East Asia during and long after the war years. Her contemporary Chinese and Japanese audiences could surely recall the exotic mystique she radiated in her stylishqipaoas she performed signature songs such as “When Will You Return?” (He’ri jun zai lai), “The Suzhou Serenade” (Soshu yakyoku), and “ The Evening...

  6. CHAPTER 1 My Fushun Years
    (pp. 1-14)

    My memories of the Chinese continent begin with Fushun.

    Known for its extensive open-pit operations, Fushun was a coal-mining town run by the South Manchurian Railway Company. The image that floats before my eyes is one of steep green precipices in the distance spiraling downward into the valley depths like tiers of gyrating stairways. And then there were the dark, glossy layers of coal, the procession of freight trains, the sound of their whistles reverberating into the distance, the wobbly haze of factory smoke rising into the distant sky, and the red sun descending into the expanse of the mountain...

  7. CHAPTER2 My Fengtian Years
    (pp. 15-31)

    For me, born and raised in the coal-mining town of Fushun, Fengtian was the very metropolis I had dreamed about. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that this was not my sentiment alone, but one shared at the time by all those who lived in Manchuria, where Fengtian was both the biggest city and its political, economic, and cultural center. Needless to say, even today, Shenyang is the largest commercial and industrial city in Northeast China (Dongbei); with a population of 5.3 million, it is also the fourth largest city in China after Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjin.¹...

  8. CHAPTER 3 My Beijing Years
    (pp. 32-48)

    With the end of my recuperation at home came the muchawaited spring of my departure to Beijing where I would continue with my studies. While Father did invoke the saying “It’s better to send off one’s darling child on a journey to learn about the real world,” it was after all my first long journey away from home, to say nothing of my traveling to an unfamiliar destination. I had naturally assumed that Father would accompany me, only to discover that he had to depart for Beijing earlier due to business, leaving me to be the lone traveler.

    Fengtian was...

  9. CHAPTER 4 The Tianjin Encounters
    (pp. 49-64)

    Three years of studies in Beijing went by quickly, and “Pan Shuhua,” as I was known, had turned into someone completely indistinguishable from a Chinese girl. Except for the days when I returned to Fengtian to visit my parents, I had almost no contact with other Japanese. At the time, after his appointment as the mayor of Tianjin, my foster father Pan Yugui had already gone to take up his assignment there.

    One day, as Xiaodi, the youn gest son of the Pan family, was cheerfully practicing the flower drums folk dance (Da-huagu) in the inner courtyard, Yinghua ran to...

  10. CHAPTER 5 The Birth of Li Xianglan
    (pp. 65-80)

    It was June 1985 when I visited Yamanashi at his home in Tokyo’s Ogikubo area for the first time in a long while. He showed me a Man’ei album as we reminisced about the past. He remembered very well the circumstances at the time he scouted me. An important figure in the Japanese film industry, Yamanashi first worked for PCL (the predecessor to Tōhō) and then for Tōhō before going to Man’ei. After the war ended, he served as Executive Director of New Tōhō and President of Tōei CM.¹

    During that 1985 visit, he recalled more details about the time...

  11. CHAPTER 6 My Xinjing Years
    (pp. 81-97)

    When I was chosen along with Meng Hong as a delegate to an exposition in Japan to commemorate the founding of Manchukuo (Manshu Kenkoku Hakurankai), I was absolutely beside myself with jubilation. As actresses representing Man’ei, our role was to promote the cause of Japanese-Manchurian friendship. Off to Japan, a country I had been dreaming about! While my homeland was still an unknown entity to me, I had long thought of it as a nation of high refinement and advanced culture.

    Led by Kondo Iyokichi of the Actors’ Training Center and Yamanashi Minoru, we went from Xinjing to Pusan on...

  12. CHAPTER 7 The Days of “The Suzhou Serenade”
    (pp. 98-112)

    With its appetite whetted aft er the big commercial success ofSong of the White Orchid, Tōhō went on to makeChina Nights (Shina no yoruwith sequel, directed by Fushimizu Osamu, June 1940), followed byPledge in the Desert (Nessa no chikaiwith sequel, directed by Watanabe Kunio, December 1940). In spare moments between the films, I also made an appearance inThe Monkey’s Journey to the West (Songokuwith sequel, November 1940, starring Enomoto Ken’ichi).¹ My involvement in those films kept me away from Man’ei at the time.

    Shanghai was the setting forChina Nightsin which I...

  13. CHAPTER 8 The Nichigeki Incident
    (pp. 113-130)

    Apparently in the last several years, the film industry and literary circles in China have shown a revived interest in Puyi (1906–1967), the Emperor of the “illegitimate” Manchurian Empire, thereby giving rise to a sort of Puyi boom. The defunct ruler of China’s last Imperial dynasty, the man later carried off on a pedestal by the Japanese military to be crowned as Manchukuo’s Emperor, led a stormy life. His autobiography,The Early Part of My Life (Wode qian ban sheng) was published in 1964 and attracted worldwide attention. The translated version in Japanese, entitledWaga hansei, was published in...

  14. CHAPTER 9 The Spring of My Youth
    (pp. 131-147)

    The Nichigeki Incident, involving some one hundred thousand hustling fans, has apparently been analyzed from various angles based on social psychology, the contemporary history of Japanese society, and the like. Learned experts have pointed out the following:

    A. After the birth of the “Manchurian Empire,” the government’s continental policy makers promoted a successful propaganda campaign to encourage, above all, Japanese immigration to Manchuria and Mongolia by romanticizing the allure of the unknown wilderness.

    B. Under the critical condition of imminent war between Japan and the United States, stringent controls had been placed on public entertainment, beginning with the dance halls....

  15. CHAPTER 10 The Two Yoshikos
    (pp. 148-168)

    Although arrangements for my exclusive affiliation with Man’ei remained unchanged after 1941, the films in which I appeared from then on were almost all Japanese; indoor shooting at Man’ei’s Xinjing studio was becoming extremely rare. After I finished the first stage of my location shootings and troop visits, I was often able to return to my parents’ home in Beijing instead of staying in Xinjing where Man’ei’s headquarters was located.

    Since Yamaga Tōru was still with the Press Division of Beijing’s North China Area Army, he often came to visit my family. But he was no longer the same “knight...

  16. CHAPTER 11 Two Phantom Films: Yellow River and My Nightingale
    (pp. 169-185)

    In the summer of 1942, the train carrying our film crew was on its long southward journey from Beijing to Kaifeng in Henan Province. An ancient walled city situated to the west of Xuzhou, Kaifeng prospered along the Yellow River.¹ Our location shooting for a semi-documentary filmThe Yellow River (Huang’he) was to take place in the city’s suburbs in the war zone of Liuyuan’kou on the river bank.

    Until then, the films in which I had appeared were all sweet love romances heavily marketing the allure of the Chinese continent, and I was beginning to feel guilty about how...

  17. CHAPTER 12 Glory to Eternity
    (pp. 186-203)

    It is impossible to speak about the early half of my life without mentioning Kawakita Nagamasa, the now deceased president of Tōhō Tōwa Film Company, Ltd. For Kawakita’s relationship with Chinese films, I refer readers to such specialized publications as Satō Tadao’sCinema and Cannon Fire (Kinema to hosei, 1985) and Shimizu Akira’s “Zhonghua Dianying [China Film Company] and Kawakita Nagamasa” (“Chuka Den’ei to Kawakita Nagamasa,” 1986).¹ Kawakita established the China Film Company in Shanghai in 1939 around the time I was working onSong of the White Orchid, Man’ei’s joint venture with Tōhō.

    At the time, led by Director...

  18. CHAPTER 13 Rhapsody of “The Evening Primrose”
    (pp. 204-222)

    As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in Fushun and Fengtian in Manchuria before continuing my studies in the old Chinese capital of Beijing. After I became a Man’ei actress, my work was based in Xinjing, where its main office and studio were situated. During that time, my family moved from Fengtian to Beijing, and the last place of my residence in China was Shanghai.

    Shanghai—how might one succinctly describe the largest metropolis in China and one of the largest in the world? One could come up with such labels as “international city,” “modern metropolis,” “a city without nationality,”...

  19. CHAPTER 14 Shanghai, 1945
    (pp. 223-238)

    In the summer of 1945, languid days and depressing spirits lingered on under the persistent heat typical of Shanghai at the time. In Japan, most of the major cities had suffered air raids by the Americans, and the day was quickly approaching when there would be a final showdown on the Japanese mainland—that was what the rumors flitting around town were saying.

    Listening as always to shortwave broadcasts on world news in several languages, Noguchi Hisamitsu one day muttered, “Well, it’ll be just a matter of time.” Kawakita Nagamasa was then at work in Beijing. Anticipating an American landing...

  20. CHAPTER 15 Farewell, Li Xianglan
    (pp. 239-256)

    Deeply depressed, I awaited what was reported to be the day for my execution before a firing squad. Until then, just as before, all sorts of groundless rumors had been sprouting wildly, and this time, I thought the newspaper’s report was again totally without foundation. Yet the winter atmosphere in Shanghai was pregnant with perilous tension. It was possible, after all, that the Bureau of Military Administration had secretly made the decision that I be punished by death, one that the newspaper reporter had sniffed out and published as his scoop.

    During the roughly three weeks before my expected demise,...

  21. Addendum: The Post–Li Xianglan Years
    (pp. 257-286)

    Quite unexpectedly, I was bedridden for a long time during the summer of 1986. Perhaps fatigue accumulating over the years had invited a virus attack, triggering an onset of shingles. After a two-and-a-half-month hospitalization and a nine-month recuperation at home, I felt perfectly fine. That said, it was the first time I had been so immobilized for such a long period.

    As the pain abated a little, I began to revise the manuscript, which had more or less been completed up to the time of Japan’s defeat in World War II. Meanwhile, I reminisced about my experiences in my post–...

  22. Postscript
    (pp. 287-288)
    Yamaguchi Yoshiko

    Up to this time, there have been various writings on “Li Xianglan” presenting her positively or negatively. I have allowed most of them to go uncontested. The reason that I had consistently declined a number of invitations to have my autobiography published was that my early life didn’t strike me as having the kind of experience truly worthy of self-narration. People say that I had a tumultuous past, but I must confess that during that time, I was preoccupied with just playing my given roles under given circumstances.

    That I decided to publish my autobiography at this time was the...

  23. Postscript
    (pp. 289-292)
    Fujiwara Sakuya

    When Ms. Yamaguchi Yoshiko consulted me on the writing of her biography, I recalled the words of the writer Kojima Naoki, “One mustn’t trust either autobiographies or biographies.” Those are truly words of wisdom that address the shortfalls of the two genres, the former for its common failure to objectify the self, and the latter for its habitual inattention to aspects of the self’s interiority.

    While mindful of such words, Ms. Yamaguchi and I began to contemplate if there was an effective way to synthesize an autobiography by Li Xianglan, on the one hand, and her biography by Fujiwara Sakuya,...

  24. Notes
    (pp. 293-342)
  25. Filmography
    (pp. 343-344)
  26. Index
    (pp. 345-358)
  27. About the Translator
    (pp. 359-363)
  28. Back Matter
    (pp. 364-365)