Yoshiko Kawashima – Qing Dynasty Princess, Japanese spy, and female commander (Part two)

Yoshiko Kawashima
(public domain)

Princess Yoshiko Kawashima was one of China’s most enigmatic figures. She was a Qing Dynasty Princess, a Japanese spy, and a female commander. She has often been seen as a heroic figure or a traitor.[1] Despite her controversy, Princess Yoshiko Kawashima made a tremendous impact on Chinese history. In my last article, I discussed how Princess Yoshiko Kawashima played a role in restoring Emperor Puyi’s throne. In this article, I will discuss in detail her role as a spy and a female commander. I will also detail her tragic fate.

After she brought Empress Wanrong to Changchun, Princess Yoshiko Kawashima’s next mission was to create disturbances in Shanghai that would distract China from paying attention to the Japanese takeover of Manchuria.[2] In 1932, Princess Yoshiko Kawashima created a hate crime against the Japanese.[3] She hired workers at a towel factory in Shanghai to attack Japanese monks from the Japanese San Miyou Hou Ji Temple.[4] They killed one monk and injured three of them.[5] Princess Yoshiko Kawashima was then ordered to burn the towel factory that consisted of a thousand workers.[6] Many workers died and were critically injured.[7] After the incident, the Japanese Kwantung Army demanded the Shanghai mayor dissolve Japanese discrimination in Shanghai.[8] Afterwards, Princess Yoshiko Kawashima attended dance parties in Shanghai to get information that would help the Japanese Kwantung Army.[9] She also had a series of lovers.[10]

In 1933, Princess Yoshiko Kawashima became friends with Colonel Tada Hayao, the Commander of the Japanese Army in Northern China. She told him that instead of the Japanese having direct control of Manchuria, it would be better if the state would be controlled by the Manchus.[11] Colonel Tada was impressed with Princess Yoshiko Kawashima’s idea.[12] He found her to be courageous and beautiful.[13] He began to be attracted to her.[14] He would later become one of her long list of lovers.[15] He gave Yoshiko Kawashima her own army of three thousand troops, which was called the An Guo Army.[16] Yoshiko Kawashima began to be known as Commander Jin Binhui.[17] The fact that she was head of her army made her a sensation in Japanese headlines.[18]

In 1933, Yoshiko Kawashima was most famous for taking part in the Battle of Rehe (which took place between Fengtian and the northern border of China).[19] On 17 July, a soldier of the Japanese Kwantung Army had been kidnapped and killed by Chinese generals in the area.[20] The Japanese Kwantung Army retaliated by attacking the Chinese Army.[21] Princess Yoshiko Kawashima had no direct involvement in the battle.[22] Nevertheless, she became the poster girl of the Japanese Kwantung Army.[23] There is a photo of her on top of a horse and dressed in military uniform.[24] This image made an international sensation, and she was called the “Joan of Arc of the Orient.”[25]

Princess Yoshiko Kawashima kept reminding the Japanese Kwantung Army about her identity as a Qing Dynasty Princess.[26] It was not long that the top officers in the army began to be tired of her.[27] They decided to remove her presence in China.[28] In 1934, she was sent back to Japan. In Japan, she became a national celebrity.[29] Muramatsu Shofu wrote his bestselling novel, Beauty in a Man’s Attire, based on her.[30] She was invited to parties where she gave speeches and was often on the radio.[31] On 23 March 1937, she was the honoured guest at Matsumoto Girl’s High School, where she once went to school.[32] 

In 1942, Princess Yoshiko Kawashima retired from the Japanese Kwantung Army and lived her life in solitude.[33] She stayed at a hotel in Tokyo and had a pet monkey.[34] Because she was a solitary figure, the Japanese Kwantung Army began to be suspicious of her.[35] They even planned to assassinate her.[36] Princess Yoshiko Kawashima moved to Beiping, China.

After the Japanese surrender of World War II, Princess Yoshiko Kawashima was arrested by the Chinese Army in 1945. On 15 October 1947, Princess Yoshiko Kawashima was put on trial for being a traitor to China.[37] She wore a white sweater and trousers.[38] During her trial, she remained calm.[39] She told them that she did not betray her country and that her goal had always been to restore the Qing dynasty.[40] She also said that she loved China but was a Japanese citizen.[41] On 22 October 1947, Princess Yoshiko Kawashima was given the death penalty. Princess Yoshiko Kawashima’s execution took place at 6:40 a.m. on 8 March 1948. Before her execution, Princess Yoshiko Kawashima wrote to Naniwa Kawashima in Japanese.[42] Then, she knelt down, and a single bullet was shot into the back of her head.[43] Princess Yoshiko Kawashima died instantly. She was forty-two years old.

At 7 a.m. on 8 March 1948, Princess Yoshiko Kawashima’s body was carried out of the rear gate of the prison.[44] Because of her traitor status, none of her siblings wanted to take her body to arrange her funeral.[45] Instead, they decided to distance themselves from her.[46] A Japanese Buddhist priest named Furukawa Taikou took Princess Yoshiko Kawashima’s body and cremated it at 1 p.m.[47] Then, he divided her ashes. He buried half of them in the crematorium cemetery.[48] He sent the other half to Naniwa Kawashima. Naniwa Kawashima later enshrined the other half of her ashes in Kurohime Mt, Unryu ji Temple.[49]

Princess Yoshiko Kawashima lived an unconventional life. She has become a popular icon. There have been many musicals, novels, films, and television shows about her. She has mostly been seen in a sympathetic light. She has been especially popular among Japanese women who view her as a tragic heroine.[50] Because Princess Yoshiko Kawashima lived on her own terms, she will continue to be a popular figure in the years to come.


Birnbaum, P. (2015). Manchu Princess: Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy who Commanded Her Own Army (Asia Perspectives: History, Society, Culture). NY: Columbia University Press.

Kawashima, Yoshiko (1906–1947) (Vol. 1). (2007). Gale. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=edsgvr&AN=edsgcl.2588812501&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Saeki, C. (2006). Yoshiko Kawashima: Politics and gender in Sino-japanese relations. Asian Journal of Women’s Studies12(3), 75-98,125-126. https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/yoshiko-kawashima-politics-gender-sino-japanese/docview/197731187/se-2.

[1] Birnbaum, 2015

[2] Kawashima, Yoshiko (1906–1947), 2007

[3] Saeki, 2006

[4] Saeki, 2006

[5] Saeki, 2006

[6] Saeki, 2006

[7] Saeki, 2006

[8] Saeki, 2006

[9] Birnbaum, 2015

[10] Kawashima, Yoshiko (1906–1947), 2007

[11] Saeki, 2006

[12] Saeki, 2006

[13] Saeki, 2006

[14] Saeki, 2006

[15] Saeki, 2006

[16] Birnbaum, 2015

[17] Birnbaum, 2015

[18] Saeki, 2006

[19] Saeki, 2006

[20] Saeki, 2006

[21] Saeki, 2006

[22] Saeki, 2006

[23] Saeki, 2006

[24] Saeki, 2006

[25] Saeki, 2006, para. 29

[26] Saeki, 2006

[27] Saeki, 2006

[28] Saeki, 2006

[29] Birnbaum, 2015

[30] Birnbaum, 2015

[31] Birnbaum, 2015

[32] Saeki, 2006

[33] Birnbaum, 2006

[34] Saeki, 2006

[35] Saeki, 2006

[36] Saeki, 2006

[37] Birnbaum, 2015

[38] Birnbaum, 2015

[39] Saeki, 2006

[40] Saeki, 2006

[41] Saeki, 2006

[42] Saeki, 2006

[43] Birnbaum, 2015

[44] Birnbaum, 2015

[45] Saeki, 2006

[46] Saeki, 2006

[47] Saeki, 2006

[48] Saeki, 2006

[49] Saeki, 2006

[50] Saeki, 2006

About Lauralee Jacks 178 Articles
I am a former elementary teacher in Tennessee. I have a bachelor’s degree in Liberal and Civic Studies from St. Mary’s College of California, a master’s in Elementary Education from the University of Phoenix, and a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the College of Saint Mary. Because my family are from East Asia, I have a passion for historical Chinese and Korean television shows. I always wanted to separate fact from fiction in dramas. Writing articles from History of Royal Women gives me a chance to dig deeper and explore these royal women as they might have been in real life. Also, it gives me a chance to look at the history and culture of where my family originated. I love researching East Asian royalty because they rarely get enough attention in the West often being overshadowed by European royalty. I find these royal women to be just as fascinating and their stories deserve to be told. Thus, I am excited to write for History of Royal Women!

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