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

(Asia Perspectives: History, Society, and Culture)

3.19  ·  Rating details ·  101 ratings  ·  33 reviews
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 t ...more
Hardcover, 265 pages
Published April 14th 2015 by Columbia University Press
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Start your review of Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army
When I requested this book from Netgalley, I thought that I hadn’t heard of Kawashima Yoshiko before. In this, I was wrong, as the book reminded me. I had seen her as a character in the movie The Last Emperor. She is the pilot.

This biography is far more detailed than that brief character.
Kaswashima Yoshiko was a Manchu princess who was given by her father to a Japanese man who had aided the royal family. She returned to China during and after World War II, and, this is isn’t really a spoiler,
Eustacia Tan
May 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's time for a very rare book review! Anyway, I requested this book from NetGalley because it's an aspect of World War II that I haven't heard about before, I mean, I don't know about you, but I've never heard of a Kawashima Yoshiko in any of my textbooks.

Kawashima Yoshiko (born Aisin Gioro Xian Yu; 愛新覺羅·顯玗) was the daughter of a Manchu Prince. When she was very young, she was sent to live in the home of one of his Japanese supporters - Kawashima Naniwa. And then things get very, very murky. Ka
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was provided a copy of this book by NetGalley, so thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster. As a history buff I tend to concentrate on other areas and eras and so Sino Japanese relations of the time prior to, during and immediately after WWII that this book covers were all new to me. And incredibly fascinating. Here credit must be given to Birnbaum. Some history can be somewhat tedious to plod though, she brings history to life. This was easily one of the most dynamic nonfiction books I've e ...more
Apr 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
Interesting story but I kept moving on to other books while reading this one so it didn't keep my attention. Yoshiko was a Chinese princess who was given to an Japanese man to raise to help build ties between China and Japan. The insight into how Japan was trying to take over Manchuria during this time and the ideas popular in Japan about how they needed to help Asia out by taking control of things was interesting.

Yoshiko grew up to be a person with a lot of personal issues who used her positio
Margaret Sankey
Oct 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is another biography that would be unbelievable if it was fiction--the daughter of a deposed Manchu aristocrat, raised in Japan by an abusive opportunist, married to the son of a Mongol warlord to cement Japanese ambitions establishing Manchuko, dashing cross-dressing 1920s bon vivant in Shanghai, eventually leader of an armed band promoted by Japan as a Joan of Arc answer to "lawlessness" and Chinese corruption until she crossed their plans. As you might imagine, Mao was not amused and had ...more
Stephen Joyce
Sep 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Divisive figures often make the most compelling biographical subjects; and Kawashima Yoshiko is no exception. During her life and in death opinions have varied markedly. Loathed by the Chinese as a traitor, extolled by the Japanese for her talents as a spy, more recently she has even become a heroine to the LGBT community.
Phyllis Birnbaum provides a measured assessment of the fascinating rise and fall of this erratic, narcissistic, cross-dressing, bisexual princess.

Born in 1907 as Aisin Gioro X
C. M. Dree
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Good biographies leave you with the sense that their subject matter comes out diminished in the end. In this sense, this book is an excellent biography. It does focus a lot, too much if you ask me, on many other people who surrounded Yoshiko, instead of focusing on Yoshiko herself, and that's why it gets 4 stars. ...more
Danny Reid
Jul 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting book intent on dissecting the myth of Manchu princess Yoshiko's wild life. It feels disjointed because so much of it is analysis and refutations of other sources, meaning that this is better for serious Sino-Japanese War scholars than those looking for a straight biography. ...more
Stephen Douglas Rowland
A little disorganized and based on many accounts that are dubious, but given the actual information on its subject that exists, that couldn't be helped. It is still a fascinating look at a time and place. ...more
Daniel Farabaugh
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
While this woman's story is interesting, it was over sold in the title and introduction. While she was a fascinating individual, she did not actually do all that much and much of what has been ascribed to her is questionable. Also the writing was not great. ...more
Oct 12, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like several other reviews I've read on this book - the one word that comes to mind is "meandering". While I enjoyed the story, I found the meandering relating to timeframes and characters rather annoying. Otherwise, it was an enjoyable read. ...more
Interesting period in history, interesting character, disorganized book
Oct 06, 2020 rated it liked it
While i enjoyed reading the book, there were times when I found the flow of the writing to be somewhat disjointed.
Dec 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for a review:

History is an awesome and immensely frustrating thing, since most accounts of things are reliant on humans, and history is written by the winners...not to mention people like to embellish, well, the life of Kawashima Yoshiko is a prime example of that. We know her yet still know nothing about her, she was a fascinating person who still looms large in modern day myths, and how cool is that?

Like many people who probably wanted to read t
Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was ok
Yoshiko's story is of a strange a life. As one of many children in a royal Chinese family, she is undervalued and sent off to Japan to live as the child of a business friend of her father. So begins her confusion as she becomes of Japanese culture, forgets most of her Chinese language, and never seems to understand who she is. Is she female or male? Is she Chinese or Japanese when she feels contempt from each culture. Should she help the Japanese get Manchuria and run it or is she to help those ...more
Feb 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
I first discovered Kawashima Yoshiko/Jin Binhui when I was researching for a university essay I was writing on state building-my topic was Manchukuo. I instantly realized that the more interesting tertiary character of the film 'The Last Emperor' who I had always assumed was fictional. This was a simplified and not entirely accurate portrayal of her. The Hong Kong film from 1990 which is named after her is actually a much more accurate view of this person in history-which is interesting because ...more
Heidi Thomas
Feb 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dropped-it
Gave it the first 75 pages, and couldn't make it to 100. The book's intro/first chapters were too confusing. Wonderful idea but....maybe it will be a good read for you. Try it! ...more
Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I’d never heard of Yoshiko Kawashima before, a larger-than-life character whose almost unbelievable story was surely crying out for a good biography. On the whole author Phyllis Birnbaum does a pretty good job of assembling all the facts and sorting out the myths from the reality. Her research has been both detailed and meticulous and the inclusion of primary documents and many photographs into the narrative adds to its authority. A thoroughly enjoyable account of a thoroughly fascinating person ...more
Jun 02, 2015 rated it did not like it
Giving up a quarter of the way in. I thought this would be an intriguing way to learn more about the Manchu Dynasty and the Manchu puppet state established by the Japanese in 1932. Unfortunately, Birnbaum seems to assume the reader already knows all the background, which I do not. I have no time for a history that keeps forcing me to look elsewhere for basic information that could be imparted in one or two short paragraphs.
May 31, 2016 rated it it was ok
Picked this up from the library on a whim while hunting for possible bookface covers, and only made it up to page 32. Rather meandering in terms of historical time period and thus far, it doesn't even read as an account of Kawashima Yoshiko. If it was simply setting the scene, I just didn't get far enough to find out, as the writing style was rather dry. Reminds me a bit of the Luisitiana book, rotating through too many angles and POVs to keep my attention. ...more
May 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc, ebooks, non-fiction, asia
I was really intrigued by the idea of this book. The title alone sounds incredibly exciting an somewhat unbelievable. In the end though, I found the writing quite dry and boring. I think the story could be better told as historical fiction, where at least you could get some kind of emotion in there.
Maggie Hesseling
May 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Maggie by: Netgalley
Shelves: non-fiction
Absolutely fascinating biography. Birnbaum's narrative is incredibly well written. What makes this so interesting is the fact that Birnbaum really used every resource availble: pictures, memories and even novels based on her.

A great spy story with a woman of immesurable strength and courage up until the last. Frought with termoil and intruige. A must read.
Nov 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is intriguing. Kawashima Yoshiko was a spitfire that was very much a victim of circumstance and tried what she could to overcome it. The book also gives some good information on the development of the Manchurian puppet state and World War 2.
Apr 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
The chapters feel mismatched, the tone is often very racist and judgmental. There's no sense of real felt context or consequence, and this reads just like a list of several people's exploits rather than any meaningful look into a woman's life. ...more
Janet Hewitt
Jan 14, 2017 rated it did not like it
I did not like this book at all! Frankly, the characters surrounding the main character were much more interesting and worthy of a book. I didn't like the way the biography was put together. I did discover I'd like to read more accounts of the Sino JapAnese war. ...more
Sheila Mabry
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
great book about a fascinating person
Mar 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
sent to me for review
Very interesting character.
Mar 11, 2016 rated it liked it
I bit confusing but interesting story
P Lenox
Mar 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
gives a good spotlight on Manchuko era, which really doesn't have that much good to read, and the "Princess" in this one is an absolutely FASCINATING character ...more
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Phyllis Birnbaum is a novelist, biographer, journalist, and translator from the Japanese. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. She lives near Boston.

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