Born in Manchuria to Japanese parents, the beautiful Yamaguchi Yoshiko was known as Ri Koran in Japan, Li Xianglan in China, and Shirley Yamaguchi in the US. Her past was a closely guarded secret. Fluent in Chinese and gifted with a wonderful voice, she passed as Chinese and rose to stardom in 1940s China in series of propaganda films which were meant to highlight Japan's role in a New Asia.
As Li Xianglan, she made a sensation in China Nights, a melodramatic film about a love affair between a Chinese girl and a Japanese ship captain in wartime Shanghai. After the war, Ri renounced her Chinese persona and becomes a famous movie actress in Hollywood and Tokyo. After retiring from the movies in the late 1950s, Yamaguchi again reinvented herself as a journalist, TV hostess and a prominent politician in the Japanese Parliament.
In The China Lover, Ian Buruma uses Yamaguchi's bizarre life story to highlight Japan's own shifting identity from militaristic aggressor in China to post-war ruin with its first steps towards democracy under American guidance to an economically rejuvenated modern nation. Yamaguchi's personal story almost exactly reflects the twists and turns of Japanese modern history, a symbol of Japan's complicated relationship with the rest of the world.
The China Lover is an ambitious book imbued with insights and erudition that have made Ian Buruma one of the most respected writers on modern Asia.
Please note: This is a book discussion, not a talk. The author will not be present.