FROM THE TIME OF ITS WITHDRAWAL FROM THE LEAGUE OF Nations in early 1933, Japan proceeded to prepare for war and the total invasion of China. Even before the July 7 incident in 1937,36 Japan continued to use armed force and engineered many coups in North China. Meanwhile, the Nanking Government of the Kuomintang surrendered step by step and repeatedly indicated to Japan that it did not contemplate any anti-Japanese action, insisting that there was no reason for it to be against Japan. As a result, Japan’s influence was greatly strengthened within the Great Wall.
In view of all this and the fact that the Kwantung Army had ignored my advice in choosing a replacement for Cheng Hsiao-hsu, I should have understood the unreality of my position. But I was still utterly intoxicated and had not awakened from my dream. The first real taste of disillusion came over the Ling Sheng affair.
Ling Sheng was the son of a former Ch’ing military governor in Mongolia and had been an adviser at Chang Tso-lin’s headquarters. He had been one of the members of the delegation that had come to Port Arthur to urge me to become Chief Executive and had thus been listed as one of the “founders of the nation.” When he was suddenly arrested by the Kwantung Army in the spring of 1936 he was governor of a province of Manchuria.
According to Colonel Yasunori Yoshioka, the Kwantung Army’s “Attache to the Imperial Household,” Ling Sheng was arrested because he had been engaged in anti-Manchukuo and anti-Japanese activities. From other sources, however, I had been told that he was arrested because at a recent governors’ conference he had expressed complaints which irritated the Japanese. Apparently he had argued that the Kwantung Army had not fulfilled the promises Itagaki had made at Port Arthur concerning the recognition of Manchukuo as an independent country. Ling Sheng had claimed that as governor of Hsingan Province he had no real power or authority.
I found the news of his arrest especially disquieting because only six months previously my fourth sister had become engaged to his son. Just as I was debating whether I should discuss the matter with the Kwantung Army, the Commander came to see me.
“A few days ago we broke a case and the one who committed the crime was known to Your Majesty,” he explained. “It was the Governor of Hsingan Province, Ling Sheng. He had established an alliance with foreign countries to plot a revolt against Japan. A military tribunal has found him guilty of crimes against Japan and Manchukuo and he has been condemned to death.”
“Condemned to death,” I repeated in surprise.
“Yes, death. This will be a warning. By executing one, we warn another hundred.”
After he left, Colonel Yoshioka advised me to break off the engagement between my sister and Ling Sheng’s son, and I immediately complied.
Ling Sheng’s sentence was carried out by decapitation and several of his relatives were similarly executed at the same time. This was the first case of execution by the Japanese of a high Manchukuo official. Since Ling Sheng had sought a marriage relationship with my family, I had supposed he respected me and was loyal. Yet the Kwantung Army had judged him solely by his attitude toward Japan. The incident made me realize that the Japanese would apply the same standards to me, and when I thought of the Commanding General’s statement about killing one to warn a hundred, his remarks seemed most ominous.
The incident also made me think of a man whose fate had been the direct opposite of Ling Sheng’s—Chang Ching-hui, the new Prime Minister. Clearly the Japanese intended me to see the contrast between the two. How Chang Ching-hui had ingratiated himself with the Japanese is evident in a remark he once made at a Council of State meeting. “Japan and Manchukuo,” he stated, “are like two dragonflies tied to a single string.” On another occasion he said: “Manchukuo has thousands of square miles of land but the Manchurians are illiterate and ignorant. If the Japanese come to open virgin land and teach them modern techniques, both sides will benefit.”
When the Japanese stepped up their grain requisitions and bought up grain at a low fixed price, Chang Ching-hui pointed out that “soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army are giving their lives, and for us, the Manchurian people, to pay with grain is quite fair.” The Commander of the Kwantung Army was always praising Chang Ching-hui as a good minister and as a man who was adept at giving effect to Japanese-Manchukuo friendship.
After the Ling Sheng affair, I was even more deeply disturbed by a meeting I had with Prince Te.
Prince Te was a Mongol prince whom the Japanese had placed in charge of the “Inner Mongolian Autonomous Military Government.” When I had lived in Tientsin he had sent me money, and given well-bred Mongol ponies to Pu Chieh, and had shown his loyalty in many other ways. When he came to see me in Changchun he complained that the Japanese were too powerful and ambitious. After hearing his complaints, I couldn’t help but comfort him a little. I didn’t anticipate that on the following day, Colonel Yoshioka would come to see me with a grim expression on his face.
“What did Your Majesty discuss with Prince Te yesterday?” he asked.
Realizing that something was wrong, I said that we had only been talking about unimportant things.
“The talk you had yesterday,” Yoshioka said, “indicated some dissatisfaction with the Japanese, did it not?”
My heart began to pound. I knew that the only thing I could do was deny it. “That is a false statement manufactured by Prince Te,” I exclaimed.
Even though Yoshioka did not continue the inquiry, I was on edge and worried. How had the Japanese learned of my talk with Prince Te? There were two possibilities. Either the Japanese had installed some kind of listening device or Prince Te had acted as an informer. I spent a long time searching for a listening device, but since I found none I inclined to the view that Prince Te had deliberately tried to betray me. I thus learned from this incident, better than from the Ling Sheng affair, not to talk frankly with any outsider, and I became very cautious toward all visitors. As a matter of fact, there were very few and in 1937 the Kwantung Army insisted that Yoshioka, the Attache to the Imperial Household, should be present whenever I saw a visitor.
Many of the policies and laws to which I gave my assent in these days were connected with Japan’s war preparations and the strengthening of her rule over the Northeast. They included the First Five Year Plan for Developing Production, the Property Control Law, the Reorganization of the Government to strengthen Japanese rule, and the adoption of Japanese as a “national language.” But none of these had an impact on me equal to that of my brother Pu Chieh’s marriage.
After Pu Chieh had graduated from the school for children of the Japanese nobility in Tokyo, he had been transferred to the Japanese Army Cadet School. He returned to Changchun in the winter of 1935 and was appointed a second lieutenant in the Imperial Guard. From this time on, the Kwantung Army people who knew him were always bringing up the subject of his marriage. When I first heard about it, I only laughed it off and didn’t give it a thought. I didn’t anticipate that Yoshioka would come to see me to say that the Kwantung Army hoped that Pu Chieh would marry a Japanese girl in order to promote friendly relations between the two countries.
This suggestion made me uncomfortable and I discussed the problem with my second sister. We decided to get Pu Chieh a wife from Peking in order to forestall this Japanese plot, for it was now clear that the Japanese wished to obtain, via Pu Chieh, a child of Japanese descent who could succeed me on the throne, and I warned Pu Chieh that if there were a Japanese wife in the family the husband would be under the supervision of the Japanese. Pu Chieh respectfully promised not to marry a Japanese, but when Yoshioka put pressure on him by telling him that General Honjo, himself, was acting as matchmaker on his behalf in Tokyo, he obeyed the Kwantung Army. On April 3, 1937, he married Hiro Saga, daughter of Marquis Saga of Japan. Less than a month after their marriage, under instructions from the Kwantung Army, the Council of State passed a succession law by which Pu Chieh and his son would be the successors to the throne if I had no male offspring.
After Pu Chieh and his wife’s return from Tokyo I decided that I could no longer speak frankly in front of him or eat the food that his wife sent me. If Pu Chieh and I were dining together and there were food on the table prepared by his wife, I would wait until he had tasted the food first. Later, when Pu Chieh was about to become a father, I became so worried for my own safety and even for his, that I consulted divination. I was sure the Kwantung Army was capable of killing us both in order to obtain an emperor of Japanese descent. However, when his wife gave birth to a daughter, I was very much relieved.
I even became worried about what would happen if I myself were to father a son. Would he be safe or not? For the Kwantung Army had asked me to sign a document saying that if there should be a crown prince he would be sent to Japan at the age of five and brought up under their control.
On July 7, 1937, when the fighting broke out that led to the Japanese occupation of Peking, some retired Ch’ing officials in Peking began to hope for a revival of the Great Ch’ing, but I now knew this was impossible. My only concerns were how to preserve my own safety in the face of the Japanese and how to deal with Yoshioka, the Attaché to the Imperial Household and the incarnation inside my own palace of the Kwantung Army.