IF ONE WERE TO COMPARE THE KWANTUNG ARMY TO A source of high-tension electric current and myself to an electric motor, then Yasunori Yoshioka was a wire of high conductivity.
A short man with a small moustache and high cheekbones, he never left me from the time he first came to the palace in 1935 to the Japanese surrender in 1945 when he was captured by the Soviet Army at the same time I was. During those years he rose from the rank of an army lieutenant colonel to lieutenant general. He had a dual status: one was a senior staff officer of the Kwantung Army and the other was “Attache to the Manchukuo Imperial Household.” This was a Japanese term, similar to the title of “Companion of the Inner Court” in Chinese, but it does not make much difference how one translates it, for the words do not describe his real function. He was in fact the piece of wire through which the Kwantung Army transmitted its intentions to me. The tours of inspection I made, the visitors I received, the protocol I observed, my admonitions to my subjects, the toasts I proposed, and even my nods and smiles were all under Yoshioka’s direction. He decided whom I should and should not see, the meetings I should attend, the speeches I delivered—everything.
When Japan launched its full-scale invasion of China in July, 1937, it wanted Manchukuo to contribute grain, men and supplies. I ordered Chang Ching-hui to make public an exhortation, actually written by Yoshioka at a meeting of the provincial governors, in which I urged the people to “carry out their duties diligently to support the holy war.” When the Japanese entered the Pacific War they wanted Manchukuo troops to replace some of the Japanese units engaged in the Chinese War. I read out another of Yoshioka’s speeches, this time at a banquet given for the commanders of the various military zones, in which I expressed my determination to “live or die with Japan, and, united in heart and virtue, smash the power of Britain and America.”
Whenever Japan occupied a major Chinese city inside the Great Wall, Yoshioka would ask me to stand up with him and bow in the direction of the battlefield as a mark of mourning for the Japanese soldiers killed in the fighting. After he had me do this a number of times I needed no prompting.
When the “National Foundation Shrine” was built I used to go there every month to pray for the victory of the Japanese troops, and this too was done after receiving an impulse along Yoshioka’s electric wire.
The Kwantung Army did not interfere much in my personal and domestic affairs before the outbreak of full-scale fighting between Japan and China in 1937, but the situation changed after that. Before the invasion, some of my family members would come up from south of the Great Wall every year to celebrate my birthday. But after July 7, the Kwantung Army allowed only a few of them to come to Changchun at specified times. They also stipulated that with the exception of my closest relations the others could bow to me but could not address me. All mail sent to me from outside Manchukuo was read by Yoshioka’s staff and he decided whether or not I was to see it. The Kwantung Army was of course perfectly well aware that I was not anti-Manchukuo or anti-Japanese, but they were still worried that I might establish a relationship with people inside the Great Wall for the restoration of the Ch’ing Dynasty and this was not in accordance with their plans.
Yoshioka had shown considerable ability in getting his post in the palace. Some accounts say that he was a friend of mine before I went to the Northeast, but actually he had only lectured to me a few times on current affairs when we were in Tientsin. He managed to use his friendship with Pu Chieh, whom he had known when he was an instructor at the Army Cadet School in Japan, to convince the Kwantung Army that he was a personal friend of mine. Although this was not true, it was on the strength of his claims that he got his twin appointments as Attaché to the Manchukuo Imperial Household and as a senior staff officer of the Kwantung Army.
Yoshioka loved to paint pictures in ink. Once he painted a bamboo scene and asked Cheng Hsiao-hsu to write a poem on it and then asked me put on some writing in my own hand. Later he took this ink picture to Japan and presented it to the Japanese Empress Dowager. The Japanese press published the picture and praised Yoshioka as being a soldier with a colorful pen. Subsequently he often carried little presents back and forth between me and the Dowager. These gifts often included pastries, but because of my suspicious nature, I always insisted that someone else taste first those sent from Japan.
Yoshioka’s Chinese was not too good, but in our conversations we encountered little difficulty since he also knew English. When Yoshioka spoke he would always intersperse his words with “uhs” and “ahs” while twitching his eyebrows, a habit that got worse with time and which I found increasingly irritating. As this habit grew more pronounced our relationship changed.
After my visit to Japan in 1935 the Japanese Empress Dowager gave me some poems and what Yoshioka said then was music in my ears: “Her Majesty the Empress Dowager is the equivalent of Your Majesty’s mother, and since I am almost a relation of yours, I feel very honored at this!”
But by 1936 he said to me, “Japan is the equivalent of Your Majesty’s father, uh. The Kwantung Army represents Japan, uh? Thus the commander of the Kwantung Army is the equivalent of Your Majesty’s father, ha!”
As the Japanese troops at the front ran into more and more difficulties, my standing went down in Yoshioka’s eyes. He even went so far as to say, “The Kwantung Army is your father, uh, and I am the representative of the Kwantung Army, ha!”
Yoshioka made more frequent daily visits to the palace as time went on. Sometimes he would stay for less than ten minutes and then leave, only to return five minutes later. He would give ridiculous reasons for these frequent comings and goings, such as “I forgot what I wished to say at our last interview,” or “I forgot to ask you what will be my assignment tomorrow,” and so on. I naturally became worried that he was using these lightning visits as a way of spying on me, and I thought that the only way I could avoid suspicion was to agree to see him as soon as I heard he had come and never keep him waiting. I would even see him in the middle of a meal and put down my rice bowl to talk with him. In my relations with Yoshioka, I had reached a position similar to that of the great Duke of Chou37 who would “stop his meal three times, and hold his hair up three times in the midst of washing it, in order to attend to state affairs.”