Lung Ying-tai on <Lust, Caution>

(YZZK (Asia Weekly) via

[in translation]

On a snowy night in Germany, I reviewed the notes taken during the interrogation of Ding Mocun.  Then I read <Memoirs of Chen Lifu>, and I found out that this successful turncoat official was released on medical leave but unfortunately he was spotted by a tabloid newspaper reporter while taking a tour of Xuanwu Lake.  When Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek read the news report, he was incensed and immediately ordered the execution of Ding Mocun by firing squad.  Ding was sentenced to death not by a real court under real laws.

The instant enchantment offered by a film cannot be matched by the slow and languid depiction in literature.  Eileen Chang's <Lust, Caution> is a relatively obscure novella from Eileen Chang.  If one is not aware of the historical background, the obscure and sketchy approach of this story may make it hard for the ordinary reader to appreciate.  But the film of Ang Lee is like a huge meteor tumbling down from the sky and causing fires to scatter and sizzle after hitting ground.  Everybody is talking about <Lust, Caution> now, and the cool novella has now become red hot through word of mouth.

The evil character in the story is Mr. Yi.  Because he was not presented as sufficiently "evil" in the original story, <Lust, Caution> was condemned by critics when it was first published.  The critics felt that Eileen Chang did not know right from wrong, or good from evil.  When I read what the critic "Outlander" wrote about Eileen Chang at the time, I had to burst out in roaring laughter.  Hadn't Hu Lancheng define the essential personality of Eileen Chang?  Among the citizens of the Republic of China, he espied this 23-year-old woman: "I could not accept many things about Eileen.  She did not have pity for people, she did not sympathize with anyone and she had no interest in charity.  In her world, nothing is overdone nor aggrieved.  She was extremely selfish, and she could be brutal."  He also wrote: "Eileen was extremely demanding about good people and good things.  But for ordinary people and ordinary things, she was only somewhat stringent.  She is truly egalitarian."

Yet, the reason why the literary works of Eileen Chang are so stunning and profound is precisely because she has those cruel perceptive eyes that are so special and rare.

Mr. Yi in the novella was not sufficiently 'bad' because of Eileen Chang's own values and personality and her profound and lingering love for Hu Lancheng.  Apart from that, I see another angle that is seldom mentioned -- the novella and the film aside, the Mr. Yi in the history of the Republic of China was really not a very "bad" person.

The original model for Mr. Yi is Ding Mocun.  He was born in 1903, and became the director of the Third Office of the Statistics Bureau on the recommendation of Chen Lifu.  The Third Office was disbanded later, and he joined the collaborationist government of Wang Jingwei and held major posts.  Just before the Sino-Japanese war ended, he was the Zhejiang provincial governor for the puppet government.  On July 5, 1947, Ding Mocun was executed by a firing squad for the crime of "conspiring with a foreign country to overthrow China."  The verdict document included many crimes, such "instigating the persecution and execution of the underground workers of the Chinese military intelligence agency, Jiangsu High Court Number Two Chief Judge Yu Hua, Chinese central intelligence agency worker Zheng Pingru ..."

With such a resumé for a 'Chinese traitor,' didn't he deserve the death penalty?

But it is not so simple.

On that snowy night in Germany, I reviewed the book of the interrogation notes, verdicts, letters, telegraphs and directives about the Chinese collaborators that the Nanjing city file archive preserved.  Slowly, I was able to discern the outline of a story.  The true life unveiled from these dust-covered historical documents was full of twists and turns, and the sense of hurt, irony and cruelty did not even need a literary writer to present.

In 1941, one year after Zheng Pingru was executed after her unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Ding Mocun, the Republic of China Education Minister Chen Lifu contacted Ding Mocun secretly.  Chen told this protégé whom he had once promoted but was now an important spy chief for the collaborationist government of Wang Jinqwei that he should do the right thing and leave the occupied zone.  If he could not get out, he should "take the opportunity to make contributions in the war of resistance against Japan."  Chen Lifu successfully converted Ding Mocun, who was the Transportation Minister and the Welfare Minister of the puppet government all the while he was setting up radio transmitter stations and providing intelligence to Dai Li's military intelligence agency.  He also worked with Zhou Fuhai to assassinate then chief collaborationist spy Li Shiqun.  He also worked at Dai Li's command to rescue various Republic of China underground spies who were caught.

At the court trial of Ding Mocun, these rescued intelligence agents testified that there was no doubt that Ding Mocun was collaborating with the Chongqing government.  After the defeat of Japan, the situation was chaotic and the Chongqing government needed to prevent the Chinese Communists from seizing the opportunity to seize power.  Therefore, they made use of Ding Mocun by appointing him as the Zhejiang provincial military commissar.

I read a handwritten letter from Dai Li to "Brother Mocun" in which Dai asked Ding to "maintain control of all the forces, secure local order, prevent evil bandits from creating chaos and ensure that the central government forces can take over safely."  Ding Mocun carried out these orders from the Chongqing government.  Before the central government entered Zhejiang province, the "evil bandits" had actually taken over the western half of Zhejiang province.  After Ding Mocun "cleansed out the bandits," the central government was able to secure Zhejiang easily.

As I read this piece of history in the middle of the night, I had to rub my eyes because I was quite perplexed.

So this means that Ding Mocun was a capitulating general that the Republic of China government successfully converted from the other side.  This general did not return immediately to take up arms against his former side; instead he stayed behind on the other side and worked as the worm inside the apple against the other side.  He was in fact a spy that the Republic of China planted within the enemy.  As such, he faced great dangers and his accomplishments were significant.  In wartime, the impact of a secret spy can be much more than the warriors who shed their blood in the trenches.  Right?

At the time when the Chongqing government needed Ding Mocun's help, both Chen Lifu and Dai Li offered him guarantees.  Chen Lifu promised "to cleanse his record with the actual achievements that can be presented to the Generalissimo who can let him turn over a new leaf."  Dai Li was even more specific: "I will be responsible to speak to the Generalissimo to protect you."

So, why did the Republic of China government execute this "converted enemy general" and "spy"?  Especially since guarantees were issued that he would not be executed?  Is the problem with the Generalissimo -- Chiang Kai-shek?

As I puzzled over this, the memoirs of Chen Lifu were published.  So I immediately called a friend to ship the "Memoirs of Chen Lifu" to Europe.  One week later, the book arrived.  The postman walked across the snow with icy particles still stuck to his beard.  I took the package from his hand, I opened it and I began to read the book even as the light snow fell.

I actually found the answer.

On page 232 of <Memoirs of Chen Lifu>: Ding Mocun could have avoided the death penalty.  One day, he fell ill and he was taken out from of the prison to visit a doctor.  Coming out of the Nanjing Detention Center, he took a visit Xuanwu Lake ... when Generalissimo Chiang read the report, he said angrily: "How can he tour Xuanwu Lake when he is ill?  He should be shot immediately!"

So that was how Ding Xuanwu was executed.  He came out of prison and he wanted to enjoy the breeze on the lake.  He was spotted by a tabloid newspaper reporter who wrote about it.

Oh, I had to close the book and sigh.  It was no wonder why the death sentence verdict document of Ding Mocun sounded so unconvincing.  It totally ignored the various powerful evidence that Ding Mocun offered to save his life.  He was sentenced to death not by a real court under real laws.

In such an era, wouldn't you leave a space for humanity between the so-called difference between the good guys and the bad guys, no matter whether it is between Mr. Yi and Mr. Ding, or Eileen Chang and Wu Lancheng?