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26 March 2010

Shi Pei Pu (1938 - 2009) opera dancer/singer, spy.

In 1964 France opened its first embassy in the People's Republic of China. On the staff was Bernard Boursicot (1944 - ) an accountant. His colleagues were aware that he was gay, but it was considered that in a closed society like that of Maoist China there would be no opportunity to meet men.

The Chinese secret service recruited Shi Pei Pu, a native of Kunming in Yunnan and a singer with the Beijing opera. He was also an actor and playwright and spoke French. Shi was a student of the master dancer Mei Lanfang and like Mei specialized in female roles.

It was arranged that Shi and the 20-year-old Boursicot would meet. The meeting extended into an affair, an affair that is muddied in retrospect. Boursicot never saw Shi Pei Pu as a woman and yet insisted in believing that she was a woman dressed as a man. At any rate she did produce a child, Shi Du Du, that was 'theirs'.

In 1970 Shi introduced him to a man named 'Kang'. Boursicot would have known that the head of the Chinese secret service was Kang Sheng, but it is highly unlikely that Kang himself, member of the Politburo and lover of Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao Zedong, would have been there. Faligot and Kauffer suggest that Kang's adoptive son, Yu Zhensan, was the intelligence officer involved. At any rate Yu was supervising the operation. The situation was made clear to Boursicot, and between 1970 and 1972 alone he handed over more than 150 confidential documents.

After an interval of five years outside China, Boursicot was transferred to the Mongolian People's Republic in 1977, and was able to resume his services for the Chinese. He transmitted to them the texts of numerous dispatches.

He was so useful that in 1982, a year after he had returned to Paris, the Chinese agreed to send Shi Pei Pu, and the 16-year-old son, to France to continue the romance. In September 1981 Li Shuang, a non-conformist artist, who had been having an affair with another French diplomat, the ex-militant Maoist, Emmanuel Bellefroid, was arrested and sent off for two years in a re-education camp. This despite an appeal from the French Minister for Overseas Trade.

Shi Pei Pu, now living with Boursicot, became well known in Parisian artistic circles for his traditional dance. However his affair with Boursicot could not go unnoticed. On 30 June 1983 Boursicot was summoned for questioning, and Shi Peipu on 3 July. They were both sentenced to six years' imprisonment. The French government were able to use this as a show of force against the Chinese concern about foreign opinion, and in November of that year Li Shuang was put on a plane for France.

Shi was pardoned in 1987. He stayed in Paris and performed as an opera singer. Shi and Boursicot spoke infrequently. Shi Du Du now has three sons of his own.

Bouriscot now lived for a longtime with a male partner, and was in a nursing home when informed of Shi’s death.

The affair has been turned into a successful play by David Henry Hwang called M. Butterfly. Hwang renamed the characters to Song Lilang and Rene Gallimard and made the story less plausible by make Gallimard middle-aged and hetero-sexually married. David Cronenberg filmed Hwang’s play in 1993 without any reference to Joyce Wadler’s book on the real story. Boursicot is a fan of the play, and co-operated fully with Wadler for her book.
  • Roger Faligot & Remi Kauffer. Kang Sheng et les services secrets chinois. Paris: R. Laffont, 1987. English translation by Christine Donougher. The Chinese Secret Service. Headline 1989: 432,447,448,474.
  • Joyce Wadler. “For the first time, the real-life models for Broadway's M. Butterfly tell of their very strange romance”. People Weekly. 8 August 1988.
  • Joyce Wadler. Liaison: The Gripping Real Story of the Diplomat Spy and the Chinese Opera Star Whose Affair Inspired "M. Butterfly”. Bantam 1993.
  • David Henry Hwang. M. Butterfly A play, written and performed in 1988.
  • David Cronenberg (dir). M. Butterfly Scr: David Hwang based on his play, with Jeremy Irons as Rene Gallimard and John Lone as Song Liling. Canada 110 mins1993.
  • “Shi Pei Pu”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shi_Pei_Pu.
  • “Bernard Boursicot”. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Boursicot.

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