The True Story of Zheng Pingru, Protagonist of the Movie ‘Lust, Caution’ – Part 2

Chinese socialite and spy Zheng Pingru posing for a photo.

This is the story of Zheng Pingru, who fought for her country, sacrificing everything in the name of loyalty and love. (Image: via Public Domain)

This is a two-part story; please go here for part 1.

This is the story of Zheng Pingru, who fought for her country, sacrificing everything in the name of loyalty and love. Before the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Zheng Pingru planned on getting married to her sweetheart, Wang Hanxun. Fate, however, had other plans for her and she became a spy for China’s Nationalist government in the Japanese-occupied city of Shanghai during the 1930s. Her story is the basis for the 2007 movie Lust, Caution directed by Ang Lee.

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Priority mission

Zheng Pingru was a student at Mingguang Middle School when Ding Mocun was the headmaster. After the war began, Ding helped establish a secret police organization with the full support of the Japanese military and the head of their intelligence bureau, Tofuiyama Kenji.

Ding Mocun, Chinese traitor who worked for the Japanese during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Ding Mocun collaborated with the Japanese and set up a secret police organization. (Image: Public Domain via Wikimedia)

In May 1939, Wang Jingwei, the KMT’s former No. 2 man who defected from China’s Nationalist government to work with the Japanese, arrived in Shanghai and recognized Ding’s organization as the secret police of his puppet government. He appointed Ding as the Minister of Internal Affairs. With this authority, Ding began to systematically assassinate anti-war elements, and it became a priority to get rid of him.

Agent Zheng meets her target

One afternoon in late May 1939, the Japanese Consulate General in Shanghai held a high-level Sino-Japanese gala, and Zheng Pingru was placed in a VIP room, immediately attracting Ding’s attention. At the end of the party, Ding offered to take her home.

They ended up stopping at a café together and talking about their shared experience at Mingguang Middle School. Ding was charmed by her and kept inviting Zheng Pingru out for dinners, dancing, and drinks. However, the places they went were heavily guarded and, given his habit of carrying a gun around, assassinating him would be very difficult.

Attempts to assassinate Ding

After much deliberation, Zheng Pingru and her handlers decided to make an assassination attempt. She was going out with Ding again and was instructed to get him out of the car once they got back to her place. So on that evening, when the car brought Zheng Pingru back home, she asked Ding to walk her to her door. As Ding was about to step out of the car, he saw a group of shady figures coming closer to the car through the window. He instantly instructed the driver to quickly drive away, narrowly escaping the attack.

Chinese socialite and spy, Zheng Pingru, standing next to a car and smiling for a photo.
When the car brought her back home, she asked Ding to walk her to her door. (Image: Public Domain)

Later, Ding invited Zheng Pingru to a friend’s house for dinner and another assassination attempt was made. While driving there, Zheng suddenly asked if Ding would buy her a fur coat. There was a fur shop along the way, and the plan was for two assassins to follow them in and open fire. But when they got there, Ding saw that two men were lingering around the entrance.

As soon as Ding entered the store, he turned to Zheng and said: “You pick whatever you like!” and hastily shoved a wad of money into her hands before rushing out of the store to get into his car. A shot rang out, and the bullet hit the bulletproof car window. This failed assassination attempt aroused Ding’s suspicions of Zheng.

Arrest and execution

After this, Zheng prepared to carry out the assassination herself. She felt her chance had come when Ding picked her up one evening and drove her to a dance at the Shanghai West Ballroom. When she noticed the unfamiliar-looking waiters, she felt that Ding had set everything up in advance. Under close surveillance, Zheng Pingru repeatedly attempted to find an opportunity to strike, but realized it was nearly impossible. In desperation, she finally threw her pistol out of the window in the restroom, concealing it with a handkerchief.

That night, Zheng Pingru did not return home. Instead, the car that should have taken her home took her to the headquarters of the New Fourth Army of the Chinese Communist Party, and a few days later she was imprisoned. Two months later, on a cold day in February 1940, she was taken to a field and executed by gunfire. After her death, Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Nationalist government, honored Zheng Pingru’s mother with a plaque inscribed with the words “teaching loyalty with propriety” and it was later placed in the Taipei Martyrs’ Shrine.

Wang Hanxun flies his last mission

After Zheng’s death, none of Wang Hanxun’s friends dared to tell him the news. It was only two years later that he learned of her sacrifice. He was devastated and did not pursue another relationship. He rarely attended the weekly parties with female university students organized by the Air Transport Corps.

In 1944, Wang Hanxun flew his last mission. He was attempting to drop food, supplies, and ammunition to the troops defending the city of Hengyang, which had been under siege by the Japanese. The battle was the longest and most devastating battle in the Sino-Japanese war, with the highest number of casualties on both sides, and by August, the Chinese forces defending Hengyang were hoping for air support so they could make a final stand against the Japanese.

War planes flying over a river during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Wang Hanxun’s last mission was an attempt to drop food, supplies, and ammunition to the troops defending the city of Hengyang. (Image: via Public Domain)

During the mission, the C47 aircraft he was flying encountered a thunderstorm with lightning and heavy rain. The strong static interference caused the radio compass to malfunction, and unfortunately, the aircraft became lost and crashed in the mountains, killing all six crew members on board.

Due to the bitter fighting, Hengyang was almost completely destroyed, and the Japanese had taken control of the city. At the time of the chaos, the government was unable to search for the bodies of Wang Hanxun and the other fallen airmen, so they commemorated them with a memorial stone at the Mopan Mountain Air Force Martyrs Cemetery in Chengdu. After the war ended, the stone was moved to the Zijin Mountain Air Force Martyrs Cemetery in Nanjing, where Wang Hanxun’s name was engraved on the Monument to Anti-Japanese Aviation Martyrs.

Translated from Kan Zhong Guo by Chew B

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