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A traitor's love nest
24/2/2005 7:54

Shanghai Daily news


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The former Lincoln Apartments(top) on Huaihai Road, built in 1931, retains its original "sort of localized art deco" style such as the roof-top stone carvings(above left) and staircase railing(above right).(Photo: Shanghai Daily)

The former Lincoln Apartments on Huaihai Road was where a wartime Chinese quisling conducted a famous clandestine love affair with a Peking Opera star, writes Michelle Qiao.

After Liberation in 1949, the Lincoln Apartments at 1554-1568 Huaihai Road became the Shuguang (``Morning Twilight'') Apartments and it was there that a treacherous local politician saw the beginning of the twilight of his long and shameful career. Zhou Fohai had been a central figure in the Japanese puppet regime that ruled occupied China during the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-45) ``serving'' as police minister, treasurer and mayor of Shanghai.

For some time in that period, Zhou used one of the apartments in the building as a love nest where he kept his mistress, the actress-singer, Xiao Linghong. The elegant, low-key, four-story apartment block, constructed in 1931, is built with light, coffee-colored bricks and has no bold colors or novel design features. Only some light-gray, belt-shaped ornamentations embellish the windows and terraces.

``Its style is a sort of localized art deco,'' says Liu Gang, an expert of architectural history at Tongji University. ``I've been in one of the apartments that faces south and it looks more practical than stylish. All the space is used in a smart, economical way. The rooms are all spacious with separate bathroom and kitchen.'' The first floor of the apartment block, covering 1,332 square meters, is now a line of small cafes and mini stores. The floors above are residential. Today, it's hard to imagine the scene more than 60 years ago when Zhou and his mistress Xiao were conducting their affair there. Born in Hunan Province in 1897, Zhou chose a political career after studying in Japan and is renowned in Chinese history for his changeable character.

He attended the first conference of Communist Party of China in July 1921 but quit the Party in 1924 to join the Kuomintang and his political career began to soar while he was assigned to the publicity department of the then central government. In 1938, he became a close collaborator of Wang Jingwei (Wang Ching-wei), the man who was the premier of the puppet government in Japanese-occupied China from 1940 to 1944. ``His (Zhou's) power in the regime was amazing and it ran across finance, treasury, foreign affairs and part of the army,'' wrote Jin Xiongbai in his book

``The Beginning and End of Wang Jingwei's Puppet Government'' published in Hong Kong in 1965. Jin had also been a close friend and colleague of Zhou in the puppet government. Like many men with wealth and power, Zhou had two hobbies -- wine and women. He had many lovers while married to his tough wife, Yang Shuhui, but it was said that he did not truly fall in love until he saw Peking Opera actress and singer Xiao.

They met one night when she was giving a private performance in the home of a friend on Yuyuan Road. Zhou fell in love with Xiao that night and soon they began meeting in the Xiangshan Road home of Pan Lingjiu who was a mistress of Zhou's banker friend, Sun Yaodong. Several months later, Zhou rented an apartment in the Lincoln Apartments and set it up as a love nest for himself and Xiao. When Yang found out about the affair she threatened Zhou with divorce but Zhou refused to leave Xiao. ``Xiao looked younger than 20 -- sweet, white and plump,'' Jin wrote in his book.

Jin once represented Zhou's wife in negotiations with Xiao. ``She (Xiao) was not pretty but very charming. I noticed that she was sympathetically shivering during our conversation,'' he recalled. Zhou later pretended to abandon Xiao but instead hid her in the home of a Japanese friend who put a telephone in Xiao's bedroom where Zhou could receive his wife's check-up calls. Zhou and Xiao later had a daughter.

``Zhou once told me that morally and emotionally he could not leave his wife who had married him when he was a poor student,'' Jin wrote in his book. ``But he truly loved Xiao and their affair was different from the others in his life. No matter what troubles he had in his life, he would forget immediately when he was with her. And since he was already middle-aged, he thought this might be the last affair in his life.''

And, indeed, it was the last. After the invading Japanese were defeated in 1945, Zhou was captured and taken to Chongqing where he remained in custody for nearly a year. He was then sent to Nanjing in Jiangsu Province where he stood trial for his wartime role supporting the Japanese. He was sentenced to death but this was commuted to life imprisonment by Chiang Kai-shek, the former leader of the Kuomintang, after Zhou's wife had interceded for him. It seems that a lifetime of wine and women had destroyed Zhou physically. He suffered from heart and stomach problems while in prison and died a painful death on February 28, 1948, aged 52.

His wife buried him in an expensive nanmu coffin in the suburbs of Nanjing. In his book, Jin wrote that Xiao stopped acting after Zhou was sent to prison. They wrote to one another frequently and after Zhou's death, Xiao announced that she would remain chaste and devote her life to bringing up their daughter. However, some say she was forced to return to the stage after 1949 to make a living.

The story of Zhou and his beloved mistress certainly adds some bold colors to the rather plain-looking apartment block still standing on Huaihai Road.