Soul of China

Gold cannot buy Mei Lan Fang’s heart

Mei Lan Fang (梅蘭芳 1894-1961) was a famed Peking Opera actor in China. When the Japanese invaded China and occupied Shanghai, Mei stopped his stage performances and lived in seclusion at home.

Chu Min Yi (褚民誼), the executive secretary and minister of foreign affairs of the puppet government then under Wang Jing Wei (汪精衞), attempted several times to force Mei to go to Japan to perform, but Mei refused. In order to earn a living, he decided to make Chinese paintings for sale.

After more than 10 days, Mei was able to produce more than 20 paintings and left them at Yue Ya Zhai (悦雅齋), a book and paintings store. In less than half a day, all his paintings were sold out. Rush orders from people who wanted Mei’s paintings came in an endless stream.

Upon learning this, Chu Min Yi sent his people to deliver a 500,000-yuan check to the owner of Yue Ya Zhai one evening, demanding to buy all of Mei’s paintings. He assigned two plainclothes agents to guard the store.

Mei Lan Fang on stage

The following morning, Mei’s wife Fu Zhi Fang (福芝芳) visited Yue Ya Zhai and noticed that each of Mei’s paintings on the wall had an accompanying note at the bottom. The note read, “Ordered by 岡村寧茨 (Yasuji Okamura), commanding officer,” “Ordered by General 土肥原賢二 (Kenji Doihara),” or “Ordered by President Wang Jing Wei.” Yasuji Okamura and Kenji Doihara were both commanders of the Japanese Army.

Fu was mad. After some quick thinking, she got the owner and the two plainclothes agents to go outside the store, then closed the door. Swiftly she took a paper cutter from the counter. In just a few moments, all Mei’s paintings were in shreds.

At this moment, Chu Min Yi arrived at Yue Ya Zhai. Upon seeing the strips of paper on the floor and a furious Fu Zi Fang in front of him, he was stupefied.

Chu scratched his head. “Madame, Min Yi let you get angry,” he said with a smiling face.

Fu Zhi Fang stared at Chu. “This is the temper of Mei Lan Fang,” she said. “He only sells his paintings to the Chinese people but never to the Chinese traitors and their masters!”

Pretending not to have heard Fu’s words, Chu sighed. “These paintings are the painstaking labor of Dr. Mei, how many gold bars have been lost?”

“Mr. Minister,” she replied, “do you still not understand now that no amount of gold bars can buy the heart of Mei Lan Fang?”

Shamed into anger, Chu Min Yi slapped the plainclothes agents and shouted, “You idiots, fathead! Get out of here!” — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 19 (March 1-14, 2016): 5.