Shi Pei Pu

Shi Pei Pu

Chinese opera singer and spy
Date of Birth: 21.12.1938
Country: China

Biography of Shi Peipu

Shi Peipu, a Chinese opera singer and spy, was involved in a 20-year relationship with Bernard Boursicot, who remained unaware of Shi Peipu's true identity. This story became widely known in the late 1980s and later inspired the play "M. Butterfly" by Chinese-American writer and playwright David Henry Hwang. It is often difficult to distinguish between a man and a woman, as demonstrated by the story of French diplomat Bernard Boursicot, who lived with and even married a person he believed to be a beautiful and modest Chinese woman, only to discover during a trial for espionage that his spouse was a male Chinese spy. Bernard willingly disclosed information that was used by the ruling party in China. In Hwang's play, the main character reflects on his actions and relationship with the "ideal woman," realizing that only a man truly understands how a woman should behave. The play delves into the reasons why Bernard didn't notice his lover's true gender for almost two decades, highlighting his desire for happiness and his avoidance of anything that could jeopardize it. The story of Bernard and Shi symbolizes the complex relationship between East and West, where each culture feels superior to the other.

Shi Pei Pu

Shi Peipu was born on December 21, 1938, in the Republic of China to a professor and a teacher. After completing high school, Shi enrolled at the University of Kunming, where he studied literature and French. Alongside his studies, he developed a passion for singing and composed plays about the lives of workers.

Shi's fateful encounter with Bernard occurred shortly after the opening of the French embassy in Beijing in 1964. At that time, Bernard was just 20 years old and, according to his diaries, had no contact with girls and harbored a strong desire to fall in love while working in China. Shi met him at a party, but on their first date, Shi was dressed in male attire, explaining that his father insisted he dress as a man since his father always wanted a son. At the party, Shi confessed that he was actually a girl and sang opera in her free time. This confession marked the beginning of a romance that would completely change both of their lives.

Under the cover of darkness, Shi managed to hide her true gender, attributing her shyness to her upbringing and the "ancient" culture that imposed certain obligations on her. Once the Chinese government learned of Shi and Bernard's relationship, they began to blackmail Bernard, threatening to harm Shi if he did not photograph and transmit secret documents. Over the course of several years, they stole over 500 documents.

In the early 1980s, Bernard found himself in Paris, where Shi and their son, who turned out to be a purchased child from a village, joined him shortly after. A year later, the French authorities became interested in Bernard's activities and arrested him along with his "girlfriend." It was only during the police investigation that Bernard learned that Shi had concealed her true gender for the past 20 years. Both of them were sentenced to six years in prison, but Shi was released much earlier due to the insignificance of the case, as part of an attempt to improve relations with China. After his release, Bernard maintained little contact with Shi despite Shi's attempts to reconcile. Bernard also avoided conversations with reporters. Upon Shi's death in 2009, Bernard made the following statement: "He did so many terrible things, he was ruthless towards me. It would be foolish to change course now and say that I feel sorry for his death. Now, everything begins anew. I am free."

In the late 1980s, the story frequently made headlines in newspapers and was often seen as representative of the increasing contacts between East and West. In Hwang's play, these relationships are portrayed as a clash between the West, which feels superior due to the acceptance of democratic values, and the East, which lives in the present but often retreats into the past when moral principles, honor, and trust differed significantly from modern-day standards.