Ri Koran/Li Xianglan Visual Reality and Historical Truth
Li Xianglan, or Ri Koran in Japanese, was a screen sensation and popular culture icon during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Her story of success, however, was overshadowed by her hidden identity as Yamaguchi Yoshiko, a Manchurian-born Japanese promoting Japanese imperialist ideology through the guise of her on-screen Chinese personae. The National Policy Company Manchurian Film Association (Man'ei for short) was established by the Kwantung Army to accelerate the dissemination of Japanese imperialist propaganda. The choice of Ri Koran as the face of Man'ei underlines the significance of her controversial and ambiguous allure, which enabled her to navigate, or “border cross,” the complex waters of wartime politics and popular culture during the Sino-Japanese conflict. Through a detailed analysis of one of the Continental Trilogy of films, China Nights (1940), this thesis illustrates how Ri Koran was crafted into a living embodiment of “Hakko Ichiu”, the guiding ideological principle of The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. I investigate the manifestation of “Hakko Ichiu” (Gozoku Kyowa in the Manchurian context) though analysis of particular scenes in the film as well as its use of music, historically known as Continental Melodies. Drawing from existing scholarship by both historians and film scholars, this thesis establishes an important link between these two previously separate scholarly discourses on Ri Koran.