Fiction vs. Fact: Lust, Caution and the Real-Life Story

John Byron, Robert Pack, Panagiotis Dimitrakis, Peter Harmsen, Eileen Chang

Most people assume the 2007 movie Lust, Caution directed by Ang Lee is based on a real- life assassination in World War 2 Shanghai as narrated in the novella Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang (published 1979).

This is a wrong assumption. The errors are perpetuated in Wikipedia.

Wikipedia states the genesis of the movie Lust, Caution as follows –
Lust, Caution (Chinese: 色,戒; pinyin: Sè, Jiè; Jyutping: Sik1Gaai3) is a 2007 erotic period espionage romantic mystery film [4] directed by Ang Lee, based on the 1979 novella by Eileen Chang. Lust, Caution is set in Hong Kong in 1938 and in Shanghai in 1942, when the city was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army and ruled by the puppet government led by Wang Jingwei. The film depicts a group of Chinese university students from The University of Hong Kong who plot to assassinate a high-ranking special agent and recruiter working for the puppet government by luring him into a honey trap. The film is generally accepted to be based on the historical event of Chinese spy Zheng Pingru’s failed attempt to assassinate the Japanese collaborator Ding Mocun.[5]

In fact, Eileen Chang (a direct descendent of Li Hung Chang) did not base her story on any real events. Her work is entirely a work of fiction.

This can be seen from the Penguin Edition of the English translation of Lust, Caution. In her Editor’s Afterword, Julia Lovell never made the linkage.

Neither did Lovell linked the novella to the real-life assassination attempt on Ding.

The linkage is imagined by some people and now has become part of folklore.

The real-life assassination attempt was not carried out by a young mistress of Ding. She just led him into an ambush. She had divided loyalties as she wished to help China but was in love with Ding. (Harmsen p88 and 193).

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