Shi Pei Pu, a Beijing opera singer and spy whose sexually convoluted love affair with a French Embassy worker was the inspiration for the Broadway show “M. Butterfly was one of the most bizarre cases in international espionage.
Mr. Shi (pronounced Shuh), who was convicted of espionage in France in 1986 along with his lover, Bernard Boursicot. For years he had been believed to be a woman, at least by Mr. Boursicot, who later served time in prison after the affair and became a laughingstock in France.
Shi Pei Pu died in September of 2009 and when Boursicot was asked if he had any sadness at all, Mr. Boursicot said: “He did so many things against me that he had no pity for, I think it is stupid to play another game now and say I am sad. The plate is clean now. I am free.”
The 1988 Broadway play and the 1993 film “M. Butterfly,” depicted Bernard Boursicot as a high-ranking diplomat and Shi Pei Pu as a female opera singer who met in 1964. Mr. Boursicot was in reality a 20-year-old high school dropout who worked as an accountant at the French Embassy in Beijing. His wishes were to fall in love with a woman after his few sexual experiences had been with male schoolmates, was what was written in his diary.
Shi Pei Pu was 26 when they met and lived as a man who taught Chinese to the diplomatic wives. He told Mr. Boursicot that he had been a singer and a in the Beijing Opera. One night Mr. Shi told Mr. Boursicot a romantic story he could resist: Mr. Shi said he was a woman who had been forced to live life as a man because the father needed to have a son. The two men became lovers and Mr. Boursicot was adamant that their sexual encounters were always done in the dark.
The Chinese authorities discovered the affair, Mr. Boursicot gave them French documents.
Mr. Boursicot would visit China rarely and on one of the visits to Shi Pei Pu, he presented him with a 4-year-old boy, Shi Du Du, who Mr. Shi said was their son.
In 1982, Mr. Boursicot – then living openly with a male companion, Thierry Toulet arranged for Shi Pei Pu and Shi Du Du to live with him in Paris. Not long after that the two of them, Mr. Boursicot and Shi Pei Pu were arrested for espionage. Police first believed Mr. Shi was a woman, but he later showed the prison doctors how he hid his genitals and told them the truth.
Shi Du Du said he came from China’s Uighur minority and was sold by his mother. He stated that his mother loved him but they needed the money because they had no food.
When Mr. Boursicot, heard in prison that Shi Pei Pu was a man, he sliced his throat with a razor blade. (He lived)
In 1986, Mr. Shi and Mr. Boursicot received six-year sentences for espionage. They were pardoned a year later.
References NY Times, Wikimedia