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Xi Shitai, a Japanese-trained physician, practiced medicine in his own Shitai Hospital.[149] After the Nationalists withdrew from Shanghai, Dr. Xi joined the Japanese military press section and became Police Commissioner Lu Ying's principal secretary.[150] Xi Shitai was thus a prime target for assassination by Chongqing agents.[151]

The leader of the three-man assassination squad was a twenty-two-year-old Songjiang native named Yuan Dechang.[152] His two coconspirators were Peng Fulin, a slim twenty-year-old waiter, and a clothing salesman named Zhao Zhixiang.[153]

Zhao Zhixiang, a typical Shanghai xiao shimin (petty urbanite), was also twenty-two years old. After an apprenticeship in a French Concession tailor's shop, he had worked for five years as a sales clerk in two other "foreign dress shops." He had earned enough to marry the daughter of a villager back home in Pudong, but at the height of the depression in 1937, Zhao was laid off and had to go back to live with his brother. His wife returned to her mother's home, and they remained apart

because Zhao had to live hand-to-mouth while war raged across the river in South Market.[154]

On March 5, 1939, Zhao Zhixiang decided to cross the river to try to find a job once again in the unoccupied International Settlement. After searching in vain, he recalled once meeting Yuan Dechang, a man with Pudong guerrilla connections, who often used to book rooms in the Nanjing Hotel on Shanxi Road.[155] When Zhao Zhixiang approached the Nanjing Hotel telephone operator, Yuan Dechang immediately emerged from a back room.[156]

Yuan Dechang recognized Zhao, and told him to rendezvous on the afternoon of March 14 in front of the Great World amusement center.[157] Zhao Zhixiang duly showed up and was immediately taken by Yuan to a boardinghouse off of Rue Lafayette, where Yuan rented an attic room. That same day, the third member of the team, Peng Fulin, moved in with them. Thereafter the three lived together as "bosom friends." The attic was even large enough for Zhao Zhixiang to bring his wife into the city to stay for a week before going back home to Pudong.[158]

On the afternoon of April 4, 1939, Yuan Dechang sent Zhao Zhixiang out to buy food. Zhao returned to find Yuan and Peng cleaning a couple of pistols. Five days later, the three men moved to the Nanjing Hotel. Yuan and Peng came and went. Returning late on the night of April 10, the two agents told Zhao that the following morning they were going to "assassinate a traitor."[159] Their secret mission was confirmed by a letter signed by one Zhou Jianhua and supposedly sent to Zhao Zhixiang at a Ningbo address.[160] Yuan read the letter aloud to the other two semiliterate men. It spoke about three men carrying out the duties entrusted to them by the "four hundred million citizens" of China, and enjoined them to be "brave, steady, enthusiastic, [and] clever," and to "take exercises to make [their] bodies strong." It urged them to lead their lives "in accordance with the principles of the New Life Movement laid down by General Chiang": piety (as comrades they should love each other), righteousness (as citizens they should be dutiful toward the nation by crushing "the traitors who are… betraying their mother country"), integrity (as heroes they should punish corrupt officials and traitors), and conscientiousness (as patriots they should take steps against not only those traitors who "aimed at securing high positions for themselves and obtaining money for their own pockets" but also those who enjoyed themselves "in dancing, gambling, and other amusements"). The letter concluded: "Kill the enemy and annihilate the traitor!"[161]

The next morning, April 11, the three men reassembled at the head of Juyili Alley, Lloyd Road. Yuan Dechang assigned Peng Fulin to take care of the watchman inside the lane.[162] Zhao Zhixiang was to keep an eye out for police patrolmen.[163] None of them knew that the watchman had already invited the beat patrolman inside his guard post for a cup of tea.[164]

At 9:15, Dr. Xi stepped out of his back door and started down the alley. Yuan Dechang waited in the shadows. As the doctor approached, Yuan stepped in front of him and started firing. 38-caliber dumdum bullets. Peng Fulin simultaneously

rushed toward the guard post. When he saw the police constable at the watchman's side he fired his weapon, striking the policeman in the right arm. The watchman drew his own gun and fired back, hitting Peng in the chest. Peng ran back out the alley, fleeing through the rear door of a tea shop. Behind him the mortally wounded Xi Shitai fell into the arms of family members who helped him back into the house where he died on the living room floor.[165]

Meanwhile, Yuan Dechang and Zhao Zhixiang escaped in separate directions. Zhao Zhixiang made the mistake of returning to the Nanjing Hotel on Shanxi Road, where he stood helplessly by as the badly wounded Peng Fulin stumbled into the hotel lobby supported by a fellow waiter Peng had appealed to for help.[166] Zhao had no choice but to rent three rickshaws and ask to be taken to nearby Paulun (Baolun) Hospital.[167]

When the hospital staff admitted Peng Fulin, they also phoned a gunshot report to Louza Station. By 11 A.M. Shanghai Municipal Police detectives were at Paulun Hospital. Peng Fulin had too deep a chest wound to be interrogated formally, but he did tell the investigators that he had been mysteriously struck by a stray shot along Lloyd Road. Zhao Zhixiang corroborated this fanciful tale at Peng's bedside, and was instantly detained and taken to Louza Road for questioning. Members of the Japanese Military Police attended the interrogation.[168]

While Zhao Zhixiang was being questioned, other Shanghai Municipal Police detectives searched Peng and Zhao's room at 11 Wenxian li, where they found the letter from Zhou Jianhua that incriminated them as members of a Nationalist secret service assassination squad.[169] Confronted with this evidence, Zhao Zhixiang broke down and confessed. At 2:30 that same afternoon the officers took him in handcuffs to Peng Fulin's hospital room, and when Peng—who was in "a very weakened condition" —heard Zhao's confession, he too admitted his complicity. At 3:00 the next morning Peng gave up the struggle and died. For Zhao Zhixiang, a greater ordeal lay ahead.[170]

On April 19, 1939, the Shanghai Municipal Police escorted Zhao Zhixiang across the boundary line at Suzhou Creek and, as a token of their "sincerity," handed Zhao over to the Japanese Military Police. The former tailor's apprentice was never to be seen again.[171]

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