Big Guns & Big Cats: Notorious Shanghai Gangster Zhang Xiaolin

By Orlando Crowcroft, August 19, 2022

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As an arch-Japanese collaborator, murderer and junkie, it is little surprise that Green Gang top-dog Zhang Xiaolin’s life ended violently. 

While his long-term ally and partner 'Big Ears' Du Yueshang died peacefully in his bed in Hong Kong in 1951, Zhang bled to death on the floor of his Ninghai Road mansion, shot by one of his bodyguards and confidants in 1940, at the height of the Japanese occupation of Shanghai.

He probably saw it coming; Zhang had survived two assassination attempts already that year, and at the time of his murder he had been appointed governor of Zhejiang – his home province – in the Japanese puppet government.

In the past things had been very different. It had been Zhang, a Hangzhou native, who had helped Du gain control of the city’s opium trade in the 1920s, using his links with Zhejiang warlords to control the shipping routes on the Yangzi and Huangpu rivers.

But the strained relationship between Du and Zhang was no secret. Zhang resented Du's increasing power and legitimacy in the French Concession, while Du felt that Zhang’s unpredictability, drug use and erratic fits of violence – he was rumored to have fed an unfaithful mistress to his pet tiger – threatened his rise in the social network of 1930s Shanghai.

Zhang Xiaolin, Zhu Minyi, Xu Shiying, Huang Jinrong & Du Yuesheng.

Their split became official with the Japanese invasion of 1937. Du – who had funded resistance to the Japanese, and continued to do so throughout the occupation – had left Shanghai soon after the invasion, but Zhang stayed and opted to help the invaders. 

One of the reasons for his treachery was personal. Zhang had nursed a grudge against Chaing Kai-shek since 1933, when Chiang refused his son a job in a Shanghai bank. 

During the occupation, the assassination squads of the nationalists – now based out of their wartime capital Chongqing – had killed a number of prominent collaborators, but Zhang’s links to Big Ears Du – however tenuous they were by 1940 – had prevented him from being targeted. 

However, at the end of 1939 they learned that the Japanese intended to appoint Zhang puppet governor of Zhejiang, and the decision was made to kill him. 

The first attempt, in mid-January 1940, failed when one of Zhang’s bodyguards was killed instead, and later that year he survived another assassination attempt while sitting in his car on Jinling Lu.

In the end, the nationalists bribed Zhang’s personal bodyguard, Lin Huaibu, to murder him.

When Lin crept up behind him and pulled the trigger on August 15, 1940, Zhang had been talking to Wu Jingguan, another member of the Zhejiang government.

In the end, Zhang had paid the highest price for his betrayal.

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