My body will not allow me
To mingle with the men
But my heart is far braver
Than that of a man.
Qiu Jin was born into a gentry family in the port city of Xiamen in Qing Dynasty China on November 8th, 1875. She had a comfortable childhood but was forced to follow the traditions typical of the time period: learning needlepoint, binding her feet and submitting to a forced arranged marriage.
Qiu married the son of a wealthy merchant whom her father had chosen for her in the Hunan Province and in 193 moved with him and their two children to Beijing. In the imperial capital, Qiu quickly struck up friendships with like-minded women and began to take interest in politics. She decided to unbind her feet, began to drink wine and experimented with cross-dressing and swordplay.
Qiu was clearly frustrated with her husband who found no appreciation of poetry or learning. Therefore, at age 28, Qiu decided to leave her husband and two children and sail for Japan in 1904. At this point she wrote the following poem:
Sun and moon have no light left, earth is dark,
Our women’s world is sunk so deep, who can help us?
Jewelry sold to pay this trip across the seas,
Cut off from my family I leave my native land.
Unbinding my feet I clean out a thousand years of poison,
With heated heart arouse all women’s spirits.
Alas, this delicate kerchief here,
Is half stained with blood, and half with tears.
In Tokyo, Qiu enrolled at Shimoda Utako’s Women’s Practical School, and focused most of her energy on connecting with other reform-minded Chinese students similarly keen on fomenting revolution back home. She joined influential anti-Manchu secret societies, including the Restoration Society and Sun Yat-sen’s Revolutionary Alliance. Qiu also wrote a manifesto entitled “A Respectful Proclamation to China’s 200 Million Women Comrades”, where she lamented the problems caused by bound feet and oppressive marriages
Returning to China in 1906, she started the feminist “Chinese Women’s Journal,” using vernacular language to appeal to broader audiences. Sadly the journal was shut down by governmental authorities after only two issues. Qiu also learned how to make bombs during this time period.
In 1907, while running the Datong School for Sport’s Teachers, which was a front for recruiting and training young revolutionaries in Shaoxing, Qiu found out that the founder of the school, Xu Xilin, had been executed for assassinating his Manchu superior. Qiu was told that the government was now searching for Xu’s co-conspirator: her, but she refused to run away. She was quickly captured, tortured and beheaded.
More than a century after her death, many Chinese still visit her tomb beside West Lake in Hangzhou to pay their respects to the woman now embedded in the national consciousness as a bold feminist heroine. To this day, she is often referred to as “China’s Joan of Arc.”
By Lina Piskernik, WAVE Digital & Social Media Coordinator