Qiu Jin’s Address to 200 Million Fellow Countrywomen (1904)
A famous poet and revolutionary, Qiu Jin (1875-1907) typified the earliest generation of revolutionary women. Born into a family of moderately wealthy means and liberal sentiments, Qiu's family made certain she received a modern education and socialized in progressive social circles. Leaving a short-lived marriage in 1903, she traveled to Japan, which had pioneered women's education within Asia. Three years later, she returned to China advocating Westernization and a democratic (non-monarchical) government. Her activities, illegal at the time, were discovered, and she was arrested and executed by decapitation on July 12, 1907. Today, she remains a potent symbol of China's women's liberation movement. The following document is her most famous appeal for women's rights.
1. Why would having daughters be considered undesirable in late imperial China?
2. Why do you think Qiu Jin believes education is key for the liberation of women?
Alas, the most unfairly treated things on this earth are the two hundred million who are bom as Chinese women. We consider ourselves lucky to born to a kind father. If we are unlucky, our father will be an ill-tempered and unreasonable person who repeatedly says, "How unlucky I am, yet another useless one," as if at any instant he could pick us up and throw us to our death. He will resent us and say things like "she's eventually going to someone else's family" and give us cold and contemptuous looks. When we grow a few years older, without bothering to ask us our thoughts, they will bind our tender, white and natural feet with a strip of cloth never loosening them even when we sleep. In the end, the flesh is mangled and the bones broken, all so that relatives, friends and neighbors can say, "the girl from so and so's family has tiny feet."
When the time comes [for the parents] to select a husband, everything is based on the promises of two shameless matchmakers. The daughter's parents will go along with any proposal as long as his family is rich and powerful. Her parents do not bother to ask if the man's family is respectable, or inquire about the groom's temperament and level of education. On the wedding day, one will sit in the brightly decorated bridal sedan chair barely able to breathe. When we arrive at the new home, if the husband is found to be unambitious but even-tempered, her family will say we are blessed with good fortune from a previous life. If he is no good, her family will blame it "on our wrong conduct in a previous life," or simply "bad luck." If we dare complain, or otherwise try to counsel our husbands, then a scolding and beating will befall us. Others who hear of the abuse will say: "She is a woman of no virtue. She does not act as a wife should!" Can you believe such words! These aspersions are cast without the chance for an appeal? Further inequities will follow if the husband dies. The wife will have to wear a mourning dress for three years and will not be allowed to remarry. Yet, if the wife dies, the husband only needs to wear a blue [mourning] braid. Some men find even that unbecoming and do not bother to wear it at all. Even when the wife has only been dead for three days, he can go out and cavort and indulge himself. A new wife is allowed to enter the household even before the official seven weeks of mourning is over. In the beginning, Heaven created all people with no differences between men and women. Ask yourselves this, could these people have been born without women? Why are things so unjust? Everyday these men say, "We ought to be equal and treat people kindly." Then why do they treat women so unfairly and unequally as if they were African slaves?
A woman has to learn not to depend on others, but to rely on herself instead. In the beginning, those rotten Confucianists said things like "men are superior while women are inferior," "a woman without talent is a woman with virtue," and "a wife should submit to her husband" and other such rubbish. If women have any ambition, we should call upon our comrades to oppose them. Chen Houzhu, the ruler of Chen Dynasty, started the practice of foot binding. If we, as women, feel any shame, then we should condemn the practice. It is not like our legs were tied while they bound our feet. Why can't we reject footbinding? Are they afraid of women being educated, knowledgeable, and perhaps surpassing them, men do not allow us to study. We must not simply go along with their decision without even challenging them. We cannot surrender our own responsibilities and be content with a lazy and undemanding life while men control the important matters.
If men call us useless, we become useless. So why are we are not bothered when we are called inept? Why do we not even question them when we are turned into slaves, all in exchange for our comfort? Are we to enjoy life while contributing nothing? Perhaps we are worried that our comforts may not last. As soon as we hear that men crave for "small feet," we rush to bind our feet to please them. For this sacrifice we earn the right to live a life in which we contribute nothing. And being forbidden to read and write, is precisely what we, as women, desire. Why do we disagree? Remember, there is no such fortune in the world that is just there for the taking! Power belongs to the learned and knowledgeable men who contribute to society, and we become their slaves. Since we are the slaves, how can we not be oppressed? We have brought this upon ourselves. How can we blame others? It is depressing to talk about this. We all have experienced this type of life, so there is no need for me to go further into details.
However, from now on I hope we can leave the past behind us and focus on our future. Assuming we have died in the past and are reincarnated into our next life the elders should not say "too old to be of any use." If you have a decent husband who wants to establish a school, do not stop him. If you have a fine son who wishes to study abroad, do not stop him. The middle-aged wife should not hinder her husband down causing him to have no ambition and achieve nothing. If you have a son, send him to school. Do the same for your daughter and never bind her feet. If you have a young girl, the best choice would be for her to attend school, but even if she is unable to attend schools, you should teach her to read and write at home. If you come from a family of officials and that has money, you should persuade your husband to establish schools and factories and do good deeds that will help common people. If your family is poor, you should work hard to help your husband. Do not be lazy and do nothing. These are my hopes. All of you are aware that we are about to lose our country. Men can barely protect themselves. How can we rely on them? We must revitalize ourselves. Otherwise all will be too late when the country is lost. Everybody! Everybody! Please keep my hopes alive!