She had bound feet but she loved riding and martial arts. She wore men’s clothing and was a firebrand orator. Her name was Qiu Jin and was a revolutionary in the early 1900s in China.
Here is a snapshot of what Qiu Jin achieved, from Wikipedia:
“She was an eloquent orator who spoke out for women’s rights, such as the freedom to marry, freedom of education, and abolishment of the practice of foot binding. In 1906 she founded a radical women’s journal with another female poet, Xu Zihua, called China Women’s News (Zhongguo nü bao), though it published only two issues before it was closed by the authorities. In 1907 she became head of the Datong school in Shaoxing, ostensibly a school for sport teachers, but really intended for the military training of revolutionaries.”
Of her early life, we learn this from Don Tow:
“Qiu Jin was born in 1875 in Fujian Province in China, and grew up in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province. As a child of a fairly well-off family, she was very well educated, much more than other girls of her time. She was very good in literature and writing, both prose and poetry. Unlike most other girls, she was also very much interested in the outdoor and physical activities, such as riding horses and martial arts. Although her feet were bound starting from about five years old as was the norm at that time for Chinese girls from reasonably well-off families, she was quite good in martial arts and other physical activities, an indication of her determination, commitment, and drive. Later as she grew older and started advocating equality for women, she stopped binding her feet.” See Qiu Jin (秋瑾) – China’s First Feminist | Don Tow’s Website.
As for footbinding and women’s rights, we can read a snippet of her writing here via the On This Deity blog (15 July 1907 The Martyrdom of Qiu Jin):
“We women, who have had our feet bound from early childhood, have suffered untold pain and misery, for which our parents showed no pity. Under this treatment our faces grew pinched and thin, and our muscles and bones were cramped and distorted. The consequence is that our bodies are weak and incapable of vigorous activity, and in everything we do we are obliged to lean on others … Sisters, let us today investigate the causes which have led to this want of spirit and energy among women. May it not be because we insist on binding up our girls’ feet at an early age, speaking of their “three-inch golden lilies” and their “captivating little steps”?
When Qiu returned to China in 1906, she started a feminist newspaper called Chinese Women, encouraging women to train for work and become financially independent: “The young intellectuals are all chanting, ‘Revolution, Revolution,’ but I say the revolution will have to start in our homes, by achieving equal rights for women.” “
She was executed for her revolutionary activities along with many of her colleagues but her life story stands out for her defiance of tradition and of the limitations of her gender, as signified by her crippling bound feet – she literally refused to be kept in her place.
Qiu Jin’s individual life is an inspiring one even for women today. We can learn from her that despite society and culture and tradition, we can fight to be our own person – and for the liberty and freedom of others.
This blog post is part of Women’s History Month
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