Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Qiu Jin

(1875-1907)

A Chinese poet and a revolutionary, Qiu Jin was born in 1875 into a moderately wealthy family. While growing up she enjoyed riding horses and playing with swords. She also liked to read. Her family insisted that she receive good education and she was able to socialize with other well-educated people.

At the age of twenty-one Qiu Jin was married to an older man. He had a more conventional outlook on life than she did and she felt stifled in this relationship. She left her husband in 1903 and went to study in Japan where she was vocal in her support for women's rights and pressed for improved access to education for women. To provide female role models, she wrote articles about historical Chinese women.

In 1906 she returned to China and started publishing a women's magazine in which she encouraged women to gain financial independence through education and training in various prefessions. She encouraged women to resist oppression by their families and by the government. At the time it was still customary for women in China to have their feet bound at the age of five. The result of this practice was that the feet were small but crippled. Women's freedom of movement was severely restricted and left them dependent on other people. Such helpless women were, however, more desired as wives, so their families continued the practice to protect their daughters' future security.

Qiu Jin felt that a better future for women lay under a Western-type government instead of the corrupt Manchu government that was in power at the time. She joined forces with her male cousin Hsu Hsi-lin and together they worked to unite many secret revolutionary societies to work together for the overthrow of the Manchu government. On July 6, 1907 Hsu Hsi-lin was caught by the authorities before a scheduled uprising. He confessed his involvement under interrogation and was executed. Immediately after, on July 12, the government troops arrested Qiu Jin at the school for girls where she was a principal. She refused to admit her involvement in the plot, but they found incriminating documents and she was beheaded. Qiu Jin was acknowleged immediately as a heroine and a martyr who died fighting enemies of the Chinese people and she became a symbol of women's independence.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1997.

References:
Herstory. Women Who Changed the World, edited by Ruth Ashby and Deborah Gore Ohrn, Viking, 1995. Qiu Jin profile by Lynn Reese.

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