A Woman to Know: Qiu Jin

Don’t tell me women / are not the stuff of heroes. — Qui Jin

Don’t tell me women / are not the stuff of heroes. — Qui Jin

(image via Wikimedia)

They called her “China’s Joan of Arc,” referring to her legendary feminist advocacy, but first, she was “China’s Nora,” named so after her sudden decision to leave her family and start a new life (the “Nora” refers to the theatrical heroine in Henrik Ibsen’s “The Dollhouse”).

In 1904, when Qiu left her family in China and sailed to Japan, she left behind a lifetime of suffocating tradition. She’d endured ritual foot-binding and an abusive arranged marriage, forced to squelch her own dreams of a career in politics. While in Tokyo, then only 28, she researched civil rights and connected with other Chinese students, many of whom had left their home country to prepare for future revolution.

She returned to China two years later, intent on challenging the Qing government and advocating for women’s rights. She ran a school for young revolutionaries and began publishing a secret feminist newspaper, “The Chinese Women’s Journal.” She wrote poetry in her spare time, disseminating verses that chronicled her feminist dreams and her hopes for China’s future.

But when the founder of the school, her cousin and also a fellow revolutionary, was executed for planning an uprising, the dynasty ordered Qiu Jin arrested. Soon, soldiers arrived at Qiu Jin’s door, demanding she tell them everything about her school, her work, her cousin and the upcoming uprising. She refused to betray information, and in July of 1907, she was beheaded publicly in her home village. She was just 31.

But after her death, Qiu Jin’s work inspired other revolutionaries to pick up her activism. Other revolutionaries heralded Qiu Jin as a national hero, and even today, her tomb is decorated with flowers and scrolls of her poetry.

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