Kang Tongbi

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Kang Tongbi
Kang junior portrait.jpg
Born February 1883
Died 17 August 1969(1969-08-17) (aged 86)
Beijing
Alma mater Barnard College
Occupation Member of the CPPCC
Spouse(s) Lo Chang 罗昌
Children Lo Jung-pang 罗荣邦
Lo Yi-feng 罗仪凤
Parents Kang Youwei
Zhang Yunchu

Kang Tongbi a.k.a. Kang Tung Pih (Chinese 康同璧 pinyin Kāng Tóngbì), 1887–1969, was the daughter of Kang Youwei, a Chinese reformer and political figure of the late Qing dynasty and early Republican era.

Early life[edit]

She was born in 1887 to Kang Youwei's first wife, Zhang Yunchu (as a scholar from a relatively wealthy family in traditional China, Kang kept several wives and concubines). She was Zhang Yunchu's second daughter. Official documents in the US indicate that her birth was on February 5, 1888, using the Gregorian calendar. No record is currently available of her birth date using the Chinese calendar.

Kang Tongbi's father, along with his disciple Liang Qichao, was one of the major intellectual figures behind the launching of China's political reform by the Guangxu Emperor in 1898, but political infighting at the Qing court caused the reform movement to be summarily aborted within 103 days of its start, and a death warrant to be issued against Kang Youwei. He hastily left the country with his family and would spend the next 14 years travelling the world. As a result, much of Kang Tongbi's youth was spent abroad.

Her father, a noted calligrapher, taught her traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy. A few of Tongbi's own paintings survive.

In 1903, while the Kangs were in Japan, teen-aged Tongbi met Luo Chang, a young staffer at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo. The two were married soon thereafter. There is no indication of the match having been arranged by their respective families, as was usually the case among upper-class Chinese at the time. Tongbi followed her husband when the latter was assigned to the Chinese consulate in Denmark, and later moved on to the United States where her father was already residing.

In 1907, Tongbi became the first Asian student ever to be enrolled in courses at Barnard College. She earned an associates degree in Journalism in 1909. Also in 1909 at age twenty-one, she gave birth to her daughter, Luo Yifeng.

Activities in China[edit]

Little information is available in English on Kang Tongbi’s life after she left Barnard College, but it is known that after the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, she returned to China, where she continued to agitate for feminist causes. She was deeply involved in the women’s movement in Shanghai, advocating women’s rights through meetings and speeches. She was an editor and major contributor to Nüxuebao (Women’s Education), one of the first women’s journals in China.

After the journal folded, Kang Tongbi continued to crusade for women’s rights. Like her father, she took a stand against the practice of foot-binding, establishing and co-leading a Tianzuhui (Natural Feet Society) with other Chinese feminists that served as a base of operations for their activities. She was part of the effort to organize the various Shanghai women’s groups into a united Shanghai Women’s Association, which petitioned the Nationalist government in Nanjing for a new constitution under the slogan, “Down with the warlords and up with equality between men and women”. Kang Tongbi is also remembered for her biography of Kang Youwei, published in 1958.

She stayed in mainland China after the communist revolution in China in 1949. While she seems to have been left alone by the new regime for a while, she was jailed during the Cultural Revolution and died on August 17, 1969, possibly as the result of ill treatment.

Trivia[edit]

Science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson depicted a character named Kang Tongbi in his counterfactual novel The Years of Rice and Salt, a speculation on how world history might have turned out if Western Civilization had been wiped out by the plague epidemic of the 14th century, but it is not known whether the reference is deliberate.

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