He Zhen (anarchist)

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He Zhen

He-Yin Zhen (Chinese: 何震, c. 1884 – c. 1920) was an early 20th century Chinese feminist and anarchist. Born He Ban in Yizheng, Jiangsu, she married the noted scholar Liu Shipei in 1903 and went with him to Tokyo. She then took the name He Zhen (He "Thunderclap") but signed her published writings He-Yin Zhen (何殷震) in order to include her mother's maiden name. She published a number of strong attacks in anarchist journals on male social power which argued that society could not be free without the liberation of women.[1]


Born into a prosperous Jiangsu family and given a good education in the Confucian classics despite being female, she and her sister were married to brothers. He Zhen married Liu Shipei in 1903, and soon she and Liu moved to Shanghai, where she continued her education at the Patriotic Women's School run by Cai Yuanpei. She and Liu moved to Tokyo in 1904. [2] She was a mainstay of the Chinese anarchist group in Tokyo and a major contributor to the journal Tianyee (Tianyi) (Natural Justice), which published in the two years 1907-1908, as well as to the Paris journal, Xin Shiji (New Century or New Era), edited by the anarchist group there led by Li Shizeng and Wu Zhihui. She and her husband both wrote under pen names, and many of her articles were misattributed to Liu.[3] He Zhen also founded the Women's Rights Recovery Association (Nüzi Fuquan Hui), which called for the use of force to end male oppression of women as well as resistance to the ruling class and capitalists while endorsing traditional values such a perseverance and respect for the larger community.[2]

In 1909, after a falling out with the conservative but deeply anti-Manchu scholar Zhang Taiyan, she and Liu returned to China to work with the Manchu government. After the Revolution of 1911, Liu worked with the new government, then was a faculty member at Peking University.[4]

The end of He Zhen's life is still in mystery. Following Liu's death from tuberculosis in 1919, she was rumored to have become a Buddhist nun and ordained under the name Xiao Qi. However, there were also reports that she died of a broken heart or mental disorder.[3]


He-Yin Zhen had a different approach to the "Women Question" (funü wenti) and women's oppression that was raised in China in the late 19th century. She believed that gender and class inseparable, and she unraveled the reason for the misery Chinese women had endured for millennia from the perspective of labor. He-Yin was distinctive from her contemporary feminist thinkers in that she considered anarchy as the one possible condition where women could be fully liberated. Unlike many of her contemporary thinkers such as Liang Qichao, who viewed liberating women as a means to an end of reviving China, He-Yin put women's oppression as her ultimate goal to resolve.[5] He-Yin Zhen's feminism was also formed through her critiques of capitalism, especially its inhumanity. In her opinion, women would never be free if capitalism persisted. This line of critique provides a logical and powerful philosophy against the mainstream western feminism at the time, which prioritized women's suffrage as the ultimate liberation of women. He-Yin criticized not only the social forms women were subjugated to but also the political and cultural suppression that limited the freedom of women.[6]

Labor Theory[edit]

He-Yin Zhen approached the concept of labor theory from a historical point of view. She argued that throughout history, Chinese women were restrained to a closed quarter and were prohibited to have any connection with the outside world. They could not provide economically for themselves which made them dependent on their husband, thus subjected to his power and authority.[7] She argued against other male thinkers who denounced women for dependence on their husbands, thus blaming women themselves for their inferiority to men. He-Yin criticized them for hypocrisy. She argued that since women were not allowed to leave their inner quarters, it was unthinkable for them to find a job to support themselves. Although the lower-class women were part of the workforce, they were forced into labor because they had to subsidize their family income, thus their labor was not viewed as their own production but something insignificant for a society dominated by men.

One popular proposal to solve the purported problem of women’s unproductivity was to call women into the labor force.[8] However, He-Yin saw the flaws in this solution promulgated by male feminists at the time. She pointed out that under capitalism, women were still exploited even if they achieved professional independence. They remained exploited in factories as workers or in offices as secretaries. In different workplaces, women had to listen to their bosses and follow their orders, because they were still dependent on their bosses for wages. The capitalist system puts women in a system where their works are exploited, thus even if they received their full wages, the wages are still set low for the benefits of the capitalists. Women will never rise up and earn a fair share in a capitalist society.[9] Ultimately, joining the labor force would not liberate women from their shackles, because regardless of their job type women’s bodies and labor were still exploited.

He-Yin Zhen thus saw the solution for the "Women Question" as the liberation of the working class. Concerned with the commodification of women’s body,she emphasized labor as an autonomous and free practice among all humans, contrasting with its commodified notion in classical and neoclassical political economy. Labor should represent both economical liberation and intellectual liberation as women became free in their actions. But in a capitalist society, women were commodified as their body and their labor were forcedly labor a value by others in which they had no control over. For He-Yin, labor is not only an economic concept, but it also has a fundamental impact on human society. She refused the commoditization of labor, and insists to see labor in an ontological notion instead of as a mere economic concept.[10] As long as there exists an exploitation system that monopolizes production where women remained as dependent commodities to society, the so-called "professional independence" also remains as "professional enslavement." Thus, in order to liberate women from their subjugation, He-Yin concluded that the capitalist system must be broken and a communal system must be established.[11]


He-Yin also argued against any type of established government. In her anarchical writing, her anarchical ideas are evident in her criticism of the parliamentary government system in the west. She did not believe in the women's suffrage movement, although she praised suffragists for their courage. He-Yin cited the Norwegian women’s suffrage movement as an example, and argued that since only women from a noble background or a wealthy family could become elected in the parliament, how could one ensure that the elected women would not act against her fellow lower-class women, especially those from the lower class, and only act in favor of her fellow members from the upper-class?[12]

He-Yin believed that electing women into the offices only added a third tier of suppression upon working-class women, apart from the suppression from men and from the government. For the same reason, she did not believe that leftist parties, such as the Social Democratic Party in the United States, would act in favor of the common people. Once they were in the parliament, the governmental system would lure these leftist parties towards power and authority thus neglecting their fellow suppressed commoners, including the working-class women.[13] Then, these leftist parties would diverge away from their original goal of liberating the lower class and abolishing capitalism. He-Yin concluded that women’s liberation could only be achieved through the action of the common people alone, without the intervention of the government. She provided an example of how the working class in the United States did not benefit even when the Social Democratic Party was elected, needless to say about the situation of women who were barely represented in the party.[14] He-Yin did not agree with the agenda of many of the leftist parties as to how they listed their end goals to be elected to the government. She believed that without the government, men and women from the lower class can focus on improving their livelihood instead of diverging the concentration into other fields the government and the upper class are interested in.

Instead of endorsing participating in a society governed by bourgeois elections, He-Yin proposed an ideal communal society in which women and men are equal as they share the same responsibilities and production. Her ideal society would be similar to a socialist or communist country in the 21st century, but without a central government to rule over the people. In this ideal society, children would be brought up in "public child care facilities," therefore freeing women of their motherly duty and leveling the playing field for women. Thus, women could assume responsibility equal to men.[15] He-Yin also proposed that if men and women were raised and treated equally, and the responsibility assumed by both genders are equal as well, then the distinction between "men" and "women" will become unnecessary. Hence, neither men nor women will be oppressed by their assumed duties.[16] He-Yin attempted to rebuild a system where women could actively participate in society and have real power to decide their future. Her solution to gender inequality and oppression of women was a will to liberate women from any form of suppression, including the suppression from an established governmental system regardless of its ideology.


Most of He-Yin Zhen’s feminist writings were written when she and her husband resided in Japan, and the influence of her feminism in the early Chinese feminist community was unclear. However, her feminist views were influential during the May Fourth movement, especially picked up by female communists.[17] Her influence on the development of anarchism among Chinese scholars was also significant. Anarchism was first documented and introduced to the Chinese international students in Tokyo in the Japanese translations of the western anarchical works. Chinese students in Japan soon took it as a solution to the contemporary Chinese problems and sought a solution for China after the 1911 Revolution in China. Among the scholars who were developing their own understandings of anarchism was He-Yin Zhen. Her works, including articles in her journal, Natural Justice (Tein Yee)Chinese: 天意报 influenced the development of anarchism in China. It is also in Natural Justice, the first Chinese translated version of the Communist Manifesto is published.[18] Her husband was also a supporter of the ideology, despite being closely engaged with the military personages of the warlords in China.[19]


Her essay "On The Question Of Women's Liberation," which appeared in Tianyi in 1907, opens by declaring that "for thousands of years, the world has been dominated by the rule of man. This rule is marked by class distinctions over which men—and men only—exert proprietary rights. To rectify the wrongs, we must first abolish the rule of men and introduce equality among human beings, which means that the world must belong equally to men and women. The goal of equality cannot be achieved except through women's liberation."[20]

"On The Question Of Women's Labor," published in Tianyi in July 1907, traces the exploitation of women's labor from the times starting with the "well field system" of ancient China, especially decrying the tragedies of prostitution, female infanticide, and concubinage of recent times. [21] "Economic Revolution And Women's Revolution" "On The Revenge Of Women," asks the women of her country: "has it occurred to you that men are our archenemy?" [22] "On Feminist Antimilitarism," and "The Feminist Manifesto" were also powerful indictments of male social power.[23]

"On Feminist Antimilitarism",[23] which was originally published in 1907, He Zhen addresses the importance of women protesting against militarism. He- Yin uses the burst of antimilitarism during the early 20th century within Southern Europe and the example of revolutions taking place without antimilitarism to propel it foreword. She advocates that since military men are strongly armed, these revolutions are essentially made to be too difficult as they can be pacified by the army. She even claims that "If we examine the past we see that troops are good for nothing but rape, kidnapping, looting, and murder” in order to defend her views that antimilitarism benefits all since the military is responsible for major atrocities within Chinese culture. Within this essay He Zhen uses a poem written by musician Cai Wenji to depict the ongoing carnage faced by women who were often captured by the invaders. Often times, these women committed suicide. If women are able toescape this fortune, they often have to lose their sons, mourn their husbands and suffer as the household is ruined.Furthermore, the fate of being captured was not avoidable for many Chinese and it did not exclude in its scope; all women were at risk regardless of social class or lineage. He Zhen continues as she claims “Ever since [Japan] began deploying troops in recent years, the number of prostitutes In the country has been growing by the day”. [23] He Zhen creates the correlation between militarism and prostitution as wives are faced with the losses of their sons and husbands with little compensation. This leaves the wives to face difficulty with providing for themselves and sustaining their lives; leading them to have to prostitute themselves. He Zhen also addresses the tragedies women face as households are separated and brought together again by news of loss. Particularly using poems to display the sentiments of Chinese writers who face these tragedies

Within "The Feminist Manifesto",[23] which was also published in 1907, He Zhen Zhen tackles the institution of marriage as a route source of the inequalities between man and woman. She goes on to address the fact that marriage was a symbol of strength for men as the more wives he possessed, the more respected he was. So this encouraged man to marry and hold many concubines. He Zhen also addresses the inequality that exists as a “wife” and “husband”. While men are able to serve as many woman’s husband, women are only ever socially expected to have one husband. She powerfully claims that "Once a woman becomes a man’s wide, she remains so for life”.[23] This develops the idea that women must follow their husbands since she is not able to be whole without him and creates the mirage that her husband is her heaven. He Zhen goes on to address what women should strive for in order to begin to be liberated and equal to men: Monogamous marriage, Women should NOT take her husband’s surname, Parents should value sons and daughters equally, Daughters and sons should be raised without discrimination, If couples are not functioning correctly, they should be able to separate, Those who are remarrying should only marry to someone who has been married before. First-time marriages should be kept to people who have not been married. Abolish all the brothels and relieve prostitutes. He Zhen then addresses the objections that may take place against her proposals. Since women give birth, they are by nature different than men in their labor and capabilities. He Zhen responds to this by clarifying that she is not limiting herself to a women’s revolution; but instead a complete social revolution. In result, there would be public child care facilities which would be entrusted with raising the child after birth. She then addresses the argument that there are more women than men, it can not be expected that everyone has only one spouse. To this point, He Zhen responds with the reminder that women do not go to war and since men are dying at war, the numbers are actually skewed. If the social revolution takes place, then the numbers would adjust themselves.

Tein Yee: Anarchist Journal[edit]

Tein Yee, which was first published in Tokyo, Japan in 1907, is often considered the first anarchist journal in China.[24]  He Zhen partnered with her husband, Chinese anarchist and activist Liu Shipei, to publish the journal .Within it, many anarchists, including He Zhen herself, published articles challenging early 20th century values. He Zhen was an editor for the journal as well.[24] The journal itself was antigovernment and heavily influenced by the question regarding women and their roles in society. Within the journal, many other topics were addressed that particularly encouraged revolution. He Zhen is often considered to be the encourager for the radicalism that occurred post-publication as her writings were interpreted as radicalized.[25] She was also one of the few feminist writers at the time who were writing from a women's perspective. During the early 20th century, many of the feminist writers in Chinese society were men, making He Zhen's perspective that much more radicalized in thought as she advocated for a reform in society through a complete over turn of government and capitalist system.[24] Throughout the years however, He Zhen began publishing fewer articles within the Tein Yee, but these articles (outside of her own published essays) are some of the few accounts that are credibly written on He Zhen's behalf. Underneath He Zhen's guidance and publication, Tein Yee was a journal heavily concerned with feminism but as He Zhen began to publish less, the journal soon became more geared towards anarchism.[24] Tein Yee's heavy focus on women's roles were contributed to He Zhen, who helped gain attraction within the journal towards the subject.[25] But despite He Zhen's attempt at keeping balance between anarchism and feminism, the journal soon became one mostly focused on anarchism. This was also a demonstration of the overall change in society, who at first were focused on addressing the question of women's roles in society but soon became more interested in anarchy and governmental institutions and preventing Asia from falling into the western Capitalist model.[24]


  1. ^ Liu (2013), p. 2. sfnp error: multiple targets (11×): CITEREFLiu2013 (help)
  2. ^ a b Zarrow (1988), pp. 800-801. sfnp error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFZarrow1988 (help)
  3. ^ a b Liu (2013), pp. 51-52. sfnp error: multiple targets (11×): CITEREFLiu2013 (help)
  4. ^ Zarrow (1988). sfnp error: multiple targets (3×): CITEREFZarrow1988 (help)
  5. ^ Liu; et al. (2013). "On Women's Education," The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. p. 186-203.
  6. ^ Hershatter (2019). Women and China's Revolutions. p. 83-86.
  7. ^ Liu; et al. (2013). "On the Question of Women's Liberation," The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. p. 72-73.
  8. ^ Liu; et al. (2013). "On Women's Education," The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. p. 190-191.
  9. ^ Liu; et al. (2013). "On the Question of Women's Labor," The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. p. 77-82.
  10. ^ Sudo (2006). "Concepts of Women's Rights in Modern China". 18 (3): 484-485. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. ^ Liu; et al. (2013). "On the Question of Women's Liberation," The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. p. 70.
  12. ^ Liu; et al. (2013). "On the Question of Women's Liberation," The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. p. 65,69.
  13. ^ Liu; et al. (2013). "On the Question of Women's Liberation," The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. p. 68.
  14. ^ Liu; et al. (2013). "On the Question of Women's Liberation," The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. p. 68.
  15. ^ Liu; et al. (2013). "The Feminist Manifesto," The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. p. 183.
  16. ^ Liu; et al. (2013). "The Feminist Manifesto," The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. p. 184.
  17. ^ Zarrow (1988). "He Zhen and Anarcho-Feminism in China". 47 (4): 811. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  18. ^ Karl (2012). "Feminism in Modern China". 6 (2): 244. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  19. ^ Zarrow (1988). "He Zhen and Anarcho-Feminism in China". 47 (4): 800. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  20. ^ Liu (2013), p. 53. sfnp error: multiple targets (11×): CITEREFLiu2013 (help)
  21. ^ Liu (2013), pp. 72- 91. sfnp error: multiple targets (11×): CITEREFLiu2013 (help)
  22. ^ Liu (2013), p. 105. sfnp error: multiple targets (11×): CITEREFLiu2013 (help)
  23. ^ a b c d e All translated in Liu, Karl, and Ko, ed., The Birth of Chinese Feminism
  24. ^ a b c d e Huiying, L. (2003-12-01). "Feminism: An Organic or an Extremist Position? On Tien Yee As Represented by He Zhen". Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique. 11 (3): 779–800. doi:10.1215/10679847-11-3-779. ISSN 1067-9847.
  25. ^ a b Dirlik, Arif (1986). "Vision and Revolution: Anarchism in Chinese Revolutionary Thought on the Eve of the 1911 Revolution". Modern China. 12 (2): 123–165. doi:10.1177/009770048601200201. ISSN 0097-7004. JSTOR 189118. S2CID 144785666.

References and further reading[edit]

  • Liu, Huiying (2003). "Feminism: An Organic or an Extremist Position? On Tien Yee as Represented by He Zhen". Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique. 11 (3): 779–800. doi:10.1215/10679847-11-3-779.
  • Liu, Lydia, Rebecca E. Karl and Dorothy Ko, ed. (2013). The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 9780231162906.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Karl, Rebecca E. (2012). "Feminism in Modern China". Journal of Modern Chinese History. 6 (2): 235–55. doi:10.1080/17535654.2012.738873. S2CID 143681517.
  • Hershatter, Gail (2019). Women and China's revolutions. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 83–86. ISBN 978-1-4422-1569-6.
  • Sudo, Mizuyo; Hill, Michael G. (2006). "Concepts of Women's Rights in Modern China". Gender & History. 18 (3): 483–486. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0424.2006.00452.x.
  • Zarrow, Peter (1988). "He Zhen and Anarcho-Feminism in China" (PDF). Journal of Asian Studies. 47 (4): 796–813. doi:10.2307/2057853. JSTOR 2057853.
  • Rošker, Jana. 1988. Staatstheorien und anarchistisches Gedankengut in China um die Jahrhundertwende. Dissertation zur Erlangung des Doktortitels, Universität Wien, Institut für Sinologie, Geisteswissenschaftliche Fakultät. Wien: Universität Wien.
  • Rošker, Jana S. 2016. Anarchismus in China an der Schwelle des 20. Jahrhundert. Eine vergleichende Studie zu Staatstheorie und anarchistischem Gedankengut in China und in Europa. Saarbrücken: Südwestdeutscher Verlag für Hochschulschriften.
  • Dirlik, A. (1986). Vision and Revolution: Anarchism in Chinese Revolutionary Thought on the Eve of the 1911 Revolution. Modern China, 12(2), 123-165
  • Gao, B. the birth of Chinese feminism: essential texts in transnational theory. Fem Rev110, e9–e11 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/fr.2015.8
  • Cairns, D. (2011). He Zhen (Late 19th Century – ?). In The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, I. Ness (Ed.). https://doi.org/10.1002/9781405198073.wbierp178

External links[edit]


George, Abosede. (2015). He-Yin Zhen, Oyewumi, and Geographies of Anti-Universalism. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, 35(1), 183–188. https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-2876200

Qiao, Z. (2012). Imagining a different future: anarchist equality and the form of labour in the Journal of Natural Justice. Frontiers of History in China , 7(3), 376–403.

Roa, A. (2015). Introduction: a global intellectual history of feminism. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East , 35, 173–175.