Qiu Jin

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Qiu Jin
Qiu Jin2.jpg
Born(1875-11-08)8 November 1875
Died15 July 1907(1907-07-15) (aged 31)
Shanyin, Shaoxing, Zhejiang, Qing dynasty
Cause of deathExecution by decapitation
Political partyGuangfuhui
Spouse(s)Wang Tingjun
ChildrenWang Yuande (王沅德)
Wang Guifen (王桂芬)
Parent(s)Qiu Xinhou (秋信候)

Qiu Jin (Chinese: 秋瑾; pinyin: Qiū Jǐn; Wade–Giles: Ch'iu Chin; 8 November 1875 – 15 July 1907) was a Chinese revolutionary, feminist, and writer. Her courtesy names are Xuanqing (Chinese: 璿卿; pinyin: Xuánqīng) and Jingxiong (simplified Chinese: 竞雄; traditional Chinese: 競雄; pinyin: Jìngxióng). Her sobriquet name is Jianhu Nüxia (simplified Chinese: 鉴湖女侠; traditional Chinese: 鑑湖女俠; pinyin: Jiànhú Nǚxiá) which, when translated literally into English, means "Woman Knight of Mirror Lake". Qiu was executed after a failed uprising against the Qing dynasty, and she is considered a national heroine in China; a martyr of republicanism and feminism.


Wax figure of Qiu Jin at her desk

Born in Fujian, China,[1] Qiu spent her childhood in her ancestral home,[2] Shaoxing, Zhejiang. Qiu Jin was born into a wealthy family, her grandfather worked for the official and was in charge of Xiamen city for defence. Zhejiang was a province that was famous for female education. Qiu Jin had support from her family when she was young. Her mother was well educated and she ensured Qin Jin received a good education in the family school.[3] This key factor explains why Qiu Jin could be the female pioneer for the woman's liberation movement and republican revolution. Qiu studied in a womans' school in Japan and returned to China to participate in a variety of revolutionary activities.

Life before leaving for Japan[edit]

Childhood activities[edit]

Qiu Jin got her foot binding at an early age and she studied how to read and write poetry since her family was among elite class. With the support from her family, Qiu Jin also learned how to ride horseback, use a sword, and drink large quantities of wine - activities that were only allowed to men at that time.


Qiu Jin got married at the age of 21, which was considered late for a woman of that time. Qiu Jin's father arranged the marriage for her and made her marry Wang Tingchun, the youngest son of a wealthy merchant in Hunan province. Qiu Jin did not get along well with her husband, as her husband only cared about enjoying himself.[4] While in an unhappy marriage, Qiu came into contact with new ideas. The failure of her marriage affected her decisions later on, including choosing to study in Japan.

The collapse of Qing Dynasty[edit]

The Qing government lost the Sino-Japanese war from 1894 to 1895. Losing to Japan in this war woke the Qing government up to the fact China was no longer the most powerful nation even in Asia. Japan had started learning western technology and accepting western standards earlier. This urged the Qing government to progress and modernize.[5] The Chinese female ruler Cixi looked up to Japan as the model. The Qing court organized tours to Japan. Many Chinese elites were sent to Japan to learn how they could build China like the Japanese were able to do.[6] Qiu Jin was one of the girls who got the chance to study overseas as these opportunities were only given to the children of higher social class.

Life while studying in Japan[edit]

In 1903, she decided to travel overseas and study in Japan,[7] leaving her two children behind. She initially entered a Japanese language school in Surugadai, but later transferred to the Girls' Practical School in Kōjimachi, run by Shimoda Utako.[8] The school prepared Qiujin with the skill she needed for the revolutionary later on. With the education from Shimoda school, many female activists participated in the Republican Revolution in 1911. Qin Jin became active in several groups and organizations such as the Traids with the goal to overthrow the Manchu rule. She joined the mutual love association which was an all women's nationalist Chinese group. Qiu was fond of martial arts, and she was known by her acquaintances for wearing Western male dress[9][10][1] and for her nationalist, anti-Manchu ideology.[11] She joined the anti-Qing society Guangfuhui, led by Cai Yuanpei, which in 1905 joined together with a variety of overseas Chinese revolutionary groups to form the Tongmenghui, led by Sun Yat-sen.

Within this Revolutionary Alliance, Qiu was responsible for the Zhejiang Province. Because the Chinese overseas students were divided between those who wanted an immediate return to China to join the ongoing revolution and those who wanted to stay in Japan to prepare for the future, a meeting of Zhejiang students was held to debate the issue. At the meeting, Qiu allied unquestioningly with the former group and thrust a dagger into the podium, declaring, "If I return to the motherland, surrender to the Manchu barbarians, and deceive the Han people, stab me with this dagger!"[citation needed] She subsequently returned to China in 1906 along with about 2,000 students.[12]

Whilst still based in Tokyo, Qiu single-handedly edited a journal, Vernacular Journal (Baihua Bao). A number of issues were published using vernacular Chinese as a medium of revolutionary propaganda. In one issue, Qiu wrote A Respectful Proclamation to China's 200 Million Women Comrades, a manifesto within which she lamented the problems caused by bound feet and oppressive marriages.[13] Having suffered from both ordeals herself, Qiu explained her experience in the manifesto and received an overwhelmingly sympathetic response from her readers.[14] Also outlined in the manifesto was Qiu's belief that a better future for women lay under a Western-type government instead of the Qing government that was in power at the time. She joined forces with her cousin Xu Xilin[9] and together they worked to unite many secret revolutionary societies to work together for the overthrow of the Qing dynasty.

Life after returning to China[edit]

She was known as an eloquent orator[15] 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 China Women's News (Zhongguo nü bao), a radical women's journal with another female poet, Xu Zihua in Shanghai.[16] They published only two issues before it was closed by the authorities.[17] 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. While teaching in Datong school, she kept secret connection with local underground organization—The Restoration Society. This organization aimed to overthrow the Manchu government and restore Chinese rule.


On 6 July 1907, Xu Xilin was caught by the authorities before a scheduled uprising in Anqing. He confessed his involvement under torture and was executed. On 12 July, the authorities arrested Qiu at the school for girls where she was the principal. She was tortured as well but refused to admit her involvement in the plot. Instead the authorities used her own writings as incrimination against her and, a few days later, she was publicly beheaded in her home village, Shanyin, at the age of 31.[2] Her last written words, her death poem, uses the literal meaning of her name, Autumn Gem, to lament of the failed revolution that she would never see take place:

(Autumn wind, autumn rain — they make one die of sorrow)[18]


The entrance to her former residence in Shaoxing, which is now a museum
The Statue of Martyr Qiu Jin

Qiu was immortalised in the Republic of China's popular consciousness and literature after her death. She is now buried beside West Lake in Hangzhou. The People's Republic of China established a museum for her in Shaoxing, named after Qiu Jin's Former Residence (紹興秋瑾故居).

Chinese scholar Hu Ying, Professor of East Asian Languages and Literature at the University of California, Irvine, published a monograph on Qiu Jin in 2016. Burying Autumn[19] explores Qiu Jin's friendship with her sworn sisters Wu Zhiying and Xu Zihua and situates her work in the larger sociopolitical and literary context of the time.

Her life has been portrayed in plays, popular movies (including the 1972 Hong Kong film Chow Ken (《秋瑾》)), and the documentary Autumn Gem,[20] written by Rae Chang and directed by Chang and Adam Tow. One film, simply entitled Qiu Jin, was released in 1983 and directed by Xie Jin;.[21][22] Another film, released in 2011, was entitled Jing Xiong Nüxia Qiu Jin (競雄女俠秋瑾), or The Woman Knight of Mirror Lake, and directed by Herman Yau. She is briefly shown in the beginning of 1911, being led to the execution ground to be beheaded. The movie was directed by Jackie Chan and Zhang Li. Immediately after her death Chinese playwrights used the incident, "resulting in at least eight plays before the end of the Ch'ing dynasty."[23]

In 2018, The New York Times published a belated obituary for her.[24]

Literary works[edit]

Because Qiu is mainly remembered in the West as revolutionary and feminist, her poetry and essays are often overlooked (though owing to her early death, they are not great in number). Her writing reflects an exceptional education in classical literature, and she writes traditional poetry (shi and ci). Qiu composes verse with a wide range of metaphors and allusions that mix classical mythology with revolutionary rhetoric.

For example, in a poem, A Reply Verse in Matching Rhyme (for Ishii-kun, a Japanese friend),[25] we read the following:

Chinese English


Don't speak of how women can't become heroes:
alone, I rode the winds eastward, for ten thousand leagues.
My poetic ponderings expanded, a sail between sky and sea,
dreaming of Japan's three islands, delicate jade under moonlight.
Grieving the fall of bronze camels, guardians of China's palace gates,
a warhorse is disgraced, not one battle yet won.
As my heart shatters with rage over my homeland's troubles,
how can I linger, a guest abroad, savoring spring winds?

Editors Sun Chang and Saussy explain the metaphors as follows:

line 4: "Your islands" translates "sandao," literally "three islands," referring to Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, while omitting Hokkaido - an old fashion way of referring to Japan.
line 6: ... the conditions of the bronze camels, symbolic guardians placed before the imperial palace, is traditionally considered to reflect the state of health of the ruling dynasty. But in Qiu's poetry, it reflects instead the state of health of China.[26]

On leaving Beijing for Japan, she wrote a poem, Reflections (written during travels in Japan)[27] summarizing her life until that point:

Chinese English


The sun and moon without light. Sky and earth in darkness.
Who can uplift the sinking world of women?
I pawned my jewels to sail across the open seas,
parting from my children as I left the border at Jade Gate.
Unbinding my feet to pour out a millennium's poisons,
I arouse the spirit of women, hundreds of flowers, abloom.
Oh, this poor handkerchief made of merfolk-woven silk,
half stained with blood and half soaked in tears.

War flames in the north‒when will it all end?

I hear the fighting at sea continues unabated.

Like the women of Qishi, I worry about my country in vain;

It's hard to trade kerchief and dress for a helmet[28]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Schatz, Kate; Klein Stahl, Miriam (2016). Rad women worldwide: artists and athletes, pirates and punks, and other revolutionaries who shaped history. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press. p. 13.
  2. ^ a b Porath, Jason (2016). Rejected princesses: tales of history's boldest heroines, hellions, and heretics. New York, NY: Dey Street Press. p. 272.
  3. ^ Rankin, Mary Backus (1975). Women in Chinese Society - "The Emergence of Women at the End of the Ch'ing: The Case of Ch'iu Chin,". Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. p. 46.
  4. ^ Gilmartin, Christina Kelley (31 December 1995). Engendering the Chinese Revolution. University of California Press. doi:10.1525/9780520917200. ISBN 978-0-520-91720-0.
  5. ^ Antony, Robert J. (1 October 1990). "Ono Kazuko: Chinese Women in a Century of Revolution, 1850–1950". History: Reviews of New Books. 18 (2): 80. doi:10.1080/03612759.1990.9945686. ISSN 0361-2759.
  6. ^ J, Kucharski. "New Views on Gender". Qiu Jin: An Exemplar of Chinese Feminism, Revolution, and Nationalism at the End of the Qing Dynasty.
  7. ^ Barnstone, Tony; Ping, Chou (2005). The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry. New York, NY: Anchor Books. p. 344.
  8. ^ Ono, Kazuko (1989). Chinese Women in a Century of Revolution, 1850-1950. Stanford University Press. p. 61. ISBN 9780804714976.
  9. ^ a b Ashby, Ruth; Gore Ohrn, Deborah (1995). Herstory: Women Who Changed the World. New York, NY: Viking Press. p. 181.
  10. ^ Porath, Jason (2016). Rejected princesses: tales of history's boldest heroines, hellions, and heretics. New York, NY. p. 271.
  11. ^ Phillibert, Chris (2 September 2014). "Progressive Women' s Education". James Blair Historical Review. 2 (1): 49.
  12. ^ Ono, Kazuko (1989). Chinese Women in a Century of Revolution, 1850-1950. Stanford University Press. pp. 61–62. ISBN 9780804714976.
  13. ^ Dooling, Amy D. (2005). Women's literary feminism in twentieth-century China. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 52.
  14. ^ Ono, Kazuko (1989). Chinese Women in a Century of Revolution, 1850-1950. Stanford University Press. pp. 62–63. ISBN 9780804714976.
  15. ^ Dooling, Amy D. (2005). Women's Literary Feminism in Twentieth-Century China. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 50.
  16. ^ Zhu, Yun (2017). Imagining Sisterhood in Modern Chinese Texts, 1890–1937. Lanham: Lexington Books. p. 38.
  17. ^ Fincher, Leta Hong (2014). Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China. London, England; New York, NY: Zed Books. p. 123. ISBN 978-1-78032-921-5.
  18. ^ Yan, Haiping (2006). Chinese women writers and the feminist imagination, 1905-1948. New York, NY: Routledge. p. 33.
  19. ^ Ying, Hu (2016). Burying Autumn. Cambridge: Harvard.
  20. ^ Chang, Rae (2017). Autumn Gem. San Francisco, CA: Kanopy.
  21. ^ Browne, Nick; Pickowicz, Paul G.; Yau, Esther, eds. (1994). New Chinese Cinemas: Forms, Identities, Politics. Cambridge University Press. p. 33. ISBN 0521448778.
  22. ^ Kuhn, Annette; Radstone, Susannah, eds. (January 1994). The Women's Companion to International Film. University of California Press. p. 434. ISBN 0520088794.
  23. ^ Mair, Victor H. (2001). The Columbia history of Chinese literature. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. p. 844.
  24. ^ Qin, Amy (2018). "Qiu Jin, Beheaded by Imperial Forces, Was 'China's Joan of Arc'". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 March 2018 – via nytimes.com.
  25. ^ Wang, Yilin (2021). "Translation: Poems by Chinese feminist and revolutionary writer Qiu Jin". NüVoices. Retrieved 10 March 2021 – via https://nuvoices.com/.
  26. ^ Chang, Kang-i Sun; Saussy, Haun (1999). Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. p. 642.
  27. ^ Wang, Yilin (2021). "Translation: Poems by Chinese feminist and revolutionary writer Qiu Jin". NüVoices. Retrieved 10 March 2021 – via https://nuvoices.com/.
  28. ^ Edwards, Louise (2013). "Joan Judge and Hu Ying, eds. Beyond Exemplar Tales: Women's Biography in Chinese History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011. xiv + 431 pp. $44.95/ £30.95. ISBN 978-0-9845909-0-2". Nan Nü. 15 (2): 337–341. doi:10.1163/15685268-0152p0006. ISSN 1387-6805.

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