Qiu Jin, which literally translates to Autumn Gem, grew up in southeastern China at the end of the 19th century. She lived with her family and enjoyed all the things little future revolutionaries all over the world enjoy – horses, sword fighting, and shenanigans.
Fortunately, her family saw the value of getting her a good education, which is awesome because the more you know about the world, the more you can ask yourself what the hell is going on, and maybe figure out that a thing or two might need to change.
Unfortunately, though, her family was not at all questioning traditions so the young Qiu Jin had her feet bound in the traditional fashion, which was all the rage at that time. Young girls had cloths bound tightly around their feet to keep them small. This was supposed to be attractive and show your high status because, you know, you can’t work when your feet are all messed up, so clearly, you must be rich. Because logic!
Also according to tradition, her father married her off when she was 21. Needless to say, the marriage wasn’t blessed with love and happiness.
At the same time, China was finding itself in an unhappy marriage with the corrupt Qing dynasty which had been ruling the country for nearly 300 years. Revolutionary ideas were in the air and Qiu Jin caught a whiff of them while she was on a trip to Beijing.
Revolution’s in the Air
She started soaking up feminist literature and poetry. Eventually, these new ideas inspired her to do something virtually unheard of and incredibly badass: she unbound her feet, packed up her things, left her no-good husband and kids, sold her bling, and up and left to Japan to study.
That’s a long and expensive journey these days, and this was the year 1903 so you can imagine how much bravery it took for a woman to leave her man and embark on this journey all by herself.
Once in Tokyo, she managed to find other like-minded people with revolutionary ideas. She started wearing western male clothes, studied martial arts, and joined a bunch of anti-Qing dynasty secret societies. Hells yes.
She started editing a journal to spread her revolutionary ideas, in which she published a famous feminist manifesto called “A Respectful Proclamation to China’s 200 Million Women Comrades” arguing against cultural institutions like bound feet and forced marriages. She also argued that a better future for the women of China could only be brought about by a different form of government.
Qiu Jin eventually wanted a bigger part of the action, so she went back to China to be at the heart of the revolution. She starting uniting many secret revolutionary groups into one big anti-Qing alliance.
Tell your sister that she’s gotta rise up
Back in China, she teamed up with another feminist poet to start a new radical journal for women, the China Women’s News. She encouraged her female comrades to go get an education, start working and become independent.
Of course, many of the women she addressed weren’t able to read. So Qiu Jin gave many public speeches on women’s rights and the revolution.
To no surprise, the government shut down the China Women’s News after only two issues. Instead of giving up, Qiu Jin became the principle of a school…
Yes, in 1907 she became the head of a school which was supposedly a school for sport teachers. Actually, though, the “school” provided the soldiers of the revolution with military training.
The same year, her cousin and co-revolutionary was caught by Qing government agents. They tortured a confession out of him and then promptly executed him. Shortly after, they arrested Qiu Jin. Even under torture, she wouldn’t confess her involvement in the revolution, so instead, the government charged her with the writing of revolutionary poetry. Apparently, this was still a severe enough crime, and Qiu Jin was publicly beheaded in her hometown at the age of 32.
She became a hero of the revolution and a symbol of women’s rights and independence. In 1911, only four years after her death, the revolution overthrew the Qing Dynasty and gave way to the Republic of China.
“Don’t tell me women are not the stuff of heroes.” – Qiu Jin