Through a Google search for “Asian feminist writers,” I stumbled upon radical feminist and writer Qiu Jin. As a student of Chinese and as a feminist, I’m shocked that I have never before heard her name. Perhaps her erasure can be explained by censorship, or the fact that American schools teach very little Asian history: regardless, Qiu Jin is an icon who should be admired by all.
Living in nineteenth century China brought Qiu Jin plight after plight. As the daughter of a comfortably well-off family, she did receive an adequate education, but Qiu was still unhappily married off to a stranger before turning twenty. Two children and one oppressive husband later, Qiu did the unimaginable–she picked up and left for Japan to learn and lecture about women’s rights. In the time of bound feet, Qiu wore men’s clothing and insisted upon remaining free, finally martyring herself in a political rebellion against a government more tyrannical than her husband.
Qiu apparently has several books in China, though I imagine she received no compensation for those works in her lifetime. One of the only poems I was able to find online is entitled “Capping Rhymes with Sir Shih Ching From Sun’s Root Land” and goes as follows:
Don’t tell me women
are not the stuff of heroes,
I alone rode over the East Sea’s
winds for ten thousand leagues.
My poetic thoughts ever expand,
like a sail between ocean and heaven.
I dreamed of your three islands,
all gems, all dazzling with moonlight.
I grieve to think of the bronze camels,
guardians of China, lost in thorns.
Ashamed, I have done nothing;
not one victory to my name.
I simply make my war horse sweat.
Grieving over my native land
hurts my heart. So tell me;
how can I spend these days here?
A guest enjoying your spring winds?
JM again here. And can I just say wow! Qiu Jin is quickly becoming one of my favorite historical figures. Right after publishing this post I plan on writing my own poem inspired by the one above, then scouring the internet for more of Qiu’s musings.
In the meantime, feel free to check out the sites below for a more detailed telling of Qiu Jin’s life. Enjoy! – JM