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The Birth of Chinese Feminism

The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory

Lydia H. Liu
Rebecca E. Karl
Dorothy Ko
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Birth of Chinese Feminism
    Book Description:

    He-Yin Zhen (1886--1920) was a female theorist who played a central role in the birth of Chinese feminism. Editor of a prominent feminist-anarchist journal in the early twentieth century and exponent of a particularly incisive analysis of China and the world. Unlike her contemporaries, He-Yin Zhen was concerned less with China's fate as a nation and more with the relationship among patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism, and gender subjugation as global and transhistorical problems. Her bold writings were considered radical and dangerous in her lifetime and gradually have been erased from the historical record. This volume, the first translation and study of He-Yin's work in English or Chinese, is also a critical reconstruction of early twentieth-century Chinese feminist thought in a transnational context. The book repositions He-Yin Zhen as central to the development of feminism in China, juxtaposing her writing with fresh translations of works by two of her better-known male interlocutors.

    The editors begin with a detailed portrait of He-Yin Zhen's life and an analysis of her thought in comparative terms. They then present annotated translations of six of her major essays, as well as two foundational tracts by her male contemporaries, Jin Tianhe (1873--1947) and Liang Qichao (1873--1929), to which He-Yin's work responds and with which it engages. Jin Tianhe, a poet and educator, and Liang Qichao, a philosopher and journalist, understood feminism as a paternalistic cause that "enlightened" male intellectuals like themselves should defend. Zhen counters with an alternative conception of feminism that draws upon anarchism and other radical trends in thought. Ahead of her time within the context of both modernizing China and global feminism, He-Yin Zhen complicates traditional accounts of women and modern history, offering original perspectives on sex, gender, labor, and power that continue to be relevant to feminist theorists in China, Europe, and America.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53326-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. List of Chinese Dynasties and a Note on Translation
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-26)

    In 1903, Jin Tianhe (aka Jin Yi; male), a liberal educator and political activist, published in Shanghai what historians have commonly called a feminist manifesto entitledThe Women’s Bell(Nüjie zhong). In the preface, Jin contrasts his own pathetic existence with that of an imaginary counterpart in Euro-America:

    The muggy rainy season with its endless drizzles is stifling. Lotuses droop in the torpid hot breeze. The trees are listless and the distant hills dormant. On the eastern end of the continent of Asia, in a country that knows no freedom, in a small room that knows no freedom, my breathing...

    (pp. 27-49)

    From its birth at the turn of the twentieth century, feminism in China was enmeshed and engaged in many worlds simultaneously. As the literary scholar Amy Dooling points out, “[A] narrow definition of feminism as about sexuality and rights (basically, the liberal position) will not be sufficient given the historical framework in which the politics of gender were lived and written about in China at the time.”¹ This narrow insufficiency is nowhere better illustrated than through a study of the works of He-Yin Zhen, in juxtaposition to contemporaneous male writers on feminism, Jin Tianhe and Liang Qichao, presented in this...

  7. He-Yin Zhen

    • Biography
      (pp. 51-52)

      He-Yin Zhen 何殷震(aka He Ban 何班, He Zhen 何震, ca.1884–1920?) was born and raised in Yizheng, Jiangsu Province, at a time of great transition in China. Married in 1904, she and her husband, Liu Shipei, a renowned classical scholar, went to Tokyo in 1907, where they joined Chinese revolutionaries in exile in Japan and became acquainted with anarchist perspectives and leaders. In the same year, He-Yin Zhen and her fellow travelers in Tokyo formed the Society for the Restoration of Women’s Rights and created the official journal of the society, which they calledTien Yee(Tianyi), orNatural Justice....

    • “On the Question of Women’s Liberation”
      (pp. 53-71)
      He-Yin Zhen

      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 to women. The goal of equality cannot be achieved except through women’s liberation.

      The social system in China has enslaved women and forced them into submission for many thousands of years. In ancient times, men acquired proprietary rights over women to...

    • “On the Question of Women’s Labor”
      (pp. 72-91)
      He-Yin Zhen

      From ancient times to the present, China has had an unequal system with regard to women. It is called slave girl keeping (xu bi).

      From the most ancient of eras, men have looked upon all women with the same gaze they use to contemplate slaves and servant girls. With the exception of wives, all other [women] are named as slave and servant girls. This began as early as the Three Dynasties. The [second-century dictionary]Analysis and Explication of Written Characters(Shuowen) states flatly that in ancient times slaves were criminals by another name. TheRites of Zhou(Zhou Li) concurs:...

    • “Economic Revolution and Women’s Revolution”
      (pp. 92-104)
      He-Yin Zhen

      Power in ancient times survived on brute force; from the Middle Ages forward, power has survived on money. If in ancient times women were controlled by brute force, then from the Middle Ages onward, they have been controlled by money. This is a common and general principle the world over.

      From the beginning of the earliest times, in addition to the communal system (gongchan zhidu 共產制度) under which people lived, there also was a system of shared wives and husbands. There was no private property, and women were not controlled as anyone’s possession. With the growth of desires, some began...

    • “On the Revenge of Women”
      (pp. 105-168)
      He-Yin Zhen

      I address myself to the women of my country: has it occurred to you that men are our archenemy? Are you aware that men have subjugated us for thousands of years? The ancients used to say that those who abuse me cannot but be my enemy. Such is how men have treated women, and there is not a single woman who has not been ill treated by some man. Consequently, there is not a single woman who does not bear a grudge against men. Critics compare this situation to the political subjugation of a subject to his prince, but I...

    • “On Feminist Antimilitarism”
      (pp. 169-178)
      He-Yin Zhen

      In China today, those who are poorly informed fail to perceive any of the hardships that the peoples of Europe, the United States, and Japan are enduring. Rather, we only cower at their national strength, proposing to build up our own military forces while also spreading hawkish ideals. It is truly absurd that everyone boasts about becoming a militarized people. There are even a handful of women who ardently hope to become like Mulan or Liang Hongyu.¹ This is especially senseless. Today, in contrast to these sentiments, I will explain why women should be opposed to militarism. Below is an...

    • “The Feminist Manifesto”
      (pp. 179-185)
      He-Yin Zhen

      Men and women have been unequal in this world for a very long time. In India, widows immolate themselves to sacrifice their lives for men; in Japan, women prostrate themselves in the service of men. In Europe and America, even though people practice monogamy and thereby proclaim equality, women are rarely able to partake in politics or vote. So, is there any substance to their “equal rights”? When we look back at China, our men practically treat women as subhuman beings. In ancient times, after a tribe defeated another group, they [the tribesmen] would truss up the women, bind up...

  8. Liang Qichao

    • Biography
      (pp. 187-188)

      Liang Qichao 梁啓超(aka Liang Rengong 梁任公, 1873–1929) was the foremost modern intellectual of China in the first two decades of the twentieth century. He was born in Xinhui, Guangdong Province, and became a disciple of the New Text Confucian scholar Kang Youwei. Liang was involved in the Hundred Days’ Reform led by the young Guangxu emperor in 1898. Following a coup d’état by Empress Dowager Cixi’s powerful conservative opponents, he and the other leaders of the movement were forced into exile in Japan, where his iconoclastic journalism and scholarly searchings began to shape the minds of a whole generation...

    • “On Women’s Education”
      (pp. 189-203)
      Liang Qichao

      It was said inMencius, “[But men possess a moral nature; and if they are well fed, warmly clad, and comfortably lodged,] without being taught at the same time, they become almost like the beasts.”¹ Such pithy and truthful words! If any man were treated like an animal, we would certainly expect him to be enraged. Yet if what Ziyushi [Mencius] said above is true, then there are innumerable people today who are like beasts.

      In this great wide world, there are some four hundred million people who have round heads and square toes [and are thus Chinese].² Among them,...

  9. Jin Tianhe

    • Biography
      (pp. 205-206)

      Jin Tianhe 金天翮 (aka Jin Songcen 金松岑, Jin Yi 金一, 1874–1947) was a writer, educator, and political figure. Born to a wealthy family in Anhui Province, he received a traditional education at elite local academies. After failing an attempt at the imperial civil service examinations, he turned to the “statecraft” (jingshi) learning that had gained popularity among elites in the years after the Opium Wars. His early work was published in such journals asWomen’s World(Nüzi shijie),Jiangsu,The Weekly Independent(Duli zhoubao), andThe Grand Magazine(Xiaoshuo daguan). Jin helped fund the publication ofThe Revolutionary Army...

    • “The Women’s Bell”
      (pp. 207-286)
      Jin Tianhe

      The muggy rainy season with its endless drizzle is stifling. Lotuses droop in the torpid hot breeze. The trees are listless and the distant hills dormant. On the eastern end of the continent of Asia, in a country that knows no freedom, in a small room that knows no freedom, my breathing is heavy, my mind has gone sluggish. I want to let in the fresh air of European civilization, draw it in to restore my body.

      I dream of a young, white European man. On this day, at this hour, with a rolled cigarette in his mouth, walking stick...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 287-292)
  11. Index
    (pp. 293-308)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-310)