CHIU CHIN, THE FIRST CHINESE FEMINIST
Yen-Lin Ku(Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Chiao Tung University)
The first wave of feminist movement in China emerged in the late nineteenth century when the earliest feminists, Chiu Chin, He Chen, Chen Chieh-fen and others began to form women’s organizations and publish magazines, albeit protests of unfair treatment of women could be spotted in the works of prominent male writers as early as in the seventeenth century. Among the pioneers, Chiu was the best-known and cast the strongest influence, not only for her role in the Revolution, but also for her propagation of gender equality in words as well as in deeds. Before western feminism was ushered in, Chin’s call for equality and humanitarianism was indigenous to Chinese culture; and therefore, the study of the development of her thoughts and life style is most revealing in terms of the universality of the appeal of feminism.
Unlike the majority of Chinese women of her time, Chiu was brought up and educated with her brothers. Fascinated by heroic stories, she expected to become a heroine and never realized her gender would be a major obstacle until she was married into a rich Hunanese family. In her eight years of married life, she was torn between her heroic dreams and the need to survive as a daughter-in-law in a strange family which did not share any of her values. She went through the darkest stage of her life, lamenting being born a woman and blaming her parents for having misarranged her marriage. Moving to Peking with her husband in 1903, she began a new stage of her life by making intellectual friends, reading “new” books, and thus formulating nationalist ideas and contending reform strategies. At the same time, her marriage deteriorated. In order to gain more freedom of movement, she began to attire herself in man’s suit. The next year, she left her husband and went to study in Tokyo, where she was actively involved in the Revolution and the feminist movement. In 1907, she was beheaded in Chekiang province after her plot of military uprising was exposed prematurely.
The sources of gender inequality, according to Chiu Chin, is twofold. On the one hand, men use “lies,” fabricating rules of obedience and myth of inferiority to keep women in servitude, and “barbarous measures,” such as footbinding, to consolidate their own supremacy. On the other hand, women give in to men’s rule by foregoing their part in making a living and totally depending on men’s support. As a result, she suggests women to 1. seek education and gainful employment to be self-supportive; 2. to form women’s groups for mutual support and to rebut men’s fiction.
Like other early Chinese Feminists, most of whom came from the elite layer of society, Chiu was overoptimistic about the prospect of social reform. She believes that sexual equality and liberation could be achieved as one result of the Revolution; and mutual respect in marriag would be obtained once women proved themselves to be equal partners of men by being economically independent. Unfortunately, her early death at the age of 30 did not allow her to develop more sophisticated forms of ferminism. Nevertheless, compared with other female leaders that followed her in both the KMT and the CCP, Chiu was outstanding in her courage to confront dominant male values as well as assertion of individual freedom and dignity for women.
Ferminism, Nationalism, Gender Role, Social Transformation, Sisterhood