Given the political instability of the period and frequent bouts of domestic armed conflicts, especially after 1916 when central power from Beijing following the death of President Yuan Shikai began to ebb in favour of provincial and local mil­itarists, the growth of women’s education was remarkably steady. However, in terms of numbers of schools and students, it lagged far behind that of boys. Thus while the total number of female students increased from 141,130 in 1912-1913 (4.81 per cent of the school population) to 417,820 in 1922-1923 (6.32 per cent of the school population), the total number of male students increased from nearly three million to just over six and a half million during the same period5 (see Table 4.1). At the primary level (principally primary schools and a smaller number of lower vocational schools) the number of girls increased from 130,808 in 1912-1913 to 164,719 in 1916-1917, whereas the number of boys increased from 2,662,825 to 3,678,736 in the same period (see Table 4.2). By 1923 the primary

Table 4.1 Number of female students, 1912-1923 (number of missionary school students not included)

Year

Female students (male students in brackets)

Girls’ schools

% of school population

1912-1913

141,130 (2,933,387)

2,389

4.81

1913-1914

166,964 (3,643,206)

3,123

4.58

1914-1915

177,273 (4,075,338)

3,632

4.34

1915-1916

180,949 (4,294,251)

3,766

4.21

1916-1917

172,724 (3,974,454)

3,461

4.35

1922-1923

417,820 (6,615,772)

6.32

school enrolment for girls totalled 403,742 (6.19 per cent of the total)6 (see Table 4.3). Interestingly, the proportion of girls at secondary level (which com­prised normal, middle and higher vocational schools) was slightly higher, although absolute numbers did not increase significantly – from 10,146 in 1912

Year Primary level Students Secondary Students

level

Table 4.2 Primary and secondary level school enrolment for girls, 1912-1917 (figures for boys’ schools in brackets)

1912-

1913

2,283

(84,035)

130,808

(2,662,825)

105

(722)

10,146

(87,899)

1913-

1914

2,991

(104,296)

155,164

(3,330,643)

131

(908)

11,638

(105,695)

1914-

1915

3,495

(117,585)

166,667

(3,755,060)

136

(961)

10,432

(108,625)

1915 –

1916

3,651

(124,874)

171,488

(3,968,578)

115

(996)

9,461

(116,994)

1916 –

1917

3,363

(116,740)

164,719

(3,678,736)

98

(834)

8,005

(103,073)

Source: Huang Yanpei, ‘Zhongguo ershiwu nianjian quanguo jiaoyu tongji de zong jiancha’, Renwen, 4.5 (15 June 1933), 13-17, 18-20.

Table 4.3 Number of female students in primary school, 1923 (number of boys in brackets)

Province

Lower primary

% of total enrolment

Higher primary

% of total enrolment

Beijing

4,172 (75,048)

5.27

767 (4,801)

13.78

Zhili

22,265 (497,414)

4.28

1,338 (33,486)

3.84

Fengtian

17,448 (275,703)

5.95

2,240 (25,140)

8.18

Jilin

4,157 (51,262)

7.5

643 (5,919)

9.8

Heilongjiang

4,161 (42,029)

9.01

769 (4,028)

16.03

Shandong

15,797 (712,250)

2.17

1,807 (36,632)

4.7

Henan

6,522 (250,617)

2.54

1,036 (21,512)

4.59

Shanxi

129,889 (608,305)

17.6

2,792 (37,737)

6.89

Jiangsu

36,019 (317,124)

10.5

5,583 (35,373)

13.63

Anhui

4,391 (69,056)

5.98

728 (17,442)

4.01

Jiangxi

5,595 (180,260)

3.01

420 (22,345)

1.84

Fujian

3,713 (115,335)

3.12

719 (25,077)

2.79

Zhejiang

19,781 (354,145)

6.09

2,847 (33,519)

7.83

Hubei

6,620 (183,542)

3.48

1,371 (14,417)

8.68

Hunan

22,805 (256,924)

8.15

1,569 (32,518)

4.6

Shaanxi

3,544 (185,415)

1.87

1,469 (16,346)

8.25

Gansu

1,832 (99,978)

1.79

88 (12,011)

0.73

Xinjiang

86 (2,980)

2.78

— (468)

Sichuan

29,209 (495,716)

5.56

4,684 (45,431)

9.35

Guangdong

11,843 (300,101)

3.79

2,253 (62,220)

3.49

Guangxi

6,729 (152,325)

4.23

872 (23,811)

3.53

Yunnan

7,766 (147,494)

5

915 (22,654)

3.88

Guizhou

2,728 (50,629)

5.11

131 (11,765)

1.1

Rehe

973 (14,448)

6.31

99 (1,402)

6.6

Ningyuan

144 (7,799)

1.81

— (435)

Chahar

371 (9,916)

3.61

42 (808)

4.94

Total

368,560 (5,445,815)

6.34

35,182 (547,297)

6.04

(9.77 per cent of the total) to 11,824 in 1922 (6.46 per cent of the total).7 In 1923, moreover, there were only 3,429 girls at middle school, compared to 100,136 boys, and 6,724 at normal school compared to 31,553 boys (see Table 4.4).

The numbers of schools for girls during the early Republic were also dwarfed by those for boys. Thus whereas the number of girls’ schools rose from 2,389 in 1912 to 3,461 in 1916, the number of boys’ schools increased from 84,883 to 117,658 in the same period.8 The provincial distribution of girls’ schools in the early years of the Republic, however, revealed that it was not only the traditionally more wealthy provinces that supported female education. In 1914, for example, while the metropolitan province of Zhili came first with 445 girls’ schools, and the prosperous coastal provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang third (331 schools) and sixth (266 schools) respectively, the relatively poorer province of Shandong came fourth with 323 schools and the inland province of Sichuan (not as exposed to foreign influences as the eastern coastal provinces) second with 442 schools.

Table 4.4 Number of female students at middle and normal schools, 1923 (number of male students in brackets)

Province

Middle school

% of total enrolment

Normal school

% of total enrolment

Beijing

823 (4,646)

15.05

271 (541)

33.37

Zhili

46 (7,434)

0.61

635 (2,212)

22.3

Fengtian

154 (3,558)

4.15

413 (2,051)

16.76

Jilin

— (960)

151 (1,006)

13.05

Heilongjiang

35 (594)

5.56

116 (200)

36.71

Shandong

92 (6,199)

1.46

365 (1,921)

15.97

Henan

— (3,036)

187 (1,420)

11.64

Shanxi

— (6,910)

813 (2,629)

23.62

Jiangsu

953 (8,263)

10.34

770 (2,751)

17.03

Anhui

18 (1,920)

0.93

402 (1,335)

23.14

Jiangxi

—(4,165)

108 (1,696)

5.99

Fujian

111 (3,662)

2.94

177 (1,003)

15

Zhejiang

120 (5,011)

2.84

451 (2,498)

17.08

Hubei

186 (5,338)

8.87

136 (807)

14.42

Hunan

86 (8,867)

0.96

771 (1,856)

29.35

Shaanxi

— (1,829)

50 (656)

7.08

Gansu

— (777)

49 (664)

6.87

Xinjiang

— (85)

Sichuan

— (9,581)

498 (1,517)

24.71

Guangdong

468 (8,639)

5.14

193 (1,208)

13.78

Guangxi

— (3,921)

— (641)

Yunnan

157 (2,783)

5.34

40 (1,345)

2.88

Guizhou

— (1,664)

38 (227)

14.34

Rehe

— (178)

— (121)

Ningyuan

— (102)

— (87)

Chahar

— (99)

— (76)

Total

3,249 (100,136)

3.14

6,724 (31,553)

17.57

More significantly, the culturally and economically ‘backward’ southwestern provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou reported totals of 248 and 145 girls’ schools respectively in 1914, considerably more than the coastal provinces of Guangdong (76 schools) and Fujian (30 schools) (see Table 4.5). In 1923, nevertheless, out of the country’s total of 1,811 counties (xian), 423 had still not established a lower primary school for girls, while 1,161 did not have a higher primary school for girls.9 Statistics on the number of students who dropped out of primary school in any one year, however, suggest that although female enrolment was small compared to male enrolment during the early Republic more girls were actually staying on at school. In 1914-1915, for example, 178,669 boys dropped out of lower primary school (compared to 10,674 girls), while 31,122 boys dropped out of higher primary school (compared to 1,807 girls).10 A similar situation pertained in 1916-1917; 151,585 boys dropped out of lower primary school (compared to 7,900 girls), while 12,628 boys dropped out of higher primary school (compared to 1,611 girls).11

The gender gap was even more striking in the enrolment figures for individual provinces. In the metropolitan province of Zhili (renamed Hebei in the 1920s),

Table 4.5 Number of girls’ schools, 1912-1914 (boys’ schools in brackets)

Province

1912

1913

1914

Zhili

321 (12,255)

387 (13,043)

445 (14,196)

Fengtian

172 (4,275)

258 (5,037)

296 (5,420)

Jilin

28 (443)

31 (509)

47 (631)

Heilongjiang

31 (298)

41 (344)

56 (910)

Shandong

83 (5,113)

197 (9,925)

323 (13,168)

Henan

44 (4,626)

83 (6,074)

83 (6,251)

Shanxi

222 (5,551)

259 (7,557)

175 (9,121)

Jiangsu

275 (5,068)

263 (5,301)

331 (5,651)

Anhui

38 (1,419)

25 (987)

34 (1,101)

Jiangxi

59 (3,083)

69 (4,244)

73 (3,896)

Fujian

11 (978)

19 (1,137)

30 (1,522)

Zhejiang

231 (5,930)

249 (6,296)

266 (6,270)

Hubei

160 (7,132)

194 (9,510)

171 (8,874)

Hunan

96 (3,983)

131 (5,441)

157 (6,720)

Shaanxi

26 (1,985)

68 (3,037)

128 (4,433)

Gansu

1 (1,024)

9 (1,154)

12 (1,282)

Xinjiang

– (60)

– (72)

– (80)

Sichuan

225 (11,738)

340 (13,852)

442 (14,509)

Guangdong

32 (3,217)

51 (3,340)

76 (4,975)

Guangxi

41 (1,490)

64 (1,972)

75 (1,914)

Yunnan

201 (3,752)

252 (4,506)

248 (5,010)

Guizhou

79 (959)

114 (1,226)

145 (1,434)

Rehe

13 (396)

18 (476)

18 (456)

Ningyuan

– (90)

1 (150)

Chahar

2 (127)

Source: JYZZ 14.3 (March 1922).

for example, whereas school enrolment for boys in 1916 (totalling 506,997) comprised 32.84 per cent of the male school-age population, for girls (totalling 12,834) it comprised 1.24 per cent of the female school-age population. Of the 119 districts in the province, only 59 registered female enrolment in schools above 1 per cent of their female school-age populations (the highest being 8.73 per cent); on the other hand, 35 districts registered male enrolment in school above 40 per cent of their male school-age populations.12 In Sichuan province there were 13,469 lower primary schools for boys (415,778 students) in 1916, but only 363 for girls (20,239 students). At the higher primary level in this year there were 764 schools for boys (41,911 students) and 72 for girls (2,367 students).13 Even in the capital, Beijing, the gender gap was noticeable. At the end of 1916 the Beijing Education Bureau issued figures for lower and higher primary school enrolment in 1915-1916. Whereas there was a total of204 lower primary schools for boys (18,971 students), there were only 23 such schools for girls (2,452 students); a similar disparity existed at higher primary level, with 50 schools for boys (3,644 students) and only 13 for girls (254 students).14

Figures for Zhejiang province in the early years of the Republic also indicate that there was only a small increase in lower-level education for girls compared to boys. Thus, for example, while the number of lower primary (or citizen) schools for girls increased from only 162 (5,196 students) in 1912 to 193 (7,233 students) in 1916, those for boys increased from 5,196 (223,739 students) to 7,233 (279,675 students) in the same period (see Table 4.6). Statistics on educational expenditures for Zhejiang province during the same period likewise indicate a slow expansion of female education, although overshadowed by that of education for boys. Thus while expenditures on girls’ lower primary schools in the province increased from approximately 31,500 Chinese dollars in 1912 to nearly

60,0 Chinese dollars in 1916, those on boys’ lower primary schools increased from nearly 1.2 million to 1.5 million Chinese dollars during the same period (see Table 4.7). Intriguingly, however, while expenditures on girls’ higher primary schools increased during these years, those on boys’ higher primary schools actually decreased slightly.

In addition to the growing numbers of female students (albeit small when compared to those of boys) in the early Republic there was a larger presence of

Table 4.6 Number of primary schools for girls in Zhejiang province, 1912-1916 (figures for boys’ schools in brackets)

Year

Lower primary

Students

Higher primary

Students

1912

162 (5,196)

8,186 (223,739)

62 (671)

1,708 (27,974)

1913

163 (5,654)

8,839 (244,610)

75 (704)

1,880 (31,708)

1914

180 (5,609)

14,484 (248,504)

77 (682)

2,221 (29,375)

1915

180 (6,441)

10,557 (278,087)

79 (641)

1,842 (29,301)

1916

193 (7,233)

11,147 (279,675)

84 (650)

2,147 (31,423)

Source: Jiaoyu chao, 1:1 (1919), diaocha baogao, 87-89.

Table 4.7 Expenditures on primary schools in Zhejiang province, 1912-1916 (in Ch. dollars)

1912

1913

1914

1915

1916

Lower primary (girls)

31,311

35,080

45,415

40,477

59,789

Lower primary (boys)

1,198,769

1,210,720

1,241,401

1,407,670

1,522,176

Higher primary (girls)

55,727

61,748

68,511

64,613

62,466

Higher primary (boys)

642,483

620,468

624,210

602,948

609,021

Source: Jiaoyu chao 1.2 (1919), diaocha baogao, 79-80.

female teachers. This is borne out by the noticeable increase in the number of female students at normal school during the first years of the Republic. By 1915, for example, there were 96 normal schools for girls (with 7,904 students), compared to 135 for boys (and 18,775 students).15 In fact, most secondary-level schools for girls in this period were normal schools; in 1913-1914, out of 131 secondary – level schools for girls, 101 were normal schools, while in 1916-1917 74 of the 98 secondary-level schools for girls were normal schools. Although the number of normal schools for girls fell in subsequent years (74 in 1916 and 61 in 1917), nevertheless in 1923 there were 6,724 female students at normal school, constituting 17.5 per cent of the total normal school enrolment (in the same year the number of female students in primary and middle schools constituted 6.19 per cent and 3.14 per cent respectively of total enrolment).16 Now, whereas during the last years of the Qing many teaching positions in girls’ schools had been filled by men, it became increasingly common for such schools to have virtually an all­female staff. A report on the Beijing Number One Girls’ Middle School by an education inspector in 1914, for example, noted that all the staff (with the excep­tion of one man teaching Chinese) were women.17 Provincial statistics also indi­cate an increase in the number of female teachers; in Zhejiang, for example, the number of female teachers at higher primary schools increased from 223 in 1912 to 370 in 1916 (the number of male teachers at the same level only increased from 2,928 to 3,032 during the same period).18 In fact, the phenomenon of young women travelling to different places around the country or within a province to take up teaching posts was specifically referred to in a 1915 article on migration amongst Chinese women, which described them as ‘new pioneers’ opening up remote areas.19 The article noted that 110 female normal school graduates had recently arrived in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang from Zhili, Shandong and even as far afield as Sichuan.

The province of Heilongjiang, in fact, witnessed a growing number of female graduates taking up teaching positions. A 1915 report on more than 30 district girls’ schools in the province noted that many of the teachers and principals were female graduates of either normal schools or training institutes.20 The report on the province also indicated that women continued to play an important role in the establishment and running of schools, as had happened in the late Qing. In particular, husbands and wives, or daughters and fathers often shared responsi­bilities. Sometimes, as in the case of two lower primary schools in Lanxi district (xian), the wife or daughter served as school principal (xiaozhang), while the husband or father served as administrator (shiwuyuan or guanliyuan). In Zhaodong district the local magistrate established a primary school for girls and hired a graduate from Beijing Women’s Normal School as the principal teacher, while her husband was employed as the general administrator. In some cases, the positions were reversed. Thus in Baiquan district the principal teacher of a girls’ school was an ‘old Confucian scholar’ (laoru) while his wife served as adminis­trator. Wives of district magistrates were also active as principals of girls’ schools (in Neihe and Nenjiang districts, for example).

Tantalising scraps of evidence also indicate that women in general were actively seeking knowledge outside the home during this period. The education inspector of Fujian province in a 1913 report, for example, noted the regular pres­ence of women amongst the crowds (up to 900 in total) that listened to weekly public lectures given by a popular science lecture association in the provincial capital.21 A 1919 official report on the public library in the provincial capital of Shaanxi province, which listed the occupational background of its readers, included a separate category for women (funu); on average a total of 116 women apparently visited the library each month between June 1918 and August 1919 (in some months there were over 200).22

The growing visibility of women in public education was matched by a corre­sponding increase in the numbers of women employed in industry. Central government statistics published in 1928 indicate that the number of female work­ers increased from 239,790 (36.2 per cent of the total) in 1912 to 245,076 (37.8 per cent of the total) in 1915 (see Table 4.8). There was a drop in the official figures after 1915 due to the fact that not all provinces submitted reports (a problem that also plagued the gathering of educational statistics at this time); in 1919, for example, a total of 183,589 was listed (constituting, however, 44.7 per cent of the reported total number of factory workers).23 Overall numbers of female workers, however, clearly increased in subsequent years. In 1930 the Ministry of Industry and Commerce established by the Nationalist (Guomindang) government that had been inaugurated in 1928 gave a figure of 374,117 female industrial workers for 29 cities in 9 provinces, while in 1934 a total of 421,805 was given for

Table 4.8 Number of factory workers, 1912-1916

Year

Women

Men

1912

239,790

421,304

1913

212,586

413,304

1914

233,398

391,126

1915

245,079

403,448

1916

231,103

334,152

Sources: Wang Qingbin (ed.), Diyici Zhongguo laodong nianjian, 549; Yang Xingfu, ‘Funu laodong wenti’, 36-37.

all 23 provinces.24 It is interesting that this latter total is not much more than the reported total of female students in 1922-1923 (see Table 4.1). It is also worth noting that more detailed reports on local economies published in the women’s press during the early Republic likewise present a picture (especially in central and south China) in which women were highly visible in a wide range of occupations outside the home. A report by a native of Wujiang (Jiangsu province) in 1915, for example, noted that women in the region not only were engaged in silkworm breeding, silk spinning, cotton weaving, fishing and agriculture (even renting out their labour individually or in groups if their husbands had no land of their own), but also ran small-scale enterprises (restaurants, wineshops, foodstores, teashops, cigarette kiosks).25 A report from Shaoxing (Zhejiang province) in 1916 also noted that women ran small businesses (foodstuffs, tools, fishing nets), as well as operating boats taking goods to market.26

Adding to the growing visibility of women in early twentieth-century China (especially in urban areas) was the marked increase in the number of prostitutes. Recent studies of Shanghai, for example, point to a dramatic change in the pro­file of prostitution as population growth (principally due to increasing numbers of incoming migrants)27 fuelled the ‘commercialisation of sex’, whereby larger numbers of both licensed and unlicensed prostitutes catered to the demands of emerging middle – and working-class clienteles.28 In an 1871 survey of the British-controlled International Settlement in Shanghai by a British doctor a total of 1,612 prostitutes was given; in the same year a survey of the French Concession in Shanghai gave a total of 2,600 prostitutes. In 1915 an investigation carried out by police authorities in the International Settlement came up with a total of 9,791 prostitutes.29 Another estimate for all of Shanghai in 1927, which included licensed and unlicensed prostitutes, gave the extraordinary figure of 120,000!30 Extrapolating from the available data, one historian estimates that average numbers of prostitutes in Shanghai increased from 5,500-6,000 (in 1875) to 15,000-20,000 (in 1920).31 In Beijing, following the new Republican govern­ment’s decision to legalize prostitution, brothels became the equivalent, in the words of a recent study, ‘of Western elite social and sports clubs’ where all kinds of political and commercial deals might be made.32 The numbers of women working in such brothels increased from 2,996 in 1912 to 3,962 in 1923.

A study of Guangzhou, however, insists that the total number of prostitutes may have fallen in the Republican period.33 Thus while one Republican writer estimated that the number of ‘high class’ courtesans (shuyu) alone in the mid – and late Qing totalled 5,000, the Guangzhou Municipal Government in the 1920s sug­gested that the total number of licensed and unlicensed prostitutes in the city amounted to between 3,500 and 4,000.34 What is perhaps more significant than actual numbers, however, is the fact that from the late nineteenth century onwards prostitutes, whether of the courtesan or streetwalker variety, were occupying an ever expanding public space as they became the subjects of an emerging print and pictorial press. Visual representations of Shanghai courtesans in pictorials such as Dianshizhai huabao (published between 1884 and 1898) or in sensationalist entertainment newspapers (xiaobao), for example, highlighted their public persona moving freely across the city and interacting openly with male lovers; they became in effect the symbol of a new urban lifestyle that fascinated and alarmed (primarily) male readers in equal measure.35