The discourse of women’s public education in the late qing
It was during the last decade of the Qing dynasty that a strand of thinking on women’s education emerged that may best be described as ‘modernizing conservatism’, and which was to permeate early Republican discourse after 1912 (see Chapter 4). It represented both an endorsement of modernizing change as an effective means to strengthen the polity and economy and an ambivalence about its possible consequences. For officials, educators, reformers and even revolutionaries public education for girls was seen primarily in terms of the reconfiguration of traditional skills and virtues in the service of family harmony, social order and national wealth and strength. Thus while female students were to be trained as skilful and professional ‘household managers’ armed with modern knowledge of hygiene, child psychology and accountancy and divested of the ‘superstitious’ and ‘unproductive’ beliefs and practices of their mothers’ generation, they were also to be inculcated with ‘worthy’ traditional virtues such as deference, diligence and the spirit of self-sacrifice. Such a discourse, as later chapters will show, transcended the political divide of 1911 and was pervasive in most current affairs, educational and women’s journals (whose contributors included both men and women) throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century.
The modernizing conservative discourse on women’s education was a response to dramatic social and economic change during the early twentieth century. The onset of industrialization (originating first in the treaty ports from the 1870s on), for example, was beginning to provide increasing numbers of women from poorer households the opportunity to work outside the home. This was nowhere more evident than in Shanghai, and as early as 1898 the women’s journal, Nuxue bao, referred to the growing numbers of female factory workers there.87 In 1899, out of an estimated 34,500 factory workers in Shanghai, 20,000 were women – all of whom were employed in the cotton spinning and silk reeling industries.88 By the end of the 1920s female cotton workers alone constituted more than one-third of Shanghai’s proletariat. In 1929, 72 per cent and 75 per cent of the workforce in Shanghai’s cotton and silk mills respectively were women; in this year the total number of women working in Shanghai factories (which, apart from textiles, included food processing, tobacco and match manufacture) amounted to nearly 175,000.89 In other cities where industrialization took off somewhat later than in Shanghai, such as Tianjin in north China, women did not enter cotton mills in large numbers until the late 1930s; even here, however, women constituted 5 per cent of the factory workforce by the end of the 1920s (accounting in particular for 9 per cent of the cotton mill workforce).90 In places such as Ningbo (south of Shanghai in north-east Zhejiang province), where women’s work within the home was a mark of respectability and where only as a last resort did families send a female member to work outside, relatively large numbers of women (all from poorer households) were employed in Ningbo’s two cotton spinning mills; one, founded in 1895, employed 1,000 women by 1919, while the other, founded in 1905, employed just over 1,800 women by 1919.91
While conservative officials at the turn of the century such as Zhang Zhidong accepted the economic imperative of women participating in the industrial workforce, they were also fearful of its political, social and moral consequences. For them an ordered, harmonious and prosperous society and polity depended crucially on the well-run household in which women were to play a pivotal role by combining modern knowledge of hygiene and budgeting with traditional virtues of diligence, compliance and self-sacrifice. Aimed primarily at a middle – class audience, this discourse was shared by educational officials, reformers and writers of all political stripes anxious to promote an appropriate form of women’s education that would cultivate efficient and disciplined household managers. A similar development occurred in late nineteenth-century Japan, where early industrialization was fuelled by the textile industry in which the workforce was predominantly female. In 1902, for example, 61,980 women and adolescent girls (all from poorer families) worked in cotton spinning factories (constituting nearly 80 per cent of the workforce), while 120,980 worked in silk reeling factories (constituting nearly 94 per cent of the workforce).92 While government elites accepted the need to harness the productive labour of lower-class women (because of the consensus identifying national strength with industrial economic development), state ideology from the 1890s on began to redefine conceptions of motherhood by emphasizing women’s specialized and unique role in the household as nurturers of infants (as potentially future subjects of the emperor and loyal citizens of the state) and as frugal and productive home managers equipped with modern knowledge. This essentially new conception of womanhood,93 although cloaked in traditionalist rhetoric that called for the cultivation of ‘good wives and wise mothers’ (ryosai kenbo), was primarily aimed at a middle-class audience; it became the cornerstone of the curriculum for girls’ higher schools in 1899, although it did not specifically underpin the curriculum for girls’ primary schools until a revision of ethics textbooks in 1911.94
There were three sources of inspiration for this modernizing conservative discourse on women’s education in early twentieth-century China. First, it drew on the indigenous statecraft tradition that attributed a key role to women as guarantors of household virtue and prosperity, a concern that particularly occupied the minds of Qing rulers and ideologues in the eighteenth century. At a time of increasing commercialization and when the growing attraction of artisanal trades threatened to take people away from the land, a woman’s handwork within the home was seen as crucial to household self-sufficiency and prosperity. In general, moreover, the orderly management of the family (which included a wide range of responsibilities from ensuring family health to supervising the family finances) was crucially perceived to begin with women.95
Second, it was influenced by the example of women’s education in Japan, where female educators such as Shimoda Utako (1854-1936) promoted the ideal of ryosai kenbo as the indispensable foundation of a strong nation. Born into a samurai family, Shimoda became a lady-in-waiting at the imperial court in 1872, and in 1886 she was appointed dean of the new women’s division of the Peers’ School. After having travelled in Europe and North America (1893-1895), Shimoda founded her own school, the Practical Arts Girls’ School (Jissen jogakko) in 1899, determined to develop a unique Japanese/Asian style of women’s education that would ‘combine courses in the domestic arts and Japanese feminine virtues with Western-style maths, science and technical skills training’.96 As already noted in
Chapter 1, Shimoda’s ideas struck a chord with Qing officials and educators at the turn of the century and influenced Chinese female students who went to Japan in the early years of the twentieth century and attended Shimoda’s school, the Jissen Jogakko (Practical Arts Girls’ School).97 Wu Rulun (Chancellor of Beijing University) visited Shimoda’s school in 1902, as did Yan Xiu (a Board of Education official) in 1904. By 1903 there were 10 Chinese women studying at Shimoda’s school; the following year, Hunan province sent 20 female students to study there. It has been estimated that out of the approximately 100 Chinese female students in Japan in 1907, one-third were studying at Shimoda’s school.98 In a talk to Chinese students in Tokyo in 1902 Shimoda warned that men would suffer if women’s education in China was not implemented – households would atrophy, husbands would no longer be interested in national affairs and the development of sons would be stunted. In more general terms, she also linked maternal education with social Darwinist notions of strengthening the ‘yellow’ race in order to confront the growing power of the West.99 In the same year the lectures Shimoda gave at the school in home economics, which accorded women a novel and explicit role as household managers performing a task equivalent to men’s role in the public sphere, were published in book form under the title Kaseigaku (Home Economics/Household Governance). It was this text that Zhang Zhidong cited in 1903 as a ‘suitable’ text for Chinese women’s education.100
Finally, Chinese educators often cited the example of the United States, where domestic science after the late nineteenth century was increasingly promoted as the central component of women’s education; such an idea influenced many Chinese women who studied there in the 1900s and 1910s, one of whom was Hu Binxia, who was to be involved in the publication of the most significant women’s journal during the late 1910s and 1920s, the Funu zazhi (Ladies Magazine).101 It might also be noted that important Japanese female educators and champions of the ryosai kenbo ideal such as Tsuda Umeko studied in the United States in the 1870s and 1880s. Tsuda Umeko (1864-1929) was one of five girls who accompanied the Iwakura Mission to Europe and the United States in 1871-1873 that the new Meiji government hoped might be able to negotiate revision of unequal treaties signed by its predecessor, the Tokugawa Shogunate, with the Western powers in the 1850s and 1860s. The five girls were sent specifically to be trained in the skills of domesticity; after attending several local schools in Washington, DC, Tsuda returned to Japan in 1883, after which she became involved in women’s education, taking up the post of principal at the Peeresses’ School in 1885. She later studied at Bryn Mawr College in the United States (1889-1892) and taught at the Tokyo Women’s Normal School. As a recent study has noted, there were many points of convergence in attitudes and assumptions about the purposes of female education in the two countries during the latter half of the nineteenth century (the American cult of domesticity grounded in the concept of separate spheres, for example, would have chimed well with Japanese values underpinning the ryosai kenbo ideal).102
Before analysing the late Qing discourse on women’s education in detail, however, it is also necessary to relate the almost obsessive concern of Chinese officials and educators to ensure that female students behaved and dressed in an appropriately modest way (as demonstrated in the regulations for all girls’ schools established after 1898 and in the Qing government’s 1907 regulations on girls’ primary and normal schools) to two larger concerns of the day. Since the end of the nineteenth century reformers such as Kang Youwei had attributed the source of the West’s strength and success to the quality of its peoples – perceived as hardworking, frugal, disciplined and public-spirited citizens untainted by superstition, idleness and extravagance that were seen to characterize the Chinese people (and hence a reason for the country’s decline). Reform of the people’s ‘backward’ customs and behaviour (especially following the Boxer uprising of 1900) thus became a significant clarion-call in China’s modernization discourse of the early twentieth century (and later); ‘ behavioural modernization’ , in other words, underlined the absolute necessity of training a disciplined and hardworking citizenry as the basis of social order and national economic prosperity. Such a concern, for example, was evident in a dramatic change of attitude towards beggars, vagrants and the unemployed amongst the male population. In contrast to the relatively tolerant and laissez-faire approach of Qing authorities during the eighteenth century (unlike contemporaneous Europe, where each unemployed person was viewed with suspicion as an economic traitor to be confined to workhouses or other places of correction),103 reformers after 1900 insisted that the poor and unemployed had to be actively ‘transformed’ into productive citizens. During the last years of the Qing, therefore, officials and gentry elites established industrial and vocational training centres (including ones set up within prisons) in addition to half-day and literacy schools.104
Against this background women increasingly came under the spotlight as a primary target of such a project, as influential reformers such as Liang Qichao from the 1890s onwards asserted that they constituted the least productive and most ignorant element of the population and hence were a brake on China’s progress (see Chapter 1). Not surprisingly, the ‘correct’ behaviour of female students was an overriding concern from the very beginnings of public schooling for girls. It is significant, for example, that the regulations for girls’ schools were far more specific than those for boys’ schools on the need to ensure ‘appropriate’ behaviour (the 1904 regulations issued by the Qing government on boys’ primary and secondary schools, for example, did not prescribe how students should or should not behave).105
Second, changes in women’s fashions and hairstyles from the turn of the century onwards (particularly in urban areas more exposed to foreign influence) also had an impact on educators’ attitudes towards female students. Already, in the 1890s, formal dress for Han women – comprising a loosely cut full jacket with wide sleeves (ao) and a pleated skirt (qun) over loose trousers (ku) – was undergoing change as women unbound their feet and shortened their skirts. In other places, especially in the hinterland, current fashion might be quite different. Thus in Chengdu what was referred to in the early years of the twentieth century as the ‘modern miss’ (modeng nulang) not only wore her hair short but also wore a gown with a high collar and shoes decorated in red.106 A number of concerns underpinned the growing criticism of female dress in the last years of the dynasty. One commentator in 1904 expressed alarm that the sexes were beginning to look the same, referring in particular to prostitutes and other women in places of entertainment in Tianjin and Shanghai who bedecked themselves in long gowns (changpao) and vest-jackets (beixin) conventionally worn by men, and who as well let their hair grow loose without hairpins and, worst of all, ostentatiously wore eyeglasses.107 In 1906 another writer drew attention to the proclivity of uneducated women to be obsessed with cosmetics and fancy clothing (it would not be long, however, before such criticism would be levelled at female students). More significantly, he first made the connection between women’s consumer tastes and the national economy that was to be a feature of ‘national products’ discourse in the early Republic when he blamed women’s vulgar attraction to foreign clothes, cosmetics and jewellery for the parlous state of the national economy.108 Finally, in 1908 a series of newspaper articles on women’s dress in China bewailed the fact that it differed in bewildering ways from locality to locality, in contrast to the countries of Europe in which all women dressed the same (the author noted the exception of Eastern European countries such as Poland and Hungary where the retention of local styles and fashions was often ridiculed). It was the mark of a civilized country, the author affirmed, for clothes to be uniform; the multiplicity of clothing styles in China, he insisted, was a source of Western ridicule and symbolized disorder, chaos and backwardness. In order to achieve uniformity, the author suggested, the best solution was to return to ancient styles of dress such as hair worn in buns or coils (gaoji), long skirts (changqun) tightened by a belt (shudai) and tapered shoes (jianlu).109
An absence of dress uniformity amongst female students was further remarked upon in the newspaper press three years later in early 1911; in particular, the tendency of girls to wear trousers and elaborately braid their hair was criticized, the solution to which, it was proposed, would be to form ‘dress reform associations’ in every girls’ school that would ensure students wore skirts and divested themselves of superficial adornments (this included the smoking of Western-style cigarettes).110 A woodblock print (dating from around 1910) from Sichuan depicting a female student on her way to school (see Figure 2.1) suggests there were other forms of dress; she is depicted not only with unbound feet and bobbed hair but also as wearing a long skirt, short jacket and Western-style (as well as masculine looking) hat.111
Such criticism notwithstanding, increasingly after 1900 independently minded urban women decided for themselves what to wear, and feminine fashion became largely shaped by indigenous adoption or modification of Western clothing fashions and hairstyles. Such a trend became especially prevalent after 1911 when, for example, Western-style high-heeled shoes and silk stockings were worn in the cities, and women chose to wear either just skirts or trousers; also, the cut of women’s clothing became narrower. Many of these changes were regarded with alarm by conservative officials and educators – the wearing of trousers without a covering skirt or long jacket, for example, was considered unseemly.112 While the Qing government guidelines of 1907 and 1909 had prescribed ‘appropriate’ dress
for female students, it is significant that the new Republican government in 1912 attempted to regulate women’s dress in general when it insisted that the long jacket and floor-length skirt continue to be worn. In cities such as Shanghai, however, official attempts to impose a more conservative style of dress amongst women proved futile as a bewildering variety of fashions and outfits made their appearance. As later chapters will show, this phenomenon was especially noticeable amongst female students, and for modernizing conservatives in the early Republic their ‘anarchic’, ‘ostentatious’ and ‘unseemly’ clothing and hairstyles were to constitute a source of deep disquiet.
The public discourse on women’s education during the last years of the dynasty was carried out in a new print media that included current affairs journals such as Dongfang zazhi (The Eastern Miscellany), which began publishing in 1904, and specialist educational journals such as Jiaoyu zazhi (Educational Review), which began publishing in 1909.113 Chinese students who began to go to Japan after 1901 also published radical anti-Qing journals that discussed the importance of women’s education (included among which were the first Chinese women’s journals published in both Shanghai and Japan).114 The first journal for women appeared in Shanghai in 1902, and by 1911, 16 more had been published in China and Japan.
Much of this discourse echoed the ideas and assumptions of Liang Qichao and other male reformers in 1897-1898.115 Liang’s blanket denunciation of ‘unproductive’ Chinese women, for example, was taken up by a contributor to Dongfang zazhi in 1904 who grouped China’s entire female population amongst the ranks of ‘unproductive’ and ‘parasitic’ consumers along with ‘superfluous’ officials, priests and monks, beggars, bandits and ‘profligate sons of the rich’ (wanku zidi)}16 Another article in the same journal expressed the urgency of implementing women’s education in terms of benefiting men, warning that if women were not educated (and hence remaining inefficient household managers and incompetent instructors of their sons) they would continue to be a debilitating burden for men, whose ability to carry on a livelihood (shengji) would be undermined.117 As another commentator observed, women’s education was essential since only ‘the accumulation of well-run households could lay the foundations of a state (jijia nai cheng guo)’.118
Much as the French historian, Jules Michelet, in his 1854 work Les Femmes de la Revolution, excoriated the ‘religious superstition’ of Frenchwomen as a dangerous influence on the household during the Revolution, so Chinese commentators engaged in widespread criticism of Chinese women’s ‘superstitious’ beliefs and practices, in particular women’s apparent attraction to Buddhism. Unlike in earlier times, when women’s Buddhist devotional practices within the home were looked on with approval by male elites, and in contrast to the intellectual revival of Buddhism amongst scholar-reformers such as Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao and Tan Sitong,119 in the early twentieth century, women’s religious activities both outside and within the household were condemned. A 1904 article in the Shanghai newspaper, Jingzhong ribao (Alarm Bell Daily), for example, satirized the pervasive influence of Buddhism and Daoism amongst women.120 Referring to the fact that the recently implemented school system only catered to boys, the author noted that the reason for this was that women’s education in China, under the supervision of Buddhist monks and nuns, had been flourishing for centuries. Women thus had their own textbooks (Buddhist scriptures), while their interest in fortune telling and divination facilitated literacy; furthermore, the author sarcastically continued, ledgers of merits taught women arithmetic, religious chanting taught them singing, participation in trance-like dancing acquainted women with physical culture and religious iconography (wooden or clay images of ghosts and ‘snake demons’) substituted for biology. Temples, monasteries and convents were everywhere, the author concluded, and were virtual classrooms for the entire female population; since girls exposed to such ‘superstitious’ beliefs were the future instructors of young boys, it was no wonder that the population was foolish and ignorant.
Another newspaper article in 1904 underlined the distinction, still made by state discourse in contemporary China, between religion (zongjiao) and superstition (shengui: literally, ‘belief in spirits and ghosts’). The former existed in the West (and hence was strong), while the latter existed in China (and hence was weak). Just as peasants and workers were more superstitious than scholars and merchants, and the north more superstitious than the south, the article concluded, so women were more superstitious than men (completely overlooking, of course, the ‘magical’ beliefs and rituals of male peasants in the recent Boxer movement).121 The persistent condemnation of women’s religious devotions within the home (as well as their fondness for personal adornment), and the drain on family resources they apparently incurred, was to be encapsulated in 1911 by an aphorism publicized in a women’s journal – shaonian yangyinjiang laonian yang hes- hang (when young, women help subsidize the silversmith, when older they help subsidize Buddhist monks).122 Women’s ‘wasteful’ and ‘extravagant’ expenditure on religious incense continued to exercise the minds of commentators throughout the 1910s. A contributor to a women’s journal in 1920 was to estimate that women, in their quest for prosperity and happiness, needlessly spent 20 million dollars on incense to be used in religious offerings.123
The tendency for Chinese commentators to condemn women’s religious practices within the home was in marked contrast to late nineteenth – and early twentieth – century colonial India, where a positive role was attributed to women’s religious identities as a way of affirming the spiritual (and therefore uniquely Indian) essence of the household in contrast to a Westernized public sphere. Advice manuals for women written in Bengal, for example, such as Strir Sahit Kathopakathan (Conversations With the Wife) by Dhirendranath Pal in 1884 and Nari Dharma (Women’s Dharma) by Nagendrabala Dasi in 1900, enunciated a ‘new patriarchy’ (that many women chose to accept or embrace) which reconfigured extant patriarchal customs, rules and prescriptions to equip Bengali women for changing conditions and to create structures in the private sphere that would compensate Bengali men for their loss of power and position in public life.124 These manuals, although participating in what one scholar refers to as a ‘global discourse of domesticity’ (every aspect of domestic life was examined in the quest to make the household an ordered, clean and ‘civilized’ place),125 made it clear that Indian women were to be different from Western women in terms of their spirituality (which would affect dress, eating habits, social demeanour and religiosity). For someone like Nagendrabala Dasi women had to learn to read and write in order to ‘study our own religious texts’; a religious education was needed to regain ‘the goddess-like character of ancient Hindu women’.126
Contributors to journals such as Dongfang zazhi and Jiaoyu zazhi also at this time were anxious to promulgate their definitions of ‘appropriate’ female education. Thus shortly after the Qing government’s formal sanctioning of women’s education in 1907 a contributor to Dongfang zazhi, after noting that the lack of education for girls in China had long been a source of ridicule amongst foreigners, insisted that China now needed to follow the Japanese ‘model’ of women’s education, which he equated with the training of ‘wise mothers and good wives’ (xianmu liangqi).127 The Japanese model, the article continued, in contrast to the Western model (which stressed equal political and educational rights for men and women), was more appropriate because it accorded with Chinese norms and teachings (fengsu zhengjiao)}18 Such a view was evidence of the influence exerted on Chinese educators by Shimoda Utako, whose school in Tokyo taught a growing number of Chinese girls.
A similar view was expressed by Shen Dun in Jiaoyu zazhi. In a 1909 article Shen argued that since the influence of women on children was crucial (he compared such influence to the dyeing of silk; once dyed a certain colour, it could not be changed),129 Chinese women’s ignorance and parasitic outlook were a source of ‘infection’ that would destroy households and undermine society (with the populace degenerating into ‘indolence and thievery’).130 For this reason, Shen continued, education for girls should not be about instructing them in special skills or encouraging them to be involved in public and national affairs but rather about training them for their future role of ‘wise mother and good wife’. Shen then went on to criticize current girls’ schools for ‘aiming too high’ (haogao wuyuan) and teaching too many courses and subjects. If girls received an inappropriate education, Shen warned, and ‘high faluting’ theories and ambitions were implanted in their minds, they would abandon all modesty and their subsequent vanity would make them increasingly unwilling to receive instruction on how to perform household tasks.
It is also clear, however, that the debate on the purposes of women’s education led some writers to emphasize more than ever women’s pivotal role in influencing society. Two intriguing articles in Dongfang zazhi, for example, constitute virtual paeans to women’s transformative potential. The first, published in 1905, referred to the tendency of Western philosophy to attribute women with the power ‘to change customs’ and improve society. What the author had in mind (as far as China was concerned), however, was the need to enhance the status and strength of the military, since he cited with approval the examples of Britain (where well- bred women’s positive appraisal of naval personnel and willingness to marry naval officers encouraged young men to join the navy) and Germany (where, again, women’s admiration of the army and their enthusiasm in welcoming home
returning soldiers from campaigns abroad meant that the military enjoyed a high status in society).131 The second, published in 1907, equated women very clearly with civilization per se. Men, on the other hand, were associated with violence (tiexue zhuyi: literally, ‘iron and blood-ism’) characteristic of an earlier primitive and savage era; once civilization had been ushered in with the development of education and the subsequent improvement of social customs, ‘violent’ men could no longer be relied upon and it thus fell to women to oversee this transition. Now, in the twentieth century, the article continued, with the emergence of nationalism and the need for races to be united and strong, women were once more in the forefront. Since women were the ‘starting point of education, the core element of society (shehui zhi yuansu) and the arbiter of customs (fengsu zhi zhuren)’, the article concluded, everything depended on women.132
Furthermore, not all Chinese educators and commentators at this time rationalized women’s education entirely in terms of improving household management. On the first anniversary of the Girls’ School of Pleasant Instruction (yujiao nuxuetang) in 1906, the director, Shen Jun, drew students’ attention to the connection between individual wealth and patriotism.133 Although he reminded students that they had the duty of repaying the benevolence of Empress-Dowager Cixi by becoming ‘worthy mothers and good wives’, he also predicted that, armed with accountancy skills and general knowledge, students would also have the wherewithal in the future to manage a business or economic enterprise (jingying yige shiye); in this way, Shen concluded, everyone would be self-sufficient and thus able to contribute to the well-being of the nation. Other writers similarly linked women’s education to professional or industrial development. In a 1904 article on ‘women’s work’ (nugong) the author argued that women’s extensive participation in industry and the professions could only be achieved with a wide network of girls’ schools. Since Chinese women were more hardworking and persevering (nailao xiku) than Western women, the author concluded, if they were fully utilized in industry the country would become prosperous overnight.134
For the most part, however, when officials, educators and commentators promoted vocational training for women in the early 1900s – on the basis that they had a duty of ‘ making a living’ (mousheng) and thus relieving the burden on men – they generally had in mind the reinvigoration of handicraft and other practical skills within the context of household production. Thus when Zhang Jian, the pioneering industrial and educational reformer who founded modern textile mills and a women’s normal school in his home region of Nantong (Jiangsu province), proposed to establish a women’s industrial arts school in 1909 so that they could ‘improve their livelihoods’, he made it clear that it was to provide instruction in silkworm breeding, basket-weaving, cotton spinning, embroidery and culinary techniques.135 In a 1910 memorial submitted to the throne by the newly created Ministry of Agriculture, Industry and Commerce on the recent opening of the Number One Beneficial Women’s Factory Workshop (shoushan diyi nu gongchang) in the western outskirts of Beijing, it was noted that the recent government efforts to stimulate economic development had focused too much on men, thereby allowing women to become corrupted by indolence and causing the inevitable decline of households. The women’s factory workshop aimed to train girls and young women primarily from less well-off families in such skills as weaving cotton towels, embroidery, paper-flower making, as well as instructing them in ethics and household management; in this way, the Ministry asserted, the traditional ideal of women contributing equally to household income with their handicraft skills – encapsulated by the traditional aphorism nangeng nuzhi (men plough the fields while women weave) – would be revived and reinvigorated.136
The most consistent feature of the discourse on women’s education, however, as the 1909 article by Shen Dun discussed earlier clearly illustrates, was a nagging anxiety and fear about its possible undesirable consequences. Thus as early as 1904, a contributor to Liang Qichao’s reformist journal, Xinmin congbao (New People’s Miscellany), warned that if girls were given too much of an advanced education they might ‘look down’ on their male counterparts and even reject their ‘preordained’ destiny of becoming mothers137 (or dutiful daughters-in-law for that matter, a fear confirmed by a report on the suicide of a Beijing woman that attributed her death to the frequent insubordination of her educated daughter-in-law).138 A series of articles in 1907 on the aims of women’s education in the Tianjin newspaper Dagong bao (L’Impartial) maintained that it was not about granting equal rights with men or allowing an opportunity for women to attain higher levels of learning, but rather training women to fulfil their naturally ordained role as future ‘ good wives’ , and thereby no longer being a ‘ drain on men’ (bulei nanzi).139 Other commentators, in adopting a defensive tone in their championing of women’s education, revealed the fears some may have had about the potentially nefarious aims of such a project. In a 1904 article published in Dongfang zazhi a Ms Lu Lanqing sought to assure her readers that women’s desire for education was not motivated by an ambition to ‘escape from men’s control’ (tuo wo zhi ji ’e) and to contest rights with men in ‘unconventional and unrestrained’ ways fang – dang chituo); rather, it represented a genuine wish to ‘advance along the road of civilization alongside men’ so as to consolidate the unity of the people and thereby contribute to the preservation of the race and nation in the wake of foreign aggression. Comparing the relationship of women and men to that of subject and ruler, Lu Lanqing pointedly concluded that just as a country would inevitably decline if a ruler wilfully kept his subjects ignorant, so households would disintegrate if men deliberately kept women ignorant.140
By 1910 Jiang Weiqiao (1874-?), a prominent school textbook compiler, regular contributor to Jiaoyu zazhi, and, later, an official in the new Republican Ministry of Education in 1912, was openly expressing alarm at the ‘unsatisfactory’ state of women’s public education. Girls in modern schools, he lamented, were ‘getting above their station’ and on returning home were not only incapable of cooking or sewing but actually disdained to perform such duties. No wonder, he declared, that lower-class families were reluctant to send their daughters to school. Jiang recommended that girls’ schools pay more attention to instruction in domestic skills, which ‘accorded’ more appropriately with girls’ natures.141
Given Jiang Weiqiao’s concern about the lack of domestic skills amongst female students, it is no coincidence that articles in the periodical press at this time discussed in minute detail the appropriate ways to run a household (a time also when in Japan during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the organization and design of domestic space became a topic of intellectual concern as part of a larger project of nation-building and the production of a ‘modern’ or ‘bourgeois’ culture).142 In 1909 Huang Yanpei (1878-1965), another significant contributor to Jiaoyu zazhi who was active in the Jiangsu provincial education association before 1911 and later an educational official under the Republic, drew a picture of his ideal household (and to what the household manager should pay attention):
The household must be plain and simple, clean and tidy; on entering one should hear the sounds of singing, music or writing, and not the sounds of abuse, angry shouting or boisterous laughter.143
Huang went on to insist that no odorous smells should emanate from the kitchen, that all items in the rooms (furniture, wall mirrors, vases, carpets) should be practical rather than ostentatious, and that no monks, priests and female shamans be allowed to enter the house. There should be set times for household members to both rise in the morning and take their meals. Finally, Huang insisted, yearly household budgets should be meticulously drawn up.144
Other articles underscored the importance of household management by citing practice in the West and, in particular, the United States. For one contributor to Dongfang zazhi in 1909 the American housewife was the very epitome of the active and dynamic household manager, whose dominant role in the home guaranteed its continuing viability as well as reliable support for the husband; it was precisely because of this, in the view of the author, that the ‘virtuous’ American housewife was treated with so much respect in society.145 Even when newspaper articles pointed to other features of women’s education in the West – such as training them to become doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, journalists – the point was always made that such ‘educated women’ achieved ultimate success as household managers. In the final analysis, in the words of one newspaper editorial, women had to be educated in order to run the household, receive guests, write letters and encourage their husbands to achieve great things,146 an assumption made by Board of Education official Jiang Kanghu in 1910. Arguing that the xianmu liangqi (worthy mother and good wife) was more than just a skilled embroiderer and cook, Jiang insisted that she also needed to be acquainted with national affairs and to understand the implications of fuqiang (wealth and power); if not, he wondered, how could she be expected to ‘assist her husband’ and encourage him (and her sons) ‘to achieve great things in the world (wei haojie)?’141
The scapegoating of Chinese women for the country’s ills was not just a feature of the ‘mainstream’ newspaper and periodical press at this time. Radical anti – Manchu journals published in Japan by Chinese overseas students as well as the emerging women’s press likewise painted a dismal picture of Chinese women. Thus in the words of one contributor to a women’s journal, Chinese women were physically weak, intellectually stunted, oppressed within the home, easily stirred up by ‘women’s gossip’ and constantly prey to temptations offered by promiscuous Buddhist monks.148 The same journal published an article describing Western women as ‘ immortals’ (xianshen), with their healthy bodies and love of the outdoors, and contrasted them with listless and emaciated Chinese women with their small breasts and deformed feet.149 Hu Binxia, one of a number of Chinese women studying in Japan during the early years of the twentieth century, conceded that China’s weakness was partly due to men’s selfish and unpatriotic outlook, but insisted that the major cause of the country’s predicament was its ignorant and petty-minded female population. In words similar to those used by Liang Qichao in 1897-1898 (see Chapter 1), Hu remarked that:
Stupid as deer and pigs, doltish as blocks of wood and stone, is it any wonder that men see them (Chinese women) as a low form of animal life?
Chinese women, Hu Binxia concluded, were a far cry from their morally impeachable, farsighted, independent and public-spirited Western counterparts.150 (Six years later, when she was studying in the United States, Hu was to criticize Chinese female students for treating housework as a ‘mean occupation’ [jianye] and thereby revealing their woeful ‘ignorance’ of the fact that skilled household management was women’s ‘natural role’ [tianzhi] and essential to national prosperity.)151 In 1903 He Xiangning, one of the first women to join Sun Yatsen’s revolutionary organization, the Alliance League (tongmenghui), in Japan likewise excoriated Chinese women of the past in exactly the same terms earlier employed by Liang Qichao, when she described them as pathetically secluded within the inner chambers unable to do anything more than compose ‘useless’ poetry on ‘spring flowers’ and the ‘autumn moon’.152
In 1903 a student journal compared Chinese women unfavourably with Japanese female students:
From morning to night they (Japanese female students) stroll outside on the streets amidst busy and jostling crowds. Out of every ten people, four are
male students and three are female students__ Dressed in purple skirts and
carrying satchels, one can see at a glance how vigorous and energetic they are as they make their way in groups of three or five along the streets. How on earth can they be compared to our Chinese women, who are solely concerned with prettifying themselves and who spend the entire day mindlessly wriggling about like playthings or exhibits at a zoo?153
Contributors to these journals rationalized the need for women’s education in much the same ways as those writing in Dongfang zazhi or Jiaoyu zazhi. An article in the radical student journal, Jiangsu, for example, argued that if women were to fulfil their role of ‘ managing the interior’ (zhinei) they had to be edu – cated.154 A contributor to a women’s journal likewise declared in 1905:
Citizen education is the mother of progress. Women’s education is the mother of citizen education. If the household can be managed well then afterwards the country will be governed well. If there are virtuous and wise mothers, then there will be fine sons.155
The article, moreover, was characterized by an almost schizophrenic attitude towards Chinese women; on the one hand, the author noted, moral instruction for women should aim to cultivate their inherent goodness (tianliang), yet, on the other, concluded that education for women was necessary in order to ‘eliminate the bad roots of their natures’ (chu qi liegen xing). Furthermore, the fear that gripped Qing officials and educators over the potential dangers surrounding the creation of girls’ schools (see earlier) was shared by a women’s journal in 1905 that predicted a breakdown in moral order as adolescent girls ‘of dubious character’ would use the pretext of attending school to fraternize with boys outside the home and indulge ‘their illicit sexual desires’.156
The writings of Chinese radical female activists in Japan such as Chen Xiefen (1883-1923) and Qiu Jin (1877-1907) were also characterized by paradoxical and contradictory attitudes. In an extraordinary article she wrote for her journal, Nuxue bao (Journal of Women’s Learning), in 1903, Chen argued that it was precisely because Chinese women had been the most oppressed in the world that their liberation struggle would be more heroic than anything that had taken place in the West.157 Furthermore, Chen maintained, twentieth-century Chinese women would achieve more than their ‘sisters’ in the West because of three unique characteristics they possessed – characteristics that made them superior to Chinese men as well. First, Chinese women had ‘resoluteness and perseverance’ (jianzhi xin), tried and tested by their continuing devotion as filial daughters and chaste widows despite being oppressed within the home. This devotion, Chen added, if transferred from parents and husbands to race and country would make them more unshakeable patriots than their male counterparts. Second, Chinese women had ‘kind and compassionate natures’ (ci’ai xin), which endowed them with a natural sense of justice and commitment to help the less well-off; unlike Chinese men, therefore, women in government would place more emphasis on equality, peace and human solidarity. Third, Chen maintained, Chinese women had an acute sense of vengeance (baofu xin) and a more seething hatred (chouhen xin) of oppression; unlike Chinese men, Chen observed, who were always quite willing to accept the status quo as long as it did not affect their own interests, women would therefore be more dependable and steadfast anti-Manchu revolu – tionaries.158 Once women availed themselves of educational opportunities, Chen concluded, there would be no limit to what they could achieve.
In the same issue of the journal, Chen also wrote an article rejecting a male model of ‘grouping’ (qun) that was based on short-term and selfish interests or personal ties as opposed to one that brought people together (metaphorically) based on a commitment to common long-term aims and ideals. Since women, she declared, had deeper feelings of love than men and were less inclined to be suspicious, jealous or resentful of others, they would be more willing to become part of such a grouping.159 A few years later, in 1909, Chen condemned the ‘good wife, worthy mother’ ideal as a ploy to ‘train high class slaves for men’.160
At the same time, just as male reformers in 1897-1898 had done, Chen Xiefen underlined the utilitarian purpose of women’s education in terms of benefiting men. In a 1903 article on the need to make Chinese women physically strong, Chen rhetorically asked:
If women are hobbled by bound feet and have to rely on others, how can they fulfill their responsibilities in assisting husbands and educating sons (emphasis mine).161
The female revolutionary, Qiu Jin, who like Chen Xiefen joined the radical anti – Manchu movement while studying in Japan and founded several women’s journals, wrote in a 1904 article that her ‘female compatriots’ needed to take on a more active role in the future. What exactly did this entail? In Qiu Jin’s view, it meant that women would enthusiastically support husbands and sons in their quest for education and not to sap their morale and ambition to ‘ rise in the world’.162 One year later, in a letter she sent to teachers of the Hunan Number One Girls’ School after it had been closed down, Qiu Jin emphasized the necessity of women’s education to make them self-reliant and escape the control of men. In much the same vein as Chen Xiefen, however, she went on paradoxically to repeat the same utilitarian argument:
With women specializing in a skill to equip them with a means of livelihood, then, on the one hand, they will be able to help their parents and, on the other, will be able to support their husbands and instruct sons.163
In the opening issue of the journal she founded in 1907, Zhongguo nubao (Chinese Women’s Journal), Qiu Jin painted a picture of Chinese women just as dismal (and monolithic) as that drawn by male reformers since 1897:
While our two hundred million male compatriots have already advanced, our two hundred million female compatriots are still mired in the utter darkness of the eighteen layers of hell. They cannot even envisage a way of climbing up one layer, with their feet bound so small, their combed hair glossy and inlaid with flowers, their bodies wrapped in silks and satins, and their white powdered faces smeared with rouge. They pass their entire lives knowing
only how to depend on men__ They are meek, subservient and fawning__
They live the life of obsequious servility.164
More educational opportunities should be opened for women, Qiu Jin continued, but she described the benefits of such a scenario in terms of ‘bringing prosperity to the family’ and ‘gaining the respect of men’.
An extraordinary individual such as Lh Bicheng was also a paradox. The daughter of an educational official, she read the Confucian classics and histories as a young girl. In 1904 she became an assistant editor of a Tianjin newspaper and later founded the Beiyang Public Girls’ School (see Chapter 1). After the Revolution she was employed in Yuan Shikai’s presidential office and eventually became a celebrated poet, travelling widely in Europe. Yet during the years Lh was actively involved in the project of women’s education before 1912 she, like many other elite reformers of the day, stressed the importance of cultivating virtuous wives and mothers so that China in the future would have patriotic and knowledgeable sons.165 Furthermore, in 1907, in a speech given at a kindergarten training centre in Tianjin, Lh insisted that it was not necessary for every girl to aim for a higher level of education, and that primary school teaching should be most women’s career choice if they wanted to work outside the home.166
Finally, even the most radical publication on women’s rights that appeared before 1911 subscribed to the general critical discourse on Chinese women that entirely blamed them for China’s decline. Entitled Nujie zhong (Warning Bell for Women), it was written in 1903 by Jin Songcen (1874-1947), a member of Sun Yatsen’s early anti-Manchu revolutionary organization, the Revive China Society (xingzhong hui).167 In his tract Jin on the one hand argued that women had the right to receive an education, to choose their own partner in marriage, to manage a business and own property, to move freely in society, and to be involved in politics and government.168 Moreover, in the campaign to mobilize popular support for the revolutionary cause against the Manchu Qing dynasty (which was always Jin’s priority), he ascribed to women a ‘magical power to move and inspire people’ (ganren moli) because of their serene and compassionate natures. This, according to Jin, would make women not only especially suited as primary school teachers, but also as potential agitators amongst the people. Since Chinese women occupied the lowest rungs in society, Jin declared, they would have a natural empathy for the labouring classes and, like the female Narodniks in Russia, would be able to move people to tears and sow hatred of autocracy amongst young and old alike.169
On the other hand, like many of his contemporaries, Jin blamed women for what he saw as the sorry state of China. Although he rejected the assumption that there were fundamental differences between the sexes in their mental and physical capacities, and in their emotional and psychological profiles, he in effect subscribed to such a view when he declared, as a matter of course, that Chinese women were overly dependent, submissive, gossipy, narcissistic and incompetent in managing household affairs (which he compared in importance to the running of a country).170 For Jin, in the final analysis, women’s (not men’s) moral failings were at the core of China’s problems. He called for an education that would train women as ‘pure’ (chunjie), ‘chaste’ (jianzhen) and ‘bold’ (jilie) revolutionaries; in the process, he concluded, they would become fully ‘developed’ and autonomous individuals with an appropriate ‘male-like nature’ (juyou nanxing ren). Rather paradoxically, Jin seemed to be suggesting that Chinese women needed to become more like men, but at the same time made it clear that household management was to be an essential component of women’s education (significantly, he also rejected the idea of co-education after the age of 10 since he deemed it ‘inappropriate’ for older boys and girls to study together).171