During this transition period women – and female students in particular – were becoming increasingly publicly visible.32 Significantly, this growing public visibil­ity was symbolized by the use of the term nujie (women’s circles), first used during the anti-American boycott in 190533 and in 1907 during the campaign to redeem the Jiangsu-Zhejiang railway from foreign interests.34 The term was frequently used thereafter, signalling the growing recognition of a public collectivity of women (which included female students) transcending class or kin.35 Girls’ schools during the last years of the monarchy staged athletic meets, military-style parades and public school exhibitions, as well as participating in protest movements and welfare campaigns. As early as 1905, 10 female students participated in a schools’ parade outside the governor’s yamen in Tianjin (Zhili province) which brought together over 900 pupils from official and private schools.36 In 1906 a girls’ school in Beijing celebrated Emperor Guangxu’s birthday by staging group gymnastics and other athletic competitions for the local community. One year later 30 female students took part in a military-style parade organized by male students in front of the Zhili Governor’s headquarters in Baoding.37 Whereas at first representatives from girls’ schools tended to be a minor presence at athletic meetings predominantly organized and run by boys’ schools (in 1908, for example, representatives from just six girls’ schools attended the events organized by 50 boys’ schools in Hankou),38 it was not long before girls’ schools began to join together to organize their own events. In late 1910, for example, two girls’ schools in Changzhou (Jiangsu province) held a joint athletics meet (yundong hui) at which military and civil officials, as well as over

4,0 male and female spectators attended.39 In May 1911 the Patriotic Girls’ School in Shanghai staged an athletics meet in which eight schools and over 300 students participated.40 Sometimes girls’ schools held athletic meets in order to solicit funds for welfare relief, such as the Shanghai Two-Level Girls’ School (liangdeng nuxue) in May 1911 which sought funds to help flood victims in Jiangsu and Anhui provinces.41

During the monarchy’s final year in 1910-1911 female students organized anti-opium associations and staged performances of patriotic songs and speeches. Beijing girls’ schools, for example, organized the Chinese Female Citizens’ Society for Prohibiting Opium (Zhongguo guomin funu jinyan hui), in addition to establishing an association that campaigned against cigarette smoking (zhiyan)42 – a practice that female students themselves apparently indulged in since the Board of Education a few years earlier (in 1907) had felt compelled to ban cigarette smoking amongst both male and female students (citing Japanese practice, the Board of Education referred to a ‘patriotic concern with citizens’ health’, thereby signalling a novel aspect of state discourse at this time, which linked national strength with the state’s duty to protect the health of ordinary folk).43 In Tianjin, also, female students organized a Chinese Women’s Anti­Opium Association (Zhongguo nuzi jinyan hui), holding its first meeting in early 1911 at the Hebei Number One Kindergarten and at which students from the Beiyang Women’s Normal School sang patriotic songs.44 Like their counterparts in Beijing, female students in Tianjin also denounced cigarette smoking as a new danger to people’s health, arguing, moreover, that it was a dirty habit that made household interiors unclean.45

The profile of female students and girls’ schools during the last years of the dynasty was enhanced in a number of other ways. In Guangzhou, female students engaged in political demonstrations when they took part in the anti-Japanese boycott of 1907.46 Students were involved in strikes and protests, such as those at the Zhili Girls’ School in Baoding in 1909. When the male principal of the school, Liu Chunshuang, turned down an invitation from the Baoding Military School for the Zhili Girls’ School to be represented at its graduation ceremony on the grounds that boys and girls should not mix socially, the female supervisor took some students anyway. When she was dismissed by school authorities for insub­ordination, the students petitioned the provincial education commissioner (tixue si) requesting her reinstatement; when the petition was rejected the students staged a walkout.47 Sometimes more ruthlessly pragmatic motives were at work; in 1908 female students at a Hangzhou school expressed their anger over not receiving high enough grades by refusing to leave their seats during the graduation cere­mony to receive their diplomas from an official dignitary.48

Individual students might also publicly demonstrate their passionate support for constitutional reform. In 1910 Zhan Zhuanzhu, a student at a Tianjin girls’ school, was inspired by the decision of a Beijing male student to commit suicide in protest against the Qing court’s continuing procrastination in convening a national parliament (originally scheduled to meet in 1917, but then, in 1911, brought forward to 1913). Referring to herself as a ‘female citizen’ (nu guomin) and calling on ‘us women’ (wuchai) to be equally as heroic, she signed a petition (in her own blood) demanding the immediate convening of a parliament.49 Girls’ schools were also associated with women’s political organizations. Thus when a branch association of the Shanghai Women Citizens’ Association (nuzi guomin hui) was set up in Jiaxing in September 1911, its inaugural meeting was organized by a female school principal and held in the school premises.50 Finally, girls’ schools were often the location for ‘civilized marriages’ (wenming jiehun) in which the partners had freely chosen one another (one of whom was usually a female teacher) and the ceremony deliberately kept frugal and informal. Such was the case of the marriage in October 1910 of a male student at Nankai Number One Middle School in Tianjin, Ma Rensheng, and a teacher at the Puyu Girls’ School; the premises of the girls’ school were ‘borrowed’ for the ceremony, which comprised bows to selected guests and relatives followed by a ‘tea party’.51 Students from the Beiyang Women’s Normal School and Beijing Higher School for Girls were also present at another ‘civilized marriage’ in 1910 of one of their teachers and a newspaper editor, at which they played music and sang.52 After 1911 female students and teachers were increasingly associated with ‘civilized wedding ceremonies’ (wenming jiehun li).53

During the Revolution itself women organized their own military units, mobile Red Cross teams and various other support organizations.54 For some such as Shen Yao, a student at a Shanghai girls’ school, volunteers in women’s military units (like the Northern Expeditionary Force) were present-day embodiments of Hua Mulan and Qin Liangyu; however, she noted, whereas these past heroines had taken up arms on behalf of fathers or husbands, their contemporary counter­parts were acting on behalf of the entire nation and hence were more heroic. She urged women to remain at the forefront of the Revolution and not let men monop­olize all the attention.55 In Shanghai 50 women (originating from Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces), asserting their right to be considered an integral component of the citizenry (guomin), founded the Women’s Support Association (nuzi xiezan hui) in December 1911 to help with military provisioning; significantly again, the inaugural meeting of the association was held in a local girls’ school.56 A similar support group to aid in the provision of resources for revolutionary troops was established in Suzhou in October 1911, when a group of 100 women formed the Women’s Organization to Provide Clothes for the Wounded (nu xiezhu shoushang junshi yifu hui).51 In Hangzhou local prostitutes also got into the act when they established the Flower World Association to Assist in Military Provisioning (huajie zhuxiang hui); at its first meeting in a teahouse in January 1912 members were encouraged to buy ‘self-sacrifice’ certificates (sheshen juan) worth four dol­lars apiece.58 Furthermore, although women’s military units did not take part directly in the large-scale battles that raged between revolutionary and pro-Qing forces in October 1911, some women’s militia units played a forceful role in local affairs; thus in Yangzhou (Jiangsu province) a militia unit of over 100 led by a 30-year-old widow helped enforce restrictions on the transportation of rice outside the area by ‘traitorous merchants’ (jianshang) keen to exploit rising grain prices elsewhere.59

Girls’ schools also participated in the various ceremonies and parades celebrating the advent of the Republic in 1912. One such ‘lantern parade’ (tideng hui) in Tianjin, in February 1912, saw nearly two hundred students from the Beiyang Women’s Normal School and the Beiyang Higher School for Girls (along with those from its attached primary school) brandishing the new Republican five-barred national flag and singing ‘patriotic’ songs as they marched on the provincial governor’s office.60 More significantly, as they had done before

1911, girls’ schools staged athletic meets and exhibitions during the first year of the Republic to solicit public funds for the ‘national good’. A girls’ primary school in Taiqiang (Jiangsu province) charged entrance fees for its athletic meet in June

1912, when over 1,000 spectators attended. Referred to as ‘citizen contributions’ (guomin juan), the school intended to donate the money to the new government.61 In the same month, the Beiyang Higher Girls’ School organized an exhibit of students’ work, accompanied by student performances of physical drills and songs; over 3,000 visitors came and were asked to contribute to ‘national bonds’ (guomin juanquan).62 In Zhenjiang (Jiangsu province) several girls’ schools established the Women Citizens Donations Society (nujie guomin juan), at the first meeting of which two 15-year-old girls gave public speeches and donated their gold earrings to the ‘national cause’.63 An equally impassioned plea for contributions by women was made by a student at the Shanghai Patriotic Girls’ School, Chen Jialin, in July 1912. Citing the words of the seventeenth-century scholar Gu Yanwu, who declared that ‘ ordinary folk are responsible for whether the empire prospers or declines’ (tianxia xingwang pifu you ze), Chen called on all Chinese women to contribute their personal savings and jewellery to help pay off the government’s foreign debts, which she believed was the greatest threat to the survival of the new Republic.64

Women not only asserted the right to be involved in the collection of funds to help pay off the government’s foreign debts. At a time when Outer Mongolia had broken free of Beijing’s control in the wake of the 1911 Revolution and Russia was insisting on President Yuan Shikai’s acceptance of this fait accompli before it would formally recognize the Chinese Republic, a female student in 1912 envis­aged multiple roles for Chinese women in resisting Russian encroachment on the northern frontiers.65 She not only suggested that women might organize the col­lection of provisions for any expeditionary force sent north or that they could take the lead in any boycott of Russian goods, but also that they might be mobilized into travelling lecture units. Since women were more effective than men in emo­tionally moving people (an idea first raised by Jin Songcen in 1903; see Chapter 2), such units would bolster patriotism on the frontiers, as well as being a useful ‘front’ enabling women to spy and report on any ‘enemy’ activity in the region. In this way, the student concluded, the quick-wittedness and determination of women would be put to innovative use (especially as the ‘enemy’ would never sus­pect women of any such espionage).66

Shortly after the overthrow of the monarchy, women also created political asso­ciations lobbying for political rights such as the Women Comrades Suffrage Association (nuzi canzheng tongzhi hui) founded in November 1911 by Lin Zongsu, a former student in Shimoda Utako’s school in Japan and a deputy editor of Jingzhong ribao (Alarming Bell Daily).67 In January 1912 Tang Qunying, Zhang Hanying, Wang Chang’guo and Shen Peizhen (like Lin Zongsu, all had been mem­bers of Sun Yatsen’s revolutionary anti-Manchu organization, the Tongmenghui [Revolutionary Alliance] before 1911)68 brought together a number of women’s suf­frage organizations to form a grand coalition known as the Women’s Suffrage

Alliance (funu canzheng tongmenghui).69 The following June representatives of the Alliance hailing from a number of different provinces met in Nanjing and, with Lin Zongsu as chairperson, drafted an 11-point programme calling for equality of rights, universal education for women, reform of ‘family customs’ (jiating xiguan),10 monogamy, the ending of the practice of buying women and a more equitable divorce law that would prevent men from arbitrarily divorcing their wives. When the Republican Army Ministry ordered the disbandment of all women’s militia units in January 1912, some of them simply transformed themselves into suffrage associa­tions. The Women’s Northern Expeditionary Corps (nuzi beifa dui), for example, became the Chinese Women’s Suffrage Alliance (Shenzhou nujie canzheng tong­menghui), while the Women’s Military Exercise Corps (nuzi jingwu lianxi hui) became the Women’s Alliance (nuzi tongmenghui).71 Such associations, in addition to championing women’s political rights, also campaigned for personal justice on behalf of their members. Thus the Women’s Suffrage Alliance publicized the case of one of its members, Chen Xuanyuan, who, in 1908, had been abandoned by her husband (who had taken up with an American woman while studying in the United States) and then coerced into accepting a divorce. The Alliance held a public meeting at the Shenzhou Girls’ School at which over 300 women attended (and a few men who ‘cared about justice’) in May 1912. Speakers demanded that the husband, Guan Ruilin, be punished according to law and that he be compelled to donate one – quarter of his wealth to Chen; the Alliance also offered to contribute money to enable Chen to hire a lawyer. Eventually, Guan was taken to court, fined 1,000 yuan and sentenced to 80 days imprisonment.72

In February 1912 Beijing female teachers and students took the opportunity of a petition sent to Yuan Shikai congratulating him for securing the abdication of the Qing emperor and the inauguration of a republic to express their keen anticipation of a bright future for the attainment of women’s rights and free – doms.73 The Women’s Public Lecture Association (nuzi xuanjiang hui), founded in March 1912, declared that the establishment of a republic after just a few months of turmoil was an event unparalleled in world history, and that it was therefore even more urgent that women be granted equal political and educa­tional rights to enable them to assume their legitimate role as Republican citizens.74 One women’s journal argued that if women were granted equal political rights they would be able to bring their innate sense of meticulousness and steadfastness to the processes of government, social solidarity would be strengthened, and (in an interesting reversal of the usual formula) they would be compelled to seek economic independence in order to take advantage of such rights.75 Zhang Xiahun, the female student who had earlier advocated the mobi­lization of women on the northern frontier, also advocated suffrage for women on the basis that they were superior to men in a willingness to accept their duties and responsibilities (men, she noted, had a tendency to avoid them). In Zhang’s view, women would be able to take their devotion to duty in the household onto the national stage if they were granted political rights.76 Zhang’s assumption that women’s experiences in managing the household would naturally prepare them for participation in national affairs was shared by a contributor to Funu shibao,

Jiang Renlan, who also claimed that women were superior to men in ‘natural cleverness, liveliness of thinking, and sharpness of memory’77 (another com­mentator in 1912 insisted that women should be considered ‘citizens’, and hence eligible to participate in politics, on the basis that their ‘willpower and zeal’ were superior to men’s).78

An impassioned plea for female suffrage by a certain Ms Zhu Lun rejected the notion that women’s lack of political experience disqualified them from voting (since, she argued, a similar objection could be raised in connection with men). Just as men’s political involvement would not interfere with their roles in industry, agri­culture and commerce, she concluded, so women’s involvement would not threaten the family and household.79 A Ms Ou Peifen in June 1912 likewise perceived the Revolution as an opportunity to implement equal suffrage rights – a dream ‘yearned for in the West’ , she noted, but not yet actualized. She also pointed out that univer­sal education (including access to universities) amongst women would be required for them to exercise their political rights; she particularly stressed the need to target poorer rural women and, several years before May Fourth male intellectuals such as Li Dazhao called on educated and urban youth to ‘go down’ to the countryside to lecture the masses, suggested that teams of public lecturers visit rural areas and edu­cate such women in the ways of voting and other political procedures.80

Some proposed radical strategies to achieve political equality. An open letter addressed to suffragettes in 1913 championed the principle of ‘no husband-ism’ (wufu zhuyi), urging women to seek divorce, reject marriage or go abroad in order to cut all links with men back home; the latter would then fear for the ‘disappear­ance of the race’ and cave in to women’s demands.81 Intriguingly, a 1912 article in a journal for female students sought to dismantle the nei (inner) and wai (outer) distinction conventionally applied to female and male roles by dismissing the idea that a woman’s household duties prevented her from participating in politics. After all, the article noted, housework was a profession (zhiye) like any other, and since having a profession did not preclude men from being involved in political affairs, the same situation applied to women.82 The author also rejected the notion that women were too ‘garrulous’ (raoshi) and would thereby disrupt parliamentary ses­sions, insisting that au contraire Chinese women were generally ‘gentle and serene’ (youxian) and ‘quiet and calm’ (zhenjing). This 1912 article (along with Qian Zhixiu’s late 1911 article noted earlier) thus for the first time referred specifically to women’s duties in the household as a profession, and during the early years of the Republic the ‘professionalization’ of household management was to be increasingly promoted by the educational and women’s press (see Chapter 4). Sometimes, how­ever, the argument could be put the other way around. In condemning the disdain female students had for domestic science, for example, one commentator declared that all Chinese female heroines of the past, as well as contemporary female politi­cians in the West, were skilled and efficient managers of the household.83

Such demands for political rights were fiercely resisted. Several years earlier, the Beijing nubao (Beijing Women’s News) had satirized the ‘expansion of women’s rights’ (nuquan pengzhang) with stories of wives assaulting their husbands or women ‘brazenly’ arguing with men on the street.84 (In Chengdu the stance of women who shouted abuse in the streets was described as ‘the shape of the teapot’ [chahu shi] with one hand pointing out to the unfortunate recipient of such abuse and the other planted on the waist.)85 During the Republican transition the insis­tence on equal political rights was perceived by many male commentators as a threat to the ‘natural’ gender division of labour. The basis of a healthy state, one writer declared, was sound families; if women were involved in politics the family would disintegrate and society would begin to crumble. In any event, the writer con­tinued, men’s natures equipped them for politics and government because they thought more of the long term, while women were more adept at running a family because they always thought of more immediate needs.86 A similar essentializing of gender difference was apparent in the views of some Chinese educators such as Cai Wensen, a frequent contributor to the most important educational journal of the time the Jiaoyu zazhi (Educational Review) and translator of Japanese articles that claimed gender differences – especially in the realm of mentality (xinli) – were amply demonstrated by science. In a discussion of physical education one year before the October Revolution, Cai argued that since girls lacked daring (ganwei), fortitude (ren ’nai) and boldness (yongwang), they should not be encouraged to par­ticipate in overtly physical exercises.87 Another article (translated by Cai from the Japanese) purported to provide a definitive assessment of male-female difference that presented quite a different image of women from that conjured up by other con­temporary reports on daredevil female aviators and mountain climbers. Thus while girls were described as having better memories than boys, they were also portrayed as less imaginative and more passive than boys; furthermore, since boys were more suited to autonomy and independence and hence more determined and ambitious, girls were inclined to submission and compliance and hence more timid and unad­venturous (and more suited to working within the home).88

Such an image, however, did not exactly tally with the reality of the growing visibility of women, whose seemingly outrageous and unconventional behaviour aroused much alarm in the eyes of contemporary observers. Strike activity amongst female factory workers, for example, became a novel phenomenon during the last years of the Qing. One such strike occurred in August 1911, when nearly

4,0 women employed in silk filatures in the Zhabei district of Shanghai walked out in protest against wage cuts. An ensuing riot outside the gates of one of these filatures prompted police intervention. A recent study of labour activism in early twentieth-century China has noted that from 1895 to 1919 there were at least 57 strikes in which women were the main participants.89 Also, several years before the overthrow of the monarchy, news stories had reported on the activities of female bandits in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang.90 Shortly after the establish­ment of the Republic, a female bandit chief by the name of Liu Wuying in Jiangsu province styled herself as ‘president’ (zongtong), leading one observer to muse on the scenario of China having a female president; this would be disastrous, he opined – if women could aspire to become president, where would it all end?91 Other newspapers in the early Republic referred to the presence of female assassination squads (nuzi ansha tuan) in Beijing and Shanghai, and armed gangs of female thieves in Guangdong.92 Just before the abortive Second Revolution of 1913, when the

Guomindang and its military allies failed to overthrow Yuan Shikai’s regime, police authorities in Tianjin reported on the activities of a notorious female assassin, the 17-year-old Fu Wenyou, who had organized an assassination squad known as the Iron and Blood Association (tiexue hui) to target representatives of Yuan’s regime in the Beijing-Tianjin region;93 dubbed the ‘female Jing Ke’ (the celebrated male assassin who unsuccessfully attempted to kill Zheng Ying, the king of Qin and future First Emperor of China), Fu Wenyou was eventually forced to flee (dressed as a man) to Japan.94

Conservative fears of ‘boisterous’ and ‘unrestrained’ women had earlier been exacerbated by the actions of female suffragettes during meetings of the National Assembly in Nanjing in March 1912; protesting against the omission of a specific reference to gender equality in the recently promulgated Provisional Constitution (which stated that the ‘people’ of the Republic were uniformly equal without dis­tinction as to race, class or religion), Tang Qunying95 and several other members of the Women’s Suffrage Alliance stormed the assembly building on three sepa­rate occasions (19, 20 and 30 March), breaking windows, knocking guards to the ground, accosting assembly members and jeering during assembly proceedings.96 The suffragettes were condemned for their lack of decorum and respect, and their actions cited as proof of women’s unfitness for government.97 Later on that year in August suffragettes were also involved in scuffles at plenary sessions held in Beijing of the newly formed Guomindang (Nationalist Party), the successor to Sun Yatsen’s pre-1911 revolutionary organization, the Tongmenghui (Revolutionary Alliance). At one of the sessions (attended by over 1,000 male members and just 20 female ‘guests’) Tang Qunying and Shen Peizhen loudly protested the party’s recent decision to delete from its constitution the provision calling for equal gender rights, while Wang Chang’guo strode to the platform and physically assaulted the party’s principal spokesman, Song Jiaoren.98 Such out­spoken and boisterous behaviour, in the eyes of contemporary critics, symbolized not only the wilful transgression of basic gender boundaries, but also a funda­mental disrespect for law, public order and civility.99