During the last years of the dynasty girls’ schools were located in a variety of improvised places, including private homes, rented buildings, former Confucian academies and appropriated Buddhist temples. Thus the Girls’ School of Pleasant Instruction (yujiao ntixuetang), founded in 1905 by a merchant, Shen Shouqing, in Beijing was originally housed in Shen’s own residence (Shen ran the school with his wife, and recruited teachers from Beijing and Japan).17 A certain Xi Diren in Songjiang (Jiangsu province) simply invited a female teacher in 1907 to set up a school in several spare rooms of his own residence.18 In most cases where private residences were used for a girls’ school, the motivation was initially to teach family members, with relatives and the daughters of neighbours later being recruited as students.19 Renting a building for a girls’ school could, on occasion, be rather risky; the Number One Women’s Education Training Institute (ntixue chuanxisuo) that Jiang Kanghu opened in Beijing – one of three he established in the capital – had to look for an alternative location in 1909 when the landlord from whom Jiang had rented the building changed his mind (a place was found in empty storerooms belonging to the nearby Grand Happiness [longfu] Temple).20 In Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan, and in Jinan, the provin­cial capital of Shandong, girls’ schools were opened in Buddhist temples, while a school in Wuqiao district, Zhili, was located in the grounds of a Confucian tem­ple (wenmiao).21 Shortly after the Board of Education in 1907 decreed that Buddhist convents (nigu ’an) might be converted into girls’ schools, a group of younger nuns in Huzhou (Zhejiang province) wishing to re-enter the secular world actually took the initiative themselves when they transformed their convent into a girls’ elementary school.22 In some cases, also, local gentry might rent the premises of a family temple (jia ’si), as happened in Jieyang district, Guangdong.23

Other institutions made use of at this time to set up girls’ schools included widow homes (jingjie tang),14 chastity halls (qingjie tang)25 and former Confucian academies (shuyuan).26 Finally, girls’ schools were also housed in rooms belonging to native-place guildhalls (huiguan), such as the one in Beijing that was located in the premises of the Sichuan guildhall (founded by officials from Sichuan posted in the capital). A newspaper report on the founding of the school in 1906 noted that the guildhall stood on the site of the headquarters of Qin Liangyu (1574-1648), the ‘famous Ming dynasty female general from Sichuan’.17 At the opening ceremony a 17-year-old female teacher (the daughter of a government official) lambasted the Confucian adage nuzi wucai bianshi de (only a woman without talent is virtuous) and referred to the heroic examples of both Ban Zhao and Qin Liangyu from whom students should derive inspiration. It is significant that while this young woman, as well as Xue Shaohui earlier dur­ing the 1898 reform movement, looked to Ban Zhao as a model to emulate, more radical Chinese female students in Japan at this time condemned her as the lackey of Confucian patriarchy.

The sources of funding for girls’ schools were equally diverse. Although most of the funds before the formal government sanction of public education for girls in 1907 came from private sponsors, subsidies were also sometimes provided by local or provincial government officials. In 1905, for example, the newly estab­lished Education Office (xuewu chu) in the provincial capital of Fengtian provided a subsidy of 150 silver dollars for a girls’ school established by the mother of a military student.18 Official support was especially notable in Zhili province, whose Governor-General from 1901 to 1908, Yuan Shikai, was an active supporter of educational reform.19 The Beiyang Public Girls’ School (Beiyang nuzi gongxue), founded in Tianjin (in 1904) by Lh Bicheng, received

1,0 silver dollars from Yuan’s office as well as additional funds from the offi­cial in charge of customs revenue in Tianjin, Tang Shaoyi;30 a newspaper report in 1909 further noted that the school received 6,000 silver dollars annually from the provincial government’s tax (likin) bureau and the emergency relief bureau (zhiying ju).31 Funds from the emergency relief bureau also contributed to the running costs of both the Beiyang Higher Level Girls’ School (Beiyang gaodeng nuxuetang) and the Beiyang Women’s Normal School (both established in 1906). Other girls’ schools in Tianjin received funds from the provincial government’s transport bureau (yunshu).31 Elsewhere in Zhili province girls’ schools were funded through taxes on theatres, domestic animals and livestock, rickshaws, and even businesses and brokers.33 Sometimes the sources of funding for girls’ schools underlined the patriotic imperative of such a project. Thus in 1907 a gentry activist in Songjiang (Jiangsu province) bought shares in the Zhejiang – Jiangsu Railway Company established by Chinese investors to buy back the railway concession originally granted to foreign interests, and used the interest gained to fund the operating expenses of the Enlightenment Girls’ School (kaiming nuxuex – iao).34 That some girls’ schools were handsomely endowed is demonstrated by the fact that, according to foreign observers, the salaries provided for teachers were sur­prisingly high. Thus a missionary visitor to Fuzhou Women’s Normal School in 1908 noted that salaries varied from 10 to 40 dollars a month (and exclaimed ‘we consider 10 dollars a month an enormous salary’), while another foreign visitor to an official girls’ school in Beijing in 1907 observed that the teachers there earned five times ‘what we offer our own teachers’.35

While a recent study has noted the involvement of Manchu princesses in the founding of girls’ schools in Beijing,36 the phenomenon of female involvement in the initial establishment and financing of girls’ schools was much wider than this, with the mothers and wives of officials and educators being especially signifi – cant.37 For example, the founder of the Yujiao Girls’ School, Shen Shouqing, was able to finance the school with funds bequeathed him by his mother; on her deathbed she was reported to have urged her son to persevere with the project, and thereby avoid the ‘shame’ of being criticized by foreigners who frequently criti­cized Chinese people for having no ‘constancy of purpose’ (hengxin) in carrying out enterprises.38 In other cases, the wives or daughters of officials requested that after their deaths money and property (accruing from dowries, for example) be used to open a girls’ school. A missionary reported in 1905 that the wife of a Beijing official asked her husband to donate 25,000 dollars after her death to finance the establishment of girls’ schools.39 Women also directly contributed to the cause while still alive. Thus in 1906 a certain Ding Zhuangshi, a ‘chaste widow’ from Ningbo (Zhejiang province), donated the annual interest on the 50 mu of land she owned (amounting to 7,000 Mexican dollars) to help finance the running of a girls’ school that had originally been established by the local education association.40 A gentry daughter in Jiangyou district (Sichuan province) persuaded her father to use her dowry to open a girls’ school (with herself as the school principal).41 Buddhist nuns also contributed funds for girls’ schools, such as the one established in Yangzhou (Jiangsu province).42 Sometimes women might be ‘converted’ into appreciating the benefits of education, as was appar­ently the case with a ‘superstitious’ (i. e she was a devoted Buddhist) village woman in Batang, Sichuan province in 1910; after attending the village school she donated her newly built house to the school as a dormitory for pupils, and was awarded the honorary title of ‘female venerator of scholarship’ (nujie zun ru).43 Helping to fund a girls’ school was also a form of penitence for some women. In 1908, for example, a woman’s fierce opposition to her daughter-in-law’s activism in a local anti-footbinding society and her subsequent abusive treatment of the young woman led to her death (nuebi); as a way of demonstrating contrition, the mother-in-law contributed land to pay for the expenses of a girls’ school, which was named after the unfortunate daughter-in-law.44 A similar situation, however, applied to men; thus following the suicide of a woman as a result of abuse by her husband (because she had apparently unbound her feet), local officials ordered him to pay a considerable fine so that a girls’ school could be established.45

The devotion to education amongst women might also transcend the act of donating money or property. The most notable case was that of Hui Xin, a Manchu woman in Hangzhou who founded the Culture of Moral Integrity Girls’ School (zhenwen nuxuexiao) in 1905. The school received some official funds (totalling 100 dollars) from the headquarters of the Manchu military garrison and private donations (200 dollars) as start-up expenses. At the school’s opening ceremony Hui Xin dramatically swore an oath declaring that if the school had to close down she would take her own life. When the money ran out and official assistance was not forthcoming the following year, she poisoned herself. A contemporary journal urged its readers to take inspiration from Hui Xin’s commitment, and described her action as ‘self-sacrifice (xun) for the cause of women’s education’.46 The dedicated commitment of younger girls to the cause of women’s education was also widely publicized in the contemporary press. In 1909 the newspaper Minhu ribao (People’s Cry Daily) reported on the case of a 15-year-old girl from Henan, Zhang Wuli, an enthusiastic student at a girls’ school in the provincial capital, Kaifeng. While at home during the holidays, she fell ill with tuberculosis. Forced to abandon her long-term plan to study overseas, Zhang decided to commit suicide – but not before writing a suicide note (jueming shu) to her former classmates informing them that she was donating to the school the funds she had collected from her public speaking campaign promoting the importance of women’s education.47

As far as administration and teaching were concerned, male founders of girls’ schools also relied upon wives or daughters. Liu Baozhen, for example, who opened a girls’ school in Tancheng district, Shandong in 1904, employed his daughter as the school principal.48 In 1904, also, a girls’ school in Wuzhou (Guangxi province) employed as teachers both the wife and daughter of the prin­cipal of another school in Guilin further north.49 Hou Hongjian, who would become a frequent contributor to Jiaoyu zazhi (The Educational Review) after it began publication in 1909, founded the Conscientious Will Girls’ School (jingzhi nuxuexiao) in his home town of Wuxi (Jiangsu province) in 1905; although the school had both male and female teachers, it was Hou’s wife who served as both general supervisor and teaching principal.50 Wives of officials were also active; in 1909 the wife of the Zhili Education Inspector (tixue) in Tianjin opened a ‘house­hold management training institute’ (jiazheng jiangxisuo) that catered to nearly 100 students.51 (Included in the curriculum was instruction in hygiene [weisheng], which was to become increasingly important in women’s education and linked to national prosperity and prestige.)52 It might also be noted here that while Hou Hongjian’s girls’ school, like many others, employed male teachers (despite the intention of the early founders of girls’ schools to ensure that teach­ing staff was exclusively female), the official insistence on separate schools for boys and girls was equally undermined by a lack of resources. Both before and after 1907 boys and girls often attended the same school. Thus the Reflected Pearl Girls’ School also taught boys, while an ostensibly boys’ primary school in Gaoyang (Zhili province) accepted girls.53 Sichuan province in 1908 reported on the existence of 49 girls’ schools in addition to 297 elementary schools in which both boys and girls were pupils.54

The curricula taught at girls’ schools also varied considerably. While some early schools taught a basic curriculum – for example, a local gentry school in Foshan (Guangdong province) in 1905 simply invited an old Confucian scholar to teach Chinese and a female missionary to teach English55 – other schools like the

Number One Girls’ School in Changsha (Hunan province) in 1904 had classes in ethics, Chinese, history, geography, biology, arithmetic, sewing, domestic science (jiazhengxue), foreign languages, music and physical education.56 In some cases, more unconventional fare was offered. A 1905 report on two girls’ schools in Hunan noted that in one of them, the Reflected Pearl Girls’ School (yingzhu nuxue), students excelled in both cultural accomplishments (English) and martial skills (horseriding) and that they would play a significant role in foreign and mil­itary affairs in the future, while in the other, the Gentle and Prudent Girls’ School (shushen nuxuexiao), students were instructed in physical education by means of commands spoken in English, thus ‘preparing them for military affairs in the future’.57 Other girls’ schools were established on unabashedly economic grounds; thus gentry activists in the provincial capital of Hunan in 1910 estab­lished a special school for young women solely to train in sewing skills so as to take advantage of an apparent growing demand for Hunanese-style embroidery.58 The curriculum for the Beiyang Women’s Normal School in 1906, however, was similar to the one prescribed by the Qing government for women’s normal schools one year later; it included not only ethics, Chinese, pedagogy, history and geog­raphy, but also ‘household management’ (jiazheng) – defined as instruction in family hygiene, household budgeting and the competent raising of infants.59

Two further significant phenomena characterized the practice of female educa­tion during the last years of the Qing. First, many schools organized recreation programmes and exhibitions to display or demonstrate publicly the work of students (written essays, handicraft objects, physical education drills). Such displays can be seen as an early example of what recent studies have referred to as an ‘exhibitionary modernity’ or ‘exhibitionary complex’ that became especially noticeable after 1912.60 Both male and female guests were present at these very public events, although in some cases they were segregated; at a 1909 exhibition held by the East City Girls’ School (chengdong nuxuexiao) in Shanghai, for example, the male guests attended in the morning while female guests visited in the afternoon.61 This particular recreation exhibition (youyi hui) was an especially elaborate one, not only displaying examples of the students’ calligraphy and various handicraft items made at school (and which were put on sale), but also featuring ‘demonstrations’ by the students of how to clean floors, cook and wash clothes. (The school had especially organized classes in culinary and washing skills due to concerns that students would disdain household work.)62 Hou Hongjian’s Conscientious Will Girls’ School in 1910 held a ‘study gathering’ (xueyi hui) at which packed crowds (of up to 2,000) were able to see demonstrations of the students’ manual dexterity and physical fitness.63 Male and female guests attended (on different days) an exhibition (zhanlan) by the Qinghua Girls’ School in Songjiang (Jiangsu province), where they viewed embroidery items produced by the students.64 In the eyes of central government officials, however, such publicly staged events in which female students participated had their limits. Thus in 1907 the Board of Education, in a directive to all girls’ schools in Beijing, criticized the activities of the student charitable association of the newly established Beijing Women’s Normal School, whose members had provided entertainment (singing and dancing) to attract public interest in its display and sale of handicraft items (made by the students) for famine relief funds. While approving the sale of handicraft products, the Board of Education condemned the ‘unseemly’ behaviour of female students; at a time when women’s education was in its infancy, it declared, students must not do anything that would give rise to damaging slanders and rumours (such as, in the words of the Board of Education, ‘mixing with disreputable acting troupes’).65

Second, some schools organized what in modern parlance would be called ‘parents’ meetings’. The regulations for the Beijing Girls’ School of Pleasant Instruction in 1905, for example, stipulated that the school would convene a ‘parents’ meeting’ (fuxiong hui, literally: ‘meetings for fathers and brothers’, although mothers and sisters were also included) at which the school principal would explain the school’s aims and report on the students’ progress, while also providing a forum for parents to express their views on school matters; in the grandiose rhetoric of the regulations such an initiative would help bring about a ‘unity of purpose between school and household’.66 Sometimes more pragmatic motives were at work. Thus the principal of a girls’ school in Changzhou (Jiangsu province) arranged a ‘parents’ meeting’ (kenqinhui, literally: ‘meetings at which relatives are respectfully invited’) not only to enable parents and relatives to acquaint themselves with the work of the school, but also to persuade them to make a financial contribution to the schools’ upkeep.67 The innovative practice of parents’ meetings was matched by growing cooperation amongst the principals of girls’ schools at this time. Thus in 1909 the principals of 10 girls’ schools met in the capital of Jingzhou prefecture (Hubei province) to discuss common issues of concern and plan the organization of a women’s education association; a chair and vice-chair were elected at the meeting.68 Such electoral practices (which were also a feature of education associations in general that were created by provincial and local gentry elites after 1906) in a way foreshadowed developments amongst various Shanghai voluntary associations (such as native-place associations and the Shanghai General Chamber of Commerce) in the early Republic that have been described as a process of ‘institutionalised democratisation’.69

Despite the enthusiasm and commitment of those involved in the establishment and administration of girls’ schools, their continued existence was often threat­ened by circumstances beyond their control. The Hubei Girls’ School, for example, fell victim to the political rivalry between the Hubei Governor Duan Fang (who had founded the school in 1903) and his superior Zhang Zhidong, the Governor – General of Hunan and Hubei. After Zhang’s emissary, Zhang Biao, visited the school in 1904 and was (much to his annoyance) refused permission to enter the classroom and students’ dormitory (which would have contravened school regu­lations restricting male visitors to a separate reception room), he spread ‘rumours’ about the school aiming to destroy its reputation. Governor-General Zhang Zhidong thereupon used the slurs as a pretext to have the school closed down and in its place opened the Revere Chastity School (jingjie tang), a project more in line with his more restricted notion of female education since it aimed to train governesses for well-off families.70 The Number One Girls’ School in Changsha (Hunan province) likewise became the object of malicious rumours in 1904 after a young widow ‘took refuge’ in the school in order to escape the attentions of her brother-in-law who wanted to ‘acquire’ her as his second concu­bine (she had initially fled to her natal family, who advised her to study and board at the school). The irate brother-in-law subsequently publicly denigrated the woman’s character and cast slurs on the school’s reputation for shielding her, pro­claiming that women’s public education simply ‘harmed customs’ (shangfeng baixu). Local authorities eventually heeded his repeated petitions and had the school closed down.71 In the case of a girls’ school in Miyun district (Zhili province), it was the inspection visit of Jiang Kanghu, an official from the Board of Education, in 1908 that aroused local opposition. Jiang’s ‘foreign appearance’ – he was wearing a Western-style jacket and spectacles – alarmed local residents, many of whom refused to let their daughters attend the school for fear it was tainted by association with a ‘foreign devil’ (yang guizi).72

The last years of the dynasty also witnessed increasing concern amongst officials that girls’ schools were not all that they should be and that female students were either ‘bogus’ or behaved inappropriately. In 1907, for example, the educational commissioner (tixuesi) of Guangdong province reported on a ‘dubious’ girls’ school – the Iron Resolve to Struggle Girls’ School (tiezheng ntixuetang) – located in the eastern section of the provincial capital, Guangzhou. The commis­sioner expressed alarm at the ‘unruly’ character of the school due to much ‘indisciplined’ talk of freedom (ziyou), and called into question the credentials of the principal and main teacher. The school was closed down and the two women ordered not to ‘pass themselves off’ as teachers in the future. Elsewhere in Guangzhou it was reported that ‘ lower-class women’ (xialiu funti) had infiltrated a girls’ school as teachers and students, and were behaving in an ‘unbridled and ostentatious way’ (sixing zhaoyao), recklessly mouthing theories of freedom and ‘showing disrespect for every convention’ (duluan dafang).73 More specifically, newspaper reports warned of the danger of girls’ schools being used as a ‘front’ for the activities of prostitutes. Thus a 1909 report on a girls’ school in Changsha (Hunan) noted the presence of prostitutes amongst its students (their ‘earnings’ apparently being used to pay school fees); twice a week they absented themselves from the school to indulge in ‘wildly promiscuous activities’ (sixingyinluan) and had a bad influence on girls from ‘good’ families.74 On the eve of the 1911 Revolution, reports on girls’ schools in Wuchang (Hubei) also expressed alarm at the loose procedure for selecting students, resulting in the infiltration of local prostitutes (tuchang) who used their student status as a front to facilitate their activities.75 Likewise in Anqing (Anhui province) local prostitutes were pleating their hair and dressing up as students to enter two girls’ schools.76

A Chinese newspaper, Zhongguo ribao (China Daily), also in 1907, expressed concern about the behaviour of ‘legitimate’ female students, a concern that was to become especially prevalent in subsequent years. The credibility of women’s public education, it noted, was being seriously undermined by those students who ‘ parade through the streets in a disorderly way dressed in Shanghai-style fancy silk clothes and leather shoes, and who resort to wanton and arrogant chatter’ (sikou wangyan).77 Since female students in their dress and behaviour were no different from ‘vulgar female opera performers’, the newspaper thundered, it was no wonder that in the public eye they were perceived as the same and that upright families were reluctant to send their daughters to school. It urged that uniform dress codes be imposed by school administrators so that authorities could distinguish ‘true’ from ‘false’ students (and thus arrest the latter); significantly, it also recommended that China learn from Western practice, which allowed police authorities to closely supervise and monitor the behaviour of female students.78 Another newspaper in 1907 also demanded that closer supervision be implemented of girls’ behaviour in order to dispel public assumptions that schoolgirls were ‘skittish and frivolous’ (qingtiao)J9 Clearly, such admonitions were not always effective. A 1909 newspaper report condemned the inappropriate behaviour of female students in Ningdan (Jiangsu province), who apparently spent much of their time on ‘pleasure boats’ playing mahjong and ‘acting in high spirits’ (cailie xing’gao).80

At other times, it was the behaviour or competence of teachers and adminis­trators that was questioned. A 1905 report on a girls’ school in Changsha (Hunan) described the ‘effrontery’ of a female teacher who turned up to class made up in a ‘seductive and provocative way’ (yerong huiyin); horrified students quit the school in protest.81 At another girls’ school in Jiangliang district (Hubei province) in 1904 students were equally shocked at the ‘garish dress and heavy make-up’ (nongzhuang yanmo) worn by the supervisor; they refused to perform the appro­priate deferential bow when she entered the classroom.82 In early 1911 educa­tional officials in Shanghai were alarmed to discover on visiting a girls’ school that it comprised just one room with very few desks; there was no teacher present and only four or five girls ‘jumping around’. When the teacher (a certain Ms Shen) did arrive the officials ascertained that her competence was sadly lacking; furthermore, they discovered that on the pretext of acquiring additional funds for school expansion, other students had been allowed to sing to audiences at a nearby theatre. The outraged officials ordered the school to be closed down and warned of the danger of ‘bogus’ girls’ schools.83 Three years earlier, authori­ties in Guangzhou condemned the administrators of a girls’ school for holding a ‘tea meeting’ (chahui) in which female pupils had mixed freely with boys from a neighbouring school. Schools had to implement strictly gender segregation, the authorities insisted, since co-education was not appropriate for China.84 Such official concerns should also be linked to consternation at the growing public presence of women in general at this time. In 1905 local authorities in Shanghai banned women from entering teashops since it was felt that they were mixing with ‘bad elements’ and unsavoury company.85 Even in an urban centre relatively removed from Western influences such as Chengdu (Sichuan province) women were increasingly showing up in teahouses and theatres, much to the chagrin of male elite observers.86