Examining Qiu Jin’s “Stones of the Jingwei Bird” and the Role of Women in Qing China

During the early nineteen hundreds, the Qing Dynasty had suffered defeat after defeat from foreign forces; it’s sovereignty under the threat of imperialism from both East and West.[1] In order to strengthen the empire and become more progressive, the Qing government implemented a set of reforms known as the “New Policies”.[2] While there were great strides to improve the government’s intuitions, including education, a great number of Chinese students, both men and women, went abroad to Japan to study.[3]  While there, Chinese students were exposed to new ideas and discourse about the role of women in the empire.[4] Among those students was Qiu Jin, a female student who was impassioned about the rights of women in a revolutionary China.[5]

Qiu Jin wrote Stones of the Jingwei Bird as a critique of how women were treated in Qing China and the expectations that were forced upon them. Instead of an outright essay however, Qiu Jin chose instead to write her critique in the form of a short story, Stones of the Jingwei Bird, which follows the lives of upper class women in Qing China. Qiu Jin used the characters as a way of introducing the new values and roles of Chinese women. Jurui, the main character, was born into an upper class family and served as the ideal woman in Jin’s feminist China.[6] Jurui is independent, intelligent, and well educated.[7] She encourages and teaches her friend from another family, Little Jade, who is the daughter of a concubine.[8] Jade’s cousin Unity also provides learning and support for her family member and together, with the help of the servant girl Hibiscus, they learn that Jurui is about to get married against her will.[9]  The cousin of Unity, Awaken, and her friend Vitality arrive at Jade’s house and together they discuss Jurui’s predicament as well as the predicament of women in China.[10] Jurui arrives at Jade’s house for a visit and tells her friends how women are well respected in Western countries.[11] She then tells them that she plans to study in Japan to become more independent and invites her friends to study with her.[12] Together, they plan to gather money to escape as well as unbinding their feet.[13] With Hibiscus’s help, the group of girls leave their homes and the servant girl behind, leading their futures eastward toward Japan for a better future; not only for themselves but for China as well.[14] Qiu Jin’s Stones of the Jingwei Bird brought up several key ideas that Jin believed would pave the way for empowering roles for women in China. Jin thought that empowered women with rights equal to men’s would strengthen China amid the threat of imperialistic forces.[15]

However, to bring glory to China, Qiu Jin illustrates in her story what traditions and customs needed to be changed in Chinese society. One of the first reforms proposed by Jin is towards matters of marriage. In wealthy households, it was common for elite men to take on concubines, especially if their wives could not produce a son who would pass down the family name.[16] Jin gives the example of Jurui’s and Jade’s dysfunctional lives at home as examples on why concubinage was detrimental to women’s rights. Jurui’s father had two concubines that gave her mother much grief and pain.[17] In contrast to Jurui, Jade was born to a concubine but was abused by the wife of her father.[18] The character Vitality makes an argument that married women are at the mercy of in-laws as well as abusive and disloyal husbands.[19] Later on in the story, Jurui illustrates that in the West, there were no such thing as arranged marriages and that women were able to choose the men they loved as husbands out of free choice.[20] Thus, Qiu Jin pushes the point that women in China should be free to marry whomever they wish or even to not marry at all if they so choose.[21] If a woman does get married, she should be free from the fear of polygamy.[22]

Another issue that Qiu Jin brings up is the cloistering of women. In Qing China, it was a common practice for elite women to be kept within the house and to never be seen outside.[23] If a woman was found outside of her house, she would be considered not virtuous or of lower class, since maids and servants were able to go outside the house.[24] In Stones of the Jingwei Bird, the women complain that they are unable to go outside their homes and make a decent living.[25] Qiu Jin’s argument is that women need to be able to go outside their homes to work and become independent of their families.[26] Qiu Jin also envisioned a future for Chinese women where they do not have to bind their feet. The practice of footbinding in China was first performed by women in the elite class as a way to be attractive for a potential husband.[27] The practice however began to trickle down to even the peasant classes, so footbinding became widespread.[28] Qiu Jin, through the main character Jurui, explains that footbinding is not only physically damaging to a woman’s feet, but it also hampers her independence from her husband.[29]

However the most important point that Qiu Jin makes is that in order for China to be strong, its women need to be educated. During the Qing dynasty, elite women were taught to read Confucian texts in order to prepare their sons for the civil service examinations.[30] Qiu Jin makes the argument that women in western countries are allowed to go to school and learn multiple areas of study such as science, so the same opportunities should be granted to women in China.[31]

Ultimately Qiu Jin wanted women in China to become educated and to shun the traditional norms so they could contribute to Chinese society.[32] She describes independent women as being able to “save the motherland” from the encroachment of foreign nations.[33] Although Qin Jin was taught in the imperialistic nation of Japan and was inspired by western ideals of equality, she uses those ideas as a way to improve the lives of women as well as the entire country as a whole. [34] The story of Jurui, Jade, and the other women are shown as an outline to other women on how to improve their lives and the lives around them.

Bibliography

  1. Jin, Qiu. “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”. In Writing Women in Modern China, edited by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, 43-78. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.
  2. Mann, Susan. Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
  3. Rowe, William T. China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009.

 

 

[1] William T. Rowe, China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing, (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), 255.

[2] William T. Rowe, China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing, (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), 255.

[3] William T. Rowe, China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing, (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), 265.

[4] William T. Rowe, China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing, (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), 266.

[5] William T. Rowe, China’s Last Empire: The Great Qing, (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009), 266.

[6] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 49.

[7] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 49-50.

[8] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 53-54.

[9] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 58-61.

[10] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 63-64.

[11] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 71-72.

[12] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 73.

[13] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 74-75.

[14] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 77-78.

[15] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 45.

[16] Susan Mann, Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 4, 54.

[17] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 49.

[18] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 54.

[19] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 64-65.

[20] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 72.

[21] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 72.

[22] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 72.

[23] Susan Mann, Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 3.

[24] Susan Mann, Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 12.

[25] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 64.

[26] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 64.

[27] Susan Mann, Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 57.

[28] Susan Mann, Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 57.

[29] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 75.

[30] Susan Mann, Gender and Sexuality in Modern Chinese History, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 7,10.

[31] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 71.

[32] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 73.

[33] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 78.

[34] Qiu Jin, “Stones of the Jingwei Bird”, in Writing Women in Modern China, ed. by Amy D. Dooling and Kristina M. Torgeson, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 73.

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