Lv Bicheng: Newspaper Woman, Educator and Buddhist

January 13, 2014
Editor: Frank Zhao

 

Lv Bicheng: Newspaper Woman, Educator and Buddhist
Lv Bicheng was a woman ahead of her times. Born in 1883 to a scholarly family, she was an early advocate of women's education and equality, the first woman editor in Chinese newspaper history, and an eminent Ci poetess. [cultural-china.com]

Lv Bicheng was a woman ahead of her times. Born in 1883 to a scholarly family, she was an early advocate of women's education and equality, the first woman editor in Chinese newspaper history, and an eminent Ci poetess.

Lv Bicheng's father was a scholarly Qing Dynasty official, and she spent her childhood in an academic ambience. Upon her father's death, Lv's clansmen misappropriated the family assets and quarantined her mother. Lv, then 13, wrote letters appealing to her father's friends and pupils for help, and was finally able to rescue her mother.

Chief Editor of Dagongbao

Mother and daughter later went to live with Lv's maternal uncle Yan Langxuan, a government official in Tanggu, and his four daughters in Jingde. The Hundred-Days-Reform of 1898 convinced 20-year-old Bicheng to leave the shelter of her uncle's home and try to make her own living in Tianjin. Having heard that the wife of her uncle's secretary worked at the Dagongbao newspaper, she wrote to her asking for help.

General Editor of the Dagongbao Ying Jianzhi read her letter and, impressed with both her writing and initiative, took Lv on for a trial period as editor. She thus became the first woman editor in China's news history. During the next few months that Lv's Ci poetry was published in the newspaper it received high praise and commendation. She was soon made chief editor of the Dagongbao, aposition she held from 1904 to 1908.

Lv was a contemporary and friend of China's best known, if not earliest, feminist Qiu Jin, who wrote under the penname of Bicheng. After reading Lv's articles, however, she was so impressed that she stopped using this homonymic penname.

Social Activist

Lv Bicheng stood out among her contemporaries in the Republic of China by virtue of her independence and self-assertiveness, manifest in her up-to-the-minute and, at that time, daring wardrobe. She caused a sensation at one gathering when she wore a sleeveless dress with a square neckline and a peacock feather in her hair.

Lv had several suitors, but was interested only in Liang Qichao and Wang Jingwei -- two reformers with contrasting approaches. But as Liang was nine years older than Lv, and Wang was born the same year as her, neither was an appropriate match.
Unwilling to marry purely for the sake of social conventions, Lv chose to remain single and devote herself to helping women achieve the recognition as human beings they deserved.

Lv Bicheng wore a sleeveless dress with a square neckline and a peacock feather in her hair.

Feminist Educator

Bicheng published her poetry and also her articles advocating women's equality in the Dagongbao. Her next goal was to open and run a women's school.

Ying Jianzhi, general editor of the paper, introduced Lv to well-known educator Yan Fu, who became her teacher. Editor Ying also recommended her to governor-general Yuan Shikai as an excellent person to run a women's school. Yuan readily agreed.

The Beiyang Women's School was established on November 17, 1904, with Lv Bicheng as dean of studies. Two years later, she became principal. At 23-years-old, she was the state's youngest and first woman principal.

Many Lv's students became revolutionists, educators, and artists, among them Deng Yingchao, May 4th student activist and later wife of Zhou Enlai, Liu Qingyang, one of China's early women's rights activists, and Xu Guangping, a student activist who later married Lu Xun.

From Civil Servant to Buddhist

Lv Bicheng: Newspaper Woman, Educator and Buddhist
Lv Bicheng wears a sleeveless dress with a square neckline and a peacock feather in her hair. [cultural-china.com]

Lv Bicheng was a secretary in the civil service at the time Yuan Shikai became President of the Republic of China. When he attempted to become emperor, however, she distanced herself from him and moved to Shanghai to live with her mother. She started her own business there and prospered within 2 to 3 years. It was then that she decided to broaden her studies outside of China's shores.

In 1918, Lv went to study literature and fine art at the US Columbus University. Four years after returning to China in 1926, she sailed to Europe and revisited America.

During her travels Lv became interested in Buddhism. Her translations into English of Buddhist scriptures drew scholarly attention, and in 1930 she converted to Buddhism under the name Man Zhi. Lv Bicheng returned to Hong Kong from Switzerland in 1939 at the start of WWII. She died of illness on January 24, 1943, at the age of 60.

Notes: Ci poetry originated in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It had fixed numbers of lines and words and strict tonal patterns and rhyme schemes.

(Source: cultural-china.com)

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