Republican Runaways and Romantics

  • November 10, 2011
  • Editor: Lin Lin
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Modern and beautiful woman in the Republic of China [bbs.voc.com.cn]

Modern and beautiful woman in the Republic of China [bbs.voc.com.cn]


The status of women in China rose from incubators of sons at the time of the First Opium War in 1840 to a vital element of the urban work force in contemporary times.

Until the 1911 Xinhai Revolution that founded the Republic of China, the patriarchal clan system, and its accompanying feudal conventions whereby men were regarded as unquestionably superior to women, kept women at the bottom rung of society.

The first generation of 'modern women' during the transitional Republic of China period from 1912-1949, and their pursuit of individual happiness and freedom, continues to impress and inspire their descendents.

Runaway Brides

It was common during the Republican period for young, educated women to rebel against the marriages that their parents arranged for them. An outstanding instance is that of Zhao Wuzhen, whose blood stained her red bridal sedan chair on the journey to her newly wedded husband's household. Zhao Wuzhen made this supreme gesture of defiance in 1919, year of the May Fourth Movement against imperialism and feudalism.

Zhao Wuzhen was an intelligent, talented young woman from Changsha, south China's Hunan Province. She was deeply unhappy about the marriage her parents had arranged for her, especially in the knowledge that her prospective mother-in-law was an autocrat and bully. The patriarchal convention was for a bride to move in with her husband's family. Mothers-in-law would often treat these new additions to the household as little more than slaves.

Zhao's parents, however, thought it was a good match, and brushed aside her objections. Seeing no escape from a life of drudgery, Zhao secreted a dagger in her wedding outfit and cut her throat in the red bridal sedan chair that took her to her husband's home. Even though she had committed suicide in protest against being forced to marry against her will, the epitaph on her tombstone nonetheless read 'the Late Wife of Family Wu,' the surname of her designated husband. "The decadent institution of marriage and inhuman feudal ethics pushed her to death," was the comment of Mao Zedong (1893. 12. 26—1976. 9.9, one of the founders of the People's Republic of China), a young patriotic and revolutionary student at the time.

The western values that entered China with the 1911 Revolution encouraged certain educated young women, long resistant to the ruling patriarchal ethics, to make their own decisions and pursue individual freedom and happiness. Although the feminist movement had far less impact in China than in the West, it was still apparent in the phenomenon of runaway brides who escaped marital servitude to fulfill their potential as independent citizens.

Mao Yanwen (1898-1999) was born into a well-to-do family in east China's Zhejiang Province. A respected educator and social activist, she married venerable entrepreneur politician and scholar Xiong Xiling. It is only through her memoirs, published in her later years, that her having been a runaway bride became public knowledge.

Mao's father betrothed her when she was eight or nine years old to Fang Guodong, the son of a businessman whose strong connections with her family went back generations.

Mao's outstanding marks at school earned her admission when she was 17 to the prestigious Hangzhou Women's Normal School. After just one term, the head of the Fang family, Mao's future father-in-law, passed away. At their urgent request, Mao's father brought her back from school and informed her that she must marry Fang Guodong without delay. From his point of view, reneging on a marriage contract at such a sad time was unthinkable.

Mao Yanwen, however, was lucky. Other than her father, the whole family including her mother, uncle-in-law, and cousins, were against the match. On the morning the red sedan chair arrived to transport the new bride to her husband's home she had already fled to a place of temporary refuge in the countryside.

Although Mao's father was enraged to find the whole family had plotted plot behind his back, he made no further attempt to compel his daughter to marry. Mao's flight from matrimony was nonetheless a huge scandal. Many blamed Mao's new-type education for her unfilial behavior. Mao's father eventually resolved the matter through a local official who mediated with and mollified the Fang family with the help of a substantial sum of money.

'Runaway brides' were a noted social phenomenon at that time. Self-made working class intellectual and revolutionary Xiao Chunv (1891-1927) specified several possible initiatives for absconding matrimony. Incompatibility, diverging life targets, unwillingness to accept a stranger as a life-partner (as in most arranged marriages of the time, brides and grooms did not meet before the wedding ceremony), and illiterate husbands were among the primary motives for escaping from an arranged marriage.

Although this select social group consisted mainly of high-school or college students well-educated enough to defend their own rights, women laborers were also among them.

These runaways joined the urban work force, and often lived with their spouses free of matrimonial bonds. This ultra-modern mode of relationship alienated such women from traditional family life, elevating them directly into the bread-winner class. Ironically enough, their independent financial status provided material support sufficient to sustain their escape from patriarchal fetters.

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  • Republican Runaways and Romantics2011-11-10   Editor: Lin Lin

    Modern and beautiful woman in the Republic of China [bbs.voc.com.cn]

    Modern and beautiful woman in the Republic of China [bbs.voc.com.cn]


    The status of women in China rose from incubators of sons at the time of the First Opium War in 1840 to a vital element of the urban work force in contemporary times.

    Until the 1911 Xinhai Revolution that founded the Republic of China, the patriarchal clan system, and its accompanying feudal conventions whereby men were regarded as unquestionably superior to women, kept women at the bottom rung of society.

    The first generation of 'modern women' during the transitional Republic of China period from 1912-1949, and their pursuit of individual happiness and freedom, continues to impress and inspire their descendents.

    Runaway Brides

    It was common during the Republican period for young, educated women to rebel against the marriages that their parents arranged for them. An outstanding instance is that of Zhao Wuzhen, whose blood stained her red bridal sedan chair on the journey to her newly wedded husband's household. Zhao Wuzhen made this supreme gesture of defiance in 1919, year of the May Fourth Movement against imperialism and feudalism.

    Zhao Wuzhen was an intelligent, talented young woman from Changsha, south China's Hunan Province. She was deeply unhappy about the marriage her parents had arranged for her, especially in the knowledge that her prospective mother-in-law was an autocrat and bully. The patriarchal convention was for a bride to move in with her husband's family. Mothers-in-law would often treat these new additions to the household as little more than slaves.

    Zhao's parents, however, thought it was a good match, and brushed aside her objections. Seeing no escape from a life of drudgery, Zhao secreted a dagger in her wedding outfit and cut her throat in the red bridal sedan chair that took her to her husband's home. Even though she had committed suicide in protest against being forced to marry against her will, the epitaph on her tombstone nonetheless read 'the Late Wife of Family Wu,' the surname of her designated husband. "The decadent institution of marriage and inhuman feudal ethics pushed her to death," was the comment of Mao Zedong (1893. 12. 26—1976. 9.9, one of the founders of the People's Republic of China), a young patriotic and revolutionary student at the time.

    The western values that entered China with the 1911 Revolution encouraged certain educated young women, long resistant to the ruling patriarchal ethics, to make their own decisions and pursue individual freedom and happiness. Although the feminist movement had far less impact in China than in the West, it was still apparent in the phenomenon of runaway brides who escaped marital servitude to fulfill their potential as independent citizens.

    Mao Yanwen (1898-1999) was born into a well-to-do family in east China's Zhejiang Province. A respected educator and social activist, she married venerable entrepreneur politician and scholar Xiong Xiling. It is only through her memoirs, published in her later years, that her having been a runaway bride became public knowledge.

    Mao's father betrothed her when she was eight or nine years old to Fang Guodong, the son of a businessman whose strong connections with her family went back generations.

    Mao's outstanding marks at school earned her admission when she was 17 to the prestigious Hangzhou Women's Normal School. After just one term, the head of the Fang family, Mao's future father-in-law, passed away. At their urgent request, Mao's father brought her back from school and informed her that she must marry Fang Guodong without delay. From his point of view, reneging on a marriage contract at such a sad time was unthinkable.

    Mao Yanwen, however, was lucky. Other than her father, the whole family including her mother, uncle-in-law, and cousins, were against the match. On the morning the red sedan chair arrived to transport the new bride to her husband's home she had already fled to a place of temporary refuge in the countryside.

    Although Mao's father was enraged to find the whole family had plotted plot behind his back, he made no further attempt to compel his daughter to marry. Mao's flight from matrimony was nonetheless a huge scandal. Many blamed Mao's new-type education for her unfilial behavior. Mao's father eventually resolved the matter through a local official who mediated with and mollified the Fang family with the help of a substantial sum of money.

    'Runaway brides' were a noted social phenomenon at that time. Self-made working class intellectual and revolutionary Xiao Chunv (1891-1927) specified several possible initiatives for absconding matrimony. Incompatibility, diverging life targets, unwillingness to accept a stranger as a life-partner (as in most arranged marriages of the time, brides and grooms did not meet before the wedding ceremony), and illiterate husbands were among the primary motives for escaping from an arranged marriage.

    Although this select social group consisted mainly of high-school or college students well-educated enough to defend their own rights, women laborers were also among them.

    These runaways joined the urban work force, and often lived with their spouses free of matrimonial bonds. This ultra-modern mode of relationship alienated such women from traditional family life, elevating them directly into the bread-winner class. Ironically enough, their independent financial status provided material support sufficient to sustain their escape from patriarchal fetters.

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