Republican Runaways and Romantics

  • November 10, 2011
  • Editor: Lin Lin
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Divorce

Although divorce was legal before establishment of the Republic of China, most women would suffer in stoic silence rather than endure the social stigma of divorce. Concubines often acted as buffers between unhappy spouses. The Republic of China period, however, abolished concubinage and introduced western culture and progressive social economy. As women's status grew, public opinion softened towards divorced women.

The feudal marriage constitution of two thousand years' tottered in 1918 when well-known scholar Hu Shi said in his lecture, "Chinese overseas students having breathed the fresh air of civilization, their first act on returning home is to divorce." Hu referred to students from well-to-do families who had married according to their parents' wishes before going abroad.

The Shen Bao, one of the most popular newspapers of the time reported on January 13, 1913 that the Shanghai trial division had been inundated with lawsuits for divorce, filed mainly by women.

Wen Xiu and Pu Yi [baijiajiangtan.com.cn]
Wen Xiu and Pu Yi [baijiajiangtan.com.cn]

The last imperial concubine Wen Xiu (1909-1953)was among the first generation of so-called Chinese Noras in reference to the main character in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. On August 25, 1931, Wen Xiu was permitted to leave the Jing Yuan, the Last Emperor Pu Yi's temporary residence in Tianjin, to take a short trip around the city accompanied by court eunuch Zhao Changqing. Once outside the confines of the Jing Yuan, the aristocratic concubine registered at the Tianjin Minguo Hotel and sent Zhao Changqing back with a letter written in her own hand asking for a divorce.

The news soon hit all the papers in Tianjin and Peking. The public mainly took Wen Xiu's side, and spread the word that Pu Yi's wife was divorcing him. When the two lawyers Pu Yi hired failed to convince Wen Xiu to change her mind, the imperial couple signed the divorce documents. Wen Xiu, woman from the core of feudal system, thus succeeded in her dash for freedom. She married Kuomintang official Liu Zhendong in 1945, but died just eight years later on September 18, 1953.

Painter and Shanghai socialite Lu Xiaoman (1903-1965) was possibly the first woman in the Republic of China to divorce for the sake of true love. She married Xu Zhimo (1897.1.15-1931.11.19), one of the most celebrated poets and scholars of the time, in 1926. Lu and Xu both divorced to be together, an act considered truly revolutionary at the time. The marriage, however, was not a success owing to Lu's later addiction to opium and indulgence in luxury and extravagance.

Lu Xiaoman [Fengone.com.cn]
Lu Xiaoman [Fengone.com.cn]

On December 26, 1923, Lu Xu (1981-1936), the most venerable scholar and revolutionary of the time, made his speech, After Nora Walks out, What then? at Beijing Women's Normal College. The gloomy answer he gave to this question was that if the poor girl did not go home, her only way of survival would be to live as a prostitute or concubine. "We would all be fooling ourselves if we didn't acknowledge that women should be allowed to work just as men are," Lu Xun said.

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

    Although divorce was legal before establishment of the Republic of China, most women would suffer in stoic silence rather than endure the social stigma of divorce. Concubines often acted as buffers between unhappy spouses. The Republic of China period, however, abolished concubinage and introduced western culture and progressive social economy. As women's status grew, public opinion softened towards divorced women.

    The feudal marriage constitution of two thousand years' tottered in 1918 when well-known scholar Hu Shi said in his lecture, "Chinese overseas students having breathed the fresh air of civilization, their first act on returning home is to divorce." Hu referred to students from well-to-do families who had married according to their parents' wishes before going abroad.

    The Shen Bao, one of the most popular newspapers of the time reported on January 13, 1913 that the Shanghai trial division had been inundated with lawsuits for divorce, filed mainly by women.

    Wen Xiu and Pu Yi [baijiajiangtan.com.cn]
    Wen Xiu and Pu Yi [baijiajiangtan.com.cn]

    The last imperial concubine Wen Xiu (1909-1953)was among the first generation of so-called Chinese Noras in reference to the main character in Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. On August 25, 1931, Wen Xiu was permitted to leave the Jing Yuan, the Last Emperor Pu Yi's temporary residence in Tianjin, to take a short trip around the city accompanied by court eunuch Zhao Changqing. Once outside the confines of the Jing Yuan, the aristocratic concubine registered at the Tianjin Minguo Hotel and sent Zhao Changqing back with a letter written in her own hand asking for a divorce.

    The news soon hit all the papers in Tianjin and Peking. The public mainly took Wen Xiu's side, and spread the word that Pu Yi's wife was divorcing him. When the two lawyers Pu Yi hired failed to convince Wen Xiu to change her mind, the imperial couple signed the divorce documents. Wen Xiu, woman from the core of feudal system, thus succeeded in her dash for freedom. She married Kuomintang official Liu Zhendong in 1945, but died just eight years later on September 18, 1953.

    Painter and Shanghai socialite Lu Xiaoman (1903-1965) was possibly the first woman in the Republic of China to divorce for the sake of true love. She married Xu Zhimo (1897.1.15-1931.11.19), one of the most celebrated poets and scholars of the time, in 1926. Lu and Xu both divorced to be together, an act considered truly revolutionary at the time. The marriage, however, was not a success owing to Lu's later addiction to opium and indulgence in luxury and extravagance.

    Lu Xiaoman [Fengone.com.cn]
    Lu Xiaoman [Fengone.com.cn]

    On December 26, 1923, Lu Xu (1981-1936), the most venerable scholar and revolutionary of the time, made his speech, After Nora Walks out, What then? at Beijing Women's Normal College. The gloomy answer he gave to this question was that if the poor girl did not go home, her only way of survival would be to live as a prostitute or concubine. "We would all be fooling ourselves if we didn't acknowledge that women should be allowed to work just as men are," Lu Xun said.