Xiang Jingyu: the Mulan of her times
Xiang Jingyu was a Chinese politician and women’s rights activist. She was recognized by Chairman Mao Zedong as the sole female founder of the Communist Party of China.
Born into a rich family in 1895 in Xupu, Hunan Province, Xiang had 10 brothers and sisters.
Her original name was Xiang Junxian which she changed after attending school.
Influenced by her brothers who studied in Japan, she went to an old-style private school at the age of 6.
Two years later, she was the first girl in the county to receive primary education. She dreamed of becoming a heroine like Hua Mulan, fighting for gender equality.
With the downfall of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in 1911, Xiang went to Changsha in Hunan Province to study in the Hunan First Women’s Normal School.
In 1916, Xiang graduated from Zhounan Women’s School and returned to her hometown with the ambition of emancipating women and saving the nation through education.
She founded the Xupu Primary School and it expanded rapidly, from one class with dozens of students to eight classes with over 300 students.
Moving to Beijing, Xiang joined the Xinmin Institute which was established by Mao and Cai Hesen in 1918.
In December of 1919, Xiang went to France to study along with Cai Hesen and Cai Chang. She attended a women’s university in Paris. Xiang not only learnt French and Marxism, but also contacted with the working class in France. In 1920, Xiang married Cai Hesen.
In 1922, Xiang joined the CPC and became one of the earliest female members. In July, she was elected as the first female member of the CPC Central Committee and the first director taking charge of women’s movements.
A year later, she moved to Shanghai. Xiang’s proposal about gender equality was passed at the third National Congress of the CPC in 1923. It said women have the right of inheritance, equal pay, freedom of marriage and equity in education.
Xiang became the first secretary of the Women’s Movement Committee.
In June 1924, Xiang led a great strike, involving more than 4,000 female laborers from 14 silk factories in Shanghai. Their 16 demands included higher salary and cutting working hours to 10.
After the outbreak of the May 30 Movement in 1925 against foreign imperialists, Xiang organized and led more strikes in Shanghai.
Publishing over 40 articles about women’s rights, she dedicated herself to the feminist movement.
In October of the same year, Xiang was sent to study in Moscow along with her husband. She returned to Wuhan in Hubei Province in 1927 and worked at the city’s Publicity Department of the Federation of Trade Unions.
The counter-revolutionary war was launched by the Kuomintang in July 1927 in Wuhan. Regardless of the danger, Xiang decided to stay.
But she was betrayed and captured on March 20, 1928.
Despite being cruelly tortured, Xiang refused to reveal any secret of the CPC.
On the way to her execution, she still made a speech to the passers-by.
Afraid that her words would wake people’s patriotic enthusiasm, the Kuomintang guards beat her in order to shut her up.
Xiang was executed on May 1, 1928.