to Two Hundred Million Fellow Countrywomen
Alas! The greatest injustice in this world must be the injustice suffered by our female population of two hundred million. If a girl is lucky enough to have a good father, then her childhood is at least tolerable. But if by chance her father is an ill-tempered and unreasonable man, he may curse her birth: “What rotten luck another useless thing.” Some men go as far as killing baby girls while most hold the opinion that “girls are eventually someone else’s property” and treat them with coldness and disdain. In a few years, without thinking about whether it is right or wrong, he forcibly binds his daughter’s soft, white feet with white clothe so that even in her sleep she cannot find comfort and relief until the flesh becomes rotten and the bones broken. What is all this misery for? Is it just so that on the girls’ wedding day friends and neighbors will compliment him, saying, “Your daughter’s feet are really small?” Is that what the pain is for?
But that is not the worst of it. When the time for marriage comes, a girl’s future life is placed in the hands of a couple of shameless matchmakers and a family seeking rich and powerful in-laws. A match can be made without anyone ever inquiring whether the prospective bridegroom is honest, kind, or educated. On the day of the marriage the girl is forced into a red and green bridal sedan chair, and all this time she is not allowed to breathe one word about her future. After her marriage, if the man doesn’t do her any harm, she is told that she should thank heaven for her good fortune. But if the man is bad or he ill-treats her, she is told that her marriage is retribution for some sin committed in her previous existence. If she complains at all or tries to reason with her husband, he may get angry and beat her. When other people find out they will criticize, saying, “That woman is bad; she doesn’t know how to behave like a wife.” What can she do?
When a man dies, his wife must mourn him for three years and never remarry. But if the woman dies, her husband only needs to tie his queue with blue thread. Some men consider this to be ugly and don’t even do it. In some cases, three days after his wife’s death, a man will go out for some “entertainment.” Sometimes, before seven weeks have passed, as new bride has already arrived at the door> When Heaven created people it never intended such injustice because of the world is without women, how can men be born? Why is there no justice for women? We constantly hear men say, “The human mind is just and we must treat people with fairness and equality.” Then why do they greet women like black slaves from Africa? How did inequality and injustice reach this state?
Dear sisters, you must know that you’ll get nothing if you rely upon others. You must go out and get things for yourselves. In ancient times when decadent scholars came out with such nonsense as “men are exalted, women are lowly,” “a virtuous woman is one without talent,” and “the husband guides the wife,” ambitious and spirited women should have organized and opposed them. When the second Ch’en ruler popularized footbinding, women should have challenged him if they had an sense of humiliation at all . . . .
Men feared that if women were educated they would become superior to men, so they did not allow us to be educated. Couldn’t the women have challenged the men and refused to submit? It seems clear now that it was we women who abandoned our responsibilities to ourselves and felt content to let men do everything for us. As long as we could live in comfort and leisure, we let men make all the decisions for us.
When men said we were useless, we became useless; when they said we were incapable, we stopped questioning them even when our entire female sex had reached slave status. At the same time we were insecure in our good fortune and our physical comfort, so we did everything to please men. When we heard that men liked small feet, we immediately bound them just to please them, just to keep our free meal tickets. As for their forbidding us to read and write, well, that was only too good to be true. We readily agreed. Think about it, sisters, can anyone enjoy such comfort and leisure without forfeiting dearly for it? It was only natural that men, with their knowledge, wisdom, and hard work, received the right to freedom while we became their slaves. And as slaves, how can we except repression? Whom can we blame but ourselves since we have brought this on ourselves? I feel very sad talking about this, yet I feel that there is no need for me to elaborate since all of us are in the same situation.
I hope that we all shall put aside the past and work hard for the future. Let us all put aside our former selves and be resurrected as complete human beings. Those of you who are old, do not call yourselves old and useless. If your husbands want to open schools, don’t stop them; if your good sons want to study abroad, don’t hold them back. Those among us who are middle-aged, don’t hold back your husbands lest they lose their ambition and spirit and fail in their work. After your sons are born, send them to schools. You must do the same for your daughters and, whatever you do, don’t bind their feet. As for you young girls among us, go to school if you can. If not, read and study at home. Those of you who are rich, persuade your husbands to open schools, build factories, and contribute to charitable organizations. Those of you who are poor, work hard and help your husbands. Don’t be lazy, don’t eat idle rice. These are what I hope for you. You must know that when a country is near destruction, women cannot rely on the men any more because they aren’t even able to protect themselves. If we don’t take heart now and shape up, it will be too late when China is destroyed.
Sisters, we must follow through on these ideas!
Translation by Nancy Gibbs.
Source: Chinese Civilization and Society: A Sourcebook, ed. Patricia Buckley Ebrey, (New York: Free Press) 1981, pp. 247-248.