Revolutions and women are terms not usually used together. We rarely heard of female revolutionaries often come to mind as men, revolted, wielding weapons and devoted body and soul to their cause, until death do them part. After highlighting the role of pioneers of feminism on the Asian continent, the present article is this time focused on Asian female revolutionaries, who have left their mark on history.
Xie Xuehong is one of the important figures of the Taiwanese revolution of 1947. Born in Changhua county in 1901, she comes from a very poor family and has 7 siblings. Living in very precarious and sick conditions, her parents died when she was just 13 years old. Xie found herself in an abusive adoptive family and fled the home to escape an arranged marriage with the family’s son.
She began studying sociology and took part in the May 30th Movement. After continuing her studies in Moscow, she returned to China in 1927 and helped build the Taiwanese Communist Party. Chauvinist and sexist ideologies gradually took over the party. Women were increasingly relegated to the background, preferring the role of housewives. Under these conditions, Xie Xuehong, is then leader of the Taiwanese Communist Party and face some men’s hostility, refusing to be led by a woman.
In 1931, because of differences of opinion, Xie Xuehong was banned from the Communist Party and sentenced to 13 years in prison for advocating communism. She was released 8 years later, having contracted tuberculosis. 1945 was the year of her return to the political scene, declaring that Taiwan should be governed by Taiwanese. She created the Taiwan People’s Association, which was dissolved in 1947. Xie Xuehong fled to Hong Kong to create the Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League. In the political arena, she fought for the independence of Taiwan and died in Beijing in 1970 during the Cultural Revolution.
Kanno Sugako was the first female political prisoner to be executed during the period of the Japanese Empire. She was born in Osaka in 1881, a port city in eastern Japan. Very close to her mother, she died when Kanno Sugako reached the age of ten. Her father remarried to a toxic stepmother. At the age of 15, she orchestrated a sexual assault against Kano to keep her away from her father. Blamed by society, Kano found solace in reading Toshihiko Sakai, a Japanese writer and historian, encouraging victims of abuse not to feel at fault and ashamed.
The success of the feminist and poet Yosano Akiko motivated her to start her career in journalism and was noticed by the novelist Bunkai Udagawa. In 1903, she got her first job as a journalist and fiction writer for a local newspaper in Osaka. Kanno Sugako did not always express a feminist vision in her works. Her first articles condemned prostitution, called geisha ugly and demanded the cancellation of a geisha representation at the 5th National Industrial Exhibition in Osaka the same year.
Her feminist vision slowly took shape in her writings, as in the fiction Omokage, which deals with the multiple oppressions that women suffer. A meeting with members of different left-wing parties gave her a better understanding of the problems related to brothels. She therefore turned her criticism towards the government for sanctioning prostitution and not supporting these women. Within the various left-wing parties, Kano realized that they were predominantly dominated by men and although gender equality was advocated, such equality remained only theoretical. She did not hesitate to share her criticisms in her writings.
June 22, 1908 brought a radical change in her career. A few socialists gathered at the liberation of Koken Yamaguchi’s anarchist. Shouting anarchist and socialist slogans and waving red flags, the situation escalated and 14 people were arrested. Worried about the arrests of her friends, Kano went to the police station for news and ended up imprisoned for two months. She was released on August 29, 1908, and found herself harassed by the police. Furthermore, tuberculosis slowed her down more and more in her work. Neverthless, Kano became more radical and participated in a plot to assassinate Emperor Meiji. She spent her last days worrying about her sister’s grave and the fate of the innocent people who had been convicted. On January 25, 1911, Kano was hanged.
Nguyen Thi Minh Kha
Nguyen Thi Minh Kha was a revolutionary and leader of the Indochinese Communist Party during the 1930s. She grew up in the city of Vĩnh Yen, in northern Vietnam, in a well-to-do family. During her youth, Nguyen Thi Minh Kha was influenced by the writings of Phan Boi Chau, a figure of Vietnamese nationalism. At the age of 15, she decided to leave her family to take the path of revolution. In 1931, she took part with Ho Chi Minh in a training course of the Communist International. She was finally arrested by the British authorities and imprisoned for three years.
In 1934, she moved to Moscow by smuggling and continued her studies. Upon her return to Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Minh Kha became actively involved in the Communist Party as General Secretary in Saigon (the former name for the city of Ho-Chi Minh). Vietnam, then a French colony, gradually became the scene of armed uprisings, notably the Nam Kỳ khởi nghĩa, which was an uprising in 1940 against the colonizers, a movement led by the Indochinese Communist Party. Nguyen Thi Minh Kha took part in this movement and was arrested during a revolt in Nam Bo, a city in southern Vietnam, and died in 1941, executed by French colonists.
Gabriela Silang became the first anti-colonial revolutionary woman in the Philippines, fighting against the Spanish colonizers. She was born on March 17, 1731, in Santa, a municipality of Iloco Sur. Her father, Anselmo Cariño, was a Spanish merchant and her mother an indigenous of the Itneg people. From an early age, Gabriela received a Christian education, was raised by a priest, and at the age of 20 was married to a wealthy businessman. Her husband died a few years later and it was then that she met true love. She remarries in 1757 Dileo Silang, an anti-colonial resistance fighter.
Five years later, the Seven Year War broke out, the British declared war on the Spanish. Dileo and Gabriela thought it would be a good way to get rid of the Spanish settlers. They then join the British, and they appointed him governor of the region of Ilocos. At his side, Gabriela Silang was one of his closest advisors. Meanwhile, the Spanish colonists offer a reward for the murder of Dileo Silang. He has been killed in 1763 in Vigan. Gabriela took refuge in the Abra region. She reformed her troops in the Itneg community and assumed the role of commander-in-chief. She attempted to lay siege to the town of Vigan but failed. The Spanish colonists eventually captured her. She was executed with her troops on September 20, 1763.
Wu Shuqing was a Chinese feminist, nationalist and revolutionary. She distinguished herself by leading an all-female armed group during the 1911 revolution. Very quickly she was noticed for her physical strength and intelligence. She is convinced by gender equality and nationalism. Fighting against the Qing Dynasty, from the Manchu ethnic group and foreign powers, was a duty for Wu Shuqing. The revolution broke out in 1911. Wu Shuqing, still a student, sent a letter to Li Yuanhong, a general and politician, expressing his desire to form a women’s militia. At first, she was refused by Li Yuanhong, believing that it would be too complicated to integrate a mixed militia.
However, Wu Shuqing did not let herself be discouraged and expressed her desire to participate in the revolution. She finally convinced Li Yuanhong and created a women’s armed troop, bringing together a hundred to several hundred women. With her troop, Wu Shuqing took part in the battles of Hankou and Nanjing and quickly gained fame. The end of the revolution sounded the end for all women’s military troops, they were all dissolved in 1912. As for what became of Wu Shuqing after her military career, the mystery still remains.