4 Great Chinese Women Your History Teacher Never Mentioned | International Women's Day 2020

Here at Culturally, we believe that it should be Women's Day, every single day! Let’s leave behind the notion that March 8 is the day we celebrate women, because women are an integral part of history, and any history that leaves out women isn't a complete story. 

Source: Giphy

A quick search will pull up a number of listicles on badass women of Chinese history, but there's a problem – most women on these lists are famous for being like men.

Take Hua Mulan for example, who's famous for literally dressing up as a man, and doing "manly" things like fight in the army. Or Wu Zetian, who became Empress Dowager, and then was known simply as the Emperor.

This week, let us get to know some of the women who don't usually make these lists, but totally should!

1. Lin Qiaozhi

Source: CPC China

Known as the “Angel of Life" and "Mother of a Thousand Babies", Lin Qiaozhi (23 December 1901 – 22 April 1983) was a pioneer in gynecology and obstetrics, delivering over 50,000 babies during her career. 

Born in 1901, Lin was an exemplary student, enrolling into Peking Union Medical College (PUMC) in 1921. She later became the first female director at PUMC Hospital! However, her career was interrupted in late 1941, when the Japanese occupied the hospital and Lin was forced to leave.

Source: womenofchina.cn

But this didn't stop her. Lin established a private clinic at her residence the following year, where she treated impoverished patients at reduced or remitted fees. In 1948 she was rehired at PUMC Hospital, later becoming director at Beijing Maternity Hospital, on top of deputy director at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences! 

Honestly, these are just some of her achievements. They stack so high, we'd need an entire article to cover it adequately.

Source: KK News

Known for treating every woman equally, Lin taught her understudies that saving a pregnant woman meant saving two lives. She was always there to comfort her patients, preferring to put her ear against her belly instead of using a stethoscope. She believed this helped to narrow the gap and dispel fears her patient might have.

Lin was hospitalized after suffering a brain hermorrage in December 1980, but she still insisted to be notified of any critical patients. In the spring of 1983, before falling into a brief coma, Lin whispered “quick, quick, bring me forceps.”

Source: BDCC Online

One day before her death, she delivered six babies.

Lin died on April 22, 1984. She never married or had any children of her own. Choosing to donate her body for anatomical teaching, Lin also left all of her money to a kindergarten and to start up a fund for PUMC's nursing school.

What a lady. We have all the feels. 😩

2. Ng Mui

Source: Pinterest

All of us have to thank Ng Mui for the martial arts we know today – she's said to have been a master of various types of martial arts, including Wing Chun, Wu Mei Pai, Shaolin, Wudang, Ng Ying Kung Fu, and Yue Jia Quan martial arts. She is also credited as the founder of Wu Mei Pai, Wing Chun, Southern Dragon Kung Fu, White Crane, and Five-Pattern Hung Kuen martial arts!

According to Wing Chun master Ip Man, Ng was trained at the Shaolin Monastery and was one of the Five Elders who survived the temple's destruction by Qing forces. She fled to the White Crane Temple, where she came across a fifteen-year-old girl running from a forced marriage. This girl was Yim Wing-chun, and Ng taught her how to defend herself using a style that Yim could pick up quickly without using great physical strength.

Unfortunately, we don't know much else about Ng Mui. But one thing's for sure – without her, we wouldn't have Bruce Lee, Ip Man and Jackie Chan!

3. Wang Zhenyi

Source: Astrocom Et Al

Wang Zhenyi (1768–1797) was a scientist and poet during the Qing Dynasty. Breaching the patriarchy of 18th century China, a time where women had no legal rights, Wang worked arduously to educate herself in subjects such as mathematics, astronomy, geography and medicine.

Born to a family of academics, Wang learnt mathematics, medicine and geography from her father, astronomy from her grandfather, and poetry from her grandmother. Beyond academics, Wang also mastered equestrian skills, archery and martial arts from Aa, the wife of a Mongolian general.

Source: Baidu

She was just 16 when she started learning advanced mathematics and astronomy by herself. She also traveled with her father to places like Shaanxi, Hubei, and Guangdong, broadening her horizons and experiences.

As a largely self-taught scientist, Wang worked to ensure that her knowledge were easily understood by her students and readers. She also rewrote a specialist mathematical treatise by Mei Wending, Principles of Calculation, in an easy-to-understand language, and developed simpler multiplication and division methods. Several biographies also note that she tutored male students, something unheard of for a woman at the time!

Wang's travels and research provided her plenty of inspiration and ideas for her poetry. It was known for its lack of flowery language, a common feminine trait. She also believed in equality for both men and women. Writing in one of her poems: 

"It's made to believe, 

Women are the same as Men; 

Are you not convinced, 

Daughters can also be heroic?"

Unfortunately, Wang died an untimely death at just 29. Before her death, she passed on her manuscripts to her best friend, Madam Kuai, who passed it onto her nephew, Qian Yiji, a renowned scholar at the time. Qian compiled her works and described Wang Zhenyi as the "top female scholar after Ban Zhao." In 2004, the International Astronomical Union recognized Wang’s achievements by naming a crater on Venus after her!

4. Lin Huiyin

Source: China Daily

In modern times, we have Lin Huiyin (10 June 1904 – 1 April 1955), a Chinese architect and writer. She is known to be the first female architect in modern China, and her husband was Liang Sicheng, the famed "Father of Modern Chinese Architecture". Talk about a power couple!

Born in a time where women had limited access to education, Lin was able to receive a formal education due to her family's affluence. She was also able to travel extensively with her father, receiving degrees in  United States and England.

In 1924, Lin and Liang both enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania where she worked in the architectural department. They both wanted to attend the School of Architecture, but Lin could not admitted as she was a woman. She therefore enrolled in the School of Fine Arts and later Yale University while pursuing her architecture passion on the side.

Source: China Daily

In 1936, Lin and Liang climbed the roof of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing to develop measurements for the imperial complex. Lin was the first woman to attempt the walk on the emperor's palace roof. Together with Liang, Lin also began restoration work on other Beijing's cultural sites in the post-imperial Republican Era of China, a passion she would pursue until the end of her life.

Source: KK News

But in 1937, as the Japan's invasion moved closer, Lin and Liang had to stop their restoration work and abandon their now famous courtyard residence (which was, of course, torn down in 2012 to make way for Beijing’s continued “development” 😟)

After 1949, Lin became professor of Architecture at Tsinghua University and was also involved in the design of the Chinese national flag! She passed away from tuberculosis in 1955. Although she did not receive the recognition she deserved during her lifetime as she was a woman, there has been a renewed revival of her legacy and in 2010 CCTV broadcasted an eight-episode documentary on Lin and her husband.

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