A feminist poet and revolutionary, Qui Jin refused to compromise her dreams for liberation, becoming a symbol of – and hero to – modern China.
Qui Jin was born into a China on the brink of collapse. In 1875, the country had suffered two back-to-back conflicts on its own soil. Collectively referred to as the Opium Wars, they had rapidly undermined the ruling Qing Dynasty, which had been in power since 1644. Opium is a highly addictive substance -- one try and you're hooked -- which made dealers rich. But the traders were mostly British and French, and their importation of opium from India into China was largely illegal.
Have you ever thought about making your voice heard by concealing social critique in some common, everyday thing, like food?
That's how the poet and gastronome, Yuan Mei, found a way to criticize the anti-intellectualism of a haughty, deceitful, and unjust government.
Born in 1716 in Hangzhou, China, the son of a poor clerk, Yuan Mei was raised by his aunt, who taught him to read poetry. He became so obsessed with words and books, he'd idle outside of bookshops just to be near them. But he had no money to buy them. Mei worked very hard at school. So hard, in fact, that he was able to pass his national exam at the age of 11 -- a test that many 17-year olds repeatedly failed. This allowed him to go on to higher education.
Starting in primary school, Mei saved every poem he ever wrote. They told the story of his life. By the time he died, at the age of 82, he had amassed several thousand poems. They still survive today. But writing poetry was no way to make a living in the China of his day. After finishing school, Mei spent all his time tutoring to make ends meet. His ambition was to win a position as a government official. In 1743, Mei finally gained a job as a Prefect to the city of Nanjing. For the next fifteen years, he worked in various government positions, gaining wealth and prestige as an insightful and caring governor of his people. However, he found little fulfillment in his work.
Have you ever noticed that the greatest leaders are those who bring lasting peace to their people, rather than the perils of war?
Lady Xian was one of them, still remembered and revered two millenia later.
In the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, there are more than 200 temples dedicated to the ancient queen, Lady Xian. Visitors burn incense beneath the statues of Xian and her husband Feng Bo, while young couples who quarrel pray to the statues for guidance on how to get along. With her phoenix crown and Bao, Xian still protects her people from harm.