记念五四运动 In Memory of the May Fourth Movement, 1919

My Favorite May 4th people:

Qiu Jin in male-dress

Ding Ling

Lu Xun

Alice Walker says, in "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens," a collection of non-fiction essays describing her coming-of-age as a prominent writer in the 70s, that she had an almost obsessive interest in the life of Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston, known for her book, ""Their Eyes were watching God" (which Oprah produced starring Halle Berry...not the best production...) during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, was a novelist, folklorist and anthropologist all rolled into one. She was a confident, smart, sexy, and as Walker says, had a strong "racial health, a sense of Black people as complete, complex, undiminshed human beings." A product of her time period, Zora the anthropologist would go around Harlem measuring the cranial sizes of random Black folks. However, unlike racist anthropologists, she did so with the intent of proving that "whatever their size, shape, or present condition of servitude, those heads contained all the intelligence anyone could use to get through ths world." Walker, admiring Zora's "easy sense of self-acceptance," claims that she was "more like an uncolonized African than like a contemporary American black -- who believed in their formative years, that blackness was something wrong with them..."

Anyway, for me, each of these three people whose pic I have put up were very important for my own coming-of-age, as an immigrant to many lands, as a daughter of immigrants hoping from country to country with little/no stability, and most importantly, as a queer asian woman who grew up in a home w its share of gendered violence. My story is not unique, and I am not crazy to feel the way I felt so many times before, was the most important lesson that I took from these fav May 4th peeps of mine. They led the way so that young politically active asian folks like me can learn from them, and follow in some of their trail-blazing footsteps. So here's who they are, real quick:

1) Qiu Jin:
A queer Chinese female anarchist who was known for fucking w gender identity and norms. She was married, and I think she had kids too. But she left the traditional household to pursue politics, which at that time was seen as a male occupation.

2) Ding Ling:
Author of "Miss Sophia's Diary." The short story is about a middle-class young woman's attempts to escape the patriarchal binds of society -- she is unable to express her (sexual) love for her best friend, she is disappointed w the shallowness of sexual relations, she is unable to break through the confinements of her society: middle-class ladies have no business working or living outside of the home. And so she is depressed.
On the one level, this can be seen as middle-class women's ranting, but on the other hand, I mean, its something also about how "a room of one's own" is eternally evasive for women of any class. Ding Ling, later a strong supporter of the Chinese Communist Party, moved to Yan'an to heed Mao's call for literature to reflect politics. Eventually however, her inability/lack of desire to "tow the line" by the strict political standards caused her to be branded as a "bourgeois" deviant writer...

3) Lu Xun
Class biases aside -- May 4th movement was a predominantly middle-class/intellectual phenomenon -- Lu Xun is a sad, heart-wrenching but nonetheless, very truthful writer. Thats why he is so loved. Apart from "The Mad Man's Diary," I was also very impressed by an essay Lu Xun wrote on "What happens when Nora leaves the house?" At a time when most feminists were male intellectuals who were strongly influenced by Henrik Ibsen's "The Dollhouse," which speaks of a young middle-class woman who gets sick and tired of being treated paternalistically in the household, Lu Xun took up the question of, what do women do when they leave the home? How do we NOT fetishize women's liberation from the household as just another male burden, and rather, think concretely about how women can survive and support themselves once they leave the home? It really blew my mind to see how, just like the white man's burden was the liberation of people of color in superficial manners, so the male burden could be the liberation of women only in a very shallow sense, which doesnt fundamentally challenge patriarchal society and how women's labor is still divided in broader society. This ties into why Ding Ling's grievances as a cooped up middle-class woman are also very deep. They are social commentaries of the May 4th movement's attempts to take on a language and ethos of Western enlightenment as a contrast to the presumably backward traditions of Chinese society at that time.

Anyways, for all its flaws, the May 4th movement stands strong as an important anti-colonial movement in China at the turn of the 20th century. So, in memory of all who put their lives on the line, who survived bouts of depression from thinking they were the only ones who were crazy for their resistance against oppressive norms in the society, have a happy May 4th!


husunzi said...

Hi Jomo, glad to see this! I don't think I'd heard of Qiu Jin before - you'll have to write something longer about her some time or direct to other sources. Was she involved with the women's co-op in Taiwan?

Tani Barlow, founding editor of positions whom we discussed at dinner the other day, has written about Ding Ling, translated some of her work, and edited a collection called
I Myself Am a Woman
, including an introduction that deals with the uneasy relation between Ding Ling's feminist socialism & the Chinese Communist Party line in the 1930s-40s.

jomo said...

Sorry for taking so long to respond to you!
Yes, i would love to write something more about Qiu Jin. Actually she was executed by the Qing government. She was an anarchist at that time and influenced strongly by the Russian Narodniks, a lot of the Chinese anarchists were using assassination of authoritarian officials as their main tactics. I think Qiu Jin was implicated in one of such attempts and punished for it. In one of Lu Xun's stories (I believe it is in The New Year Festival) he actually sets one of the scenes in Qiu Jin's execution, reflecting how she was pretty known in the political circles of her time.
Anyway, I will take you up on a more detailed study of Qiu Jin sometime down the road and post it up here.
As for Ding Ling, who was for a while heavily influenced by Mao's Talk at Yan'an on Literature, eventually got disillusioned with the suppression of political critiques that meant. I think she was eventually put into prison in the far North. There is an interview with her in a documentary called "Return from Silence" that also includes interviews with Ba Jin (who was also imprisoned) and other writers like Mao Dun and Ai Qing.
Hope all is well on your end!

husunzi said...

I thought Mao's talk on literature was partly a veiled criticism of Ding Ling, but maybe it was the other way round.

I'll keep an eye out for that film but it seems to be hard to find - seems like only a few libraries have it.

By the way, have you seen this? Some good films & stuff to dl for free there.