Friday, June 25, 2010

awesome chinese ladies part one: i will not go quietly

Recently Tiger Beatdown had a post up about Sei Shonagon, then just this week Isabel wrote about the Disney version of Mulan. These are posts about two of my favourite Asian ladies of all time! Sure, there is some speculation as to whether Hua Mulan ever existed, but that doesn't stop her from being a fierce inspiration to me during my life.

Hua Mulan is Chinese, and Sei Shonagon was Japanese, but she was a total Sinophile. And they are pretty famous! But there have been other awesome, inspiring Chinese ladies, and I would like to share them with you! Feel free to find them inspiring and/or amazing, and to share stories of other ladies in the comments!


empress dowager cixi looking fierce and draped in pearls, this image isn't mine but I'm not sure where I got itEmpress Dowager CiXi (慈禧太后) was defacto ruler of China for about a billion years (okay, 47), bringing one male relative after another to the throne so she could be the fearsome power behind it. She was a super politician, being fairly expert in balancing between different factions. She was pretty famous for being a) a despot, and b) really in to luxury. She used funds from the navy to build a summer palace, held 150-dish banquets, and had lots (and lots and lots) of jewellery. She also had A LOT of names. My favourite representation of her is a steampunk one by James Ng, as the immortal empress. There's lots to read about her at Wikipedia, IF YOU ARE INTERESTED. Also there are lots of books about her! (I don't recommend the Anchee Min books, they bored me)

Ching Shih (郑氏), also known as Zheng Yi Sao and Shi Xianggu, was a PIRATE ADMIRAL. She was at one point a prostitute, and she married in to a famous pirate family. As Big Pirate Boss, she commanded (at her peak) 400 ships , robbed from lots of people and sometimes imposed taxes on them, and evaded capture for decades, and when she retired from pirating she opened a gambling house. A pirate running a gambling house! MAYBE SHE SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, I AM JUST SAYING, SHE COULD HAVE BEEN PLAYED BY JOAN CHEN AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN AMAZING. It would have been amazing. You can read more about her in this article.

Guo Zhenshun (郭真顺) stopped an army with a poem. WITH A POEM. What can you do with a poem?! (My poetry is nowhere near that magnificent). You can read more about her here (in Chinese) and here (also in Chinese).

Huang Guigu, also known as Lady Sima, was (maybe, probably, it was two thousand years ago so it's hard to tell okay?) a military commander under King Zheng of Qin (who later became the first emperor of China). She was super fierce, strong, and good at military campaigns.

Zhao-Hong Wenguo is sometimes referred to as the grandmother of the anti-Japanese resistance. When she was sixty, she would charge in to battle with A GUN IN EACH HAND. I can only hope I'm that fierce when I'm sixty! She was a commander of troops!

wuzetian holding her arms out and calling to the viewer or something - this image isn't mine but i'm not sure where i got it fromWu Zetian (武则天) was the only woman to ever be Empress of China. AWESOME. She was defacto ruler for a while (and Empress Dowager), but established her own dynasty (the Zhou - 周), and was known as the Sacred and Divine Empress Regnant. She started out as a lesser, not-favoured concubine, and later was Empress for fifteen years. She promoted Buddhism over Daoism (uuhhh) and tried to increase the importance of women in Chinese history by commissioning a lot of biographies of awesome Chinese women. She also had heaps of secret police, and some people think that her efforts meant that there was better gender equality in subsequent dynasties. Also she promoted a lot of women to positions of power, including Premier. When I was looking for links for you to read, I stumbled across someone asking for Famous Chinese Women, 'I can only find out about Empress Wu and she didn't seem very nice,' this person wrote. Well, we can't all be nice, but we can all be fierce? I SUPPOSE. You can read about her at Wikipedia, and at women in world history.

FURTHER READING FROM THE COMFORT OF YOUR COMPUTER (it's raining, so I certainly don't want to go outside):
Mad, Bad and Dangerous Women of the Han: The Shocking Story of Lady Dai (not that shocking, really)
Chinese women in history - soldiers, pirates, scholars, sages and rulers


  1. AWESOME! I must know more! Thanks for the links!

  2. Mistress Ching in POTC3 was supposed to be a reference to her.


  3. You KNOW they would have gotten her wrong. Then we would have demanded AN ENTIRE INDUSTRY OF CHINESE WOMEN PIRATES TO MAKE UP FOR THEIR ERROR.

  4. thanks for this awesome list. the only woman i know from the list is Empress Dowager CiXi thanks to the books by Anchee Min. now that i think about it, does Madame Mao qualify as an awesome Chinese lady?

  5. @eccentricyoruba - I totally think that Madame Mao is an awesome Chinese lady (for the definition of awesome, not necessarily 'did good things'), but for this list I decided to focus on women that a) were a bit more historical (rather than modern history), and b) were less likely to be known. Everyone knows Madame Mao!

    But that is why there's a part two to come!

  6. you've got a point steph, i only knew Empress Dowager CiXi from this list. i'm looking forward to part two.