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Brigitte Kwan

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Title: Brigitte Kwan  
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Subject: Manchu people, Feminism in China
Collection: 1980S Deaths, Chinese Feminists, Manchu People, People of the Republic of China, Twin People from China, Year of Birth Missing
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Brigitte Kwan

"Brigitte" Kwan (Traditional Chinese: 関秀華; Pinyin: Guān Xìuhuá) was born in Canton, China. Kwan was one of the pioneer Chinese feminists who protested the practice of foot binding (simplified Chinese: 缠足; traditional Chinese: 纏足; pinyin: chánzú, literally "bound feet") and advocated the rights of women in Imperial China. Of Manchu aristocratic lineage, Kwan was born as to an aristocratic family, one of a mixed set of fraternal twins, at the turn of the 20th century.


  • Early life 1
  • First feminist of China 2
  • Later life 3
  • Separation and death 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Kwan was of the ruling Manchu class with mandarin official ancestors, including Guan Peiyuan, a peer of Kang Youwei.

At a young age, she received an education in Confucian Chinese classics, a rarity for women of the times, who were not traditionally allowed access to education.[1] Although women of the Han Chinese aristocracy and upper bourgeoisie had their feet bound as infants, the female Manchu aristocrats did not conform to this custom, as they exercised greater political power in the society than Han Chinese women did. Not only were Kwan's feet not bound, but she started a movement to encourage Han Chinese women to refrain from the practice in later generations.

First feminist of China

In the great flood of Nanhai, many women with bound feet drowned, as they were unable to swim or run. Unable to escape, many remained trapped in deep waters. Kwan swam and rescued many women by placing one after another on rooftops and nearly lost her own life in exhaustion. She was commended by many aristocratic Chinese women as a heroine. Because of this feat and her advocacy, she is often referred to as the first feminist of China.

Later life

After the fall of the Qing dynasty and the increasing attacks against the Qing Manchu, she fell in love with a Han Chinese, a Sun Yat-sen partisan and military commander Wong Sung-mong Huang Zhongwen (Chinese: 黄仲文) Huang Zhongwen born Y.S. Wong (Chinese: 黄玉书), rumored to be part of the Tongmenghui, was tutored by an Imperial scholar - Jìnshì (進士), and a trained physician (daifu - 大夫), before fighting in Sun Yat-sen's army in the Northern Expedition. After the end of the war, the pair found themselves stranded in a devastated, destroyed China. Following the Tongmenghui's history of raising relief funds for war efforts in China through the United States and South-east Asia, the pair secretly eloped into British zone through Hong Kong, and set sail to Nanyang (modern day South-east Asia), onto British Crown territories, stopping at Phoenix City (Traditional Chinese: 鳳城:Hanyu Pinyin Fengcheng) (modern day Kuala Lumpur), Penang and Singapore. In a bid to raise funds for poverty relief in China, the pair set up a volunteer institution teaching Confucian Classics and the classical Chinese language, and accepted the poor and the rich alike into their school. Her husband also returned to his previous practice as a physician.

Before they could return to Canton, through Hong Kong, from the British Crown colony of Singapore, they found themselves amidst a sudden invasion by the Japanese soldiers at the outbreak of World War II. Kwan, herself a male-female fraternal twin pair, gave birth to her last children, a pair of fraternal twins of different sexes. Under severe food rationing by the Japanese kempeitai (secret police), both babies suffered from malnutrition, malaria and dysentery. Kwan was forced to leave one dead infant, a boy, near a refuse pile, after it had apparently died. Her eldest daughter, however, was able to revive the child. However, the other twin, a girl, died soon after.

Separation and death

After World War II ended, the People's Republic of China was sealed off from the outside world upon Soviet instigation and Kwan was not permitted to re-enter China. Kwan spent most of her life outside China, dreaming of a return and reunion with her twin brother to resurrect an Imperial China that she would never again see. This heroine and first feminist of China died in the 1980s.

See also


  1. ^ She rebelled against a traditional patriarchal system of control on women in Qing China

External links

  • Chinese dress in the Qing Dynasty, Powerhouse Museum
  • Chinese Foot Binding, h2g2, BBC
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