Poems of Political Prisoners: Qiu Jin

On Request for a Poem


Do not tell me women
are not the stuff of heroes,
I alone rode over the East Sea’s
winds for ten thousand leagues.
My poetic thoughts ever expand,
like a sail between ocean and heaven.
I dreamed of your three islands,
all gems, all dazzling with moonlight.
I grieve to think of the bronze camels,
guardians of China, lost in thorns.
Ashamed, I have done nothing
not one victory to my name.
I simply make my war horse sweat.

Grieving over my native land
hurts my heart. So tell me:
how can I spend these days here?
A guest enjoying your spring winds?

Crimson Flooding into the River

Just a short stay at the Capital
But it is already the mid autumn festival
Chrysanthemums infect the landscape
Fall is making its mark
The infernal isolation has become unbearable here
All eight years of it make me long for my home
It is the bitter guile of them forcing us women into femininity
We cannot win!
Despite our ability, men hold the highest rank
But while our hearts are pure, those of men are rank
My insides are afire in anger at such an outrage
How could vile men claim to know who I am?
Heroism is borne out of this kind of torment
To think that so putrid a society can provide no camaraderie
Brings me to tears!


Riding a white dragon up to the sky,
Striding deep in the mountains on a fierce tiger.

I am born in a roaring storm with a violent dancing spirit

I shall be holy on the earth.

How could I ever be satisfied with settling down!

Without witnessing Commander Xiang win his great battles,

Or hearing Liu Xiu rumbling war drums

They were only twenty years old but could make their countries flourish.
Don’t blame them for bloodshed but admire them for bravery.

Shame and failure!

I am already twenty-seven

Yet have no glory to my name.
I only worry for my country and do not know how to expel these invaders.

I am glad my great ambitions will not rot and waste away,
Not when I hear the roar of war drums.

Deep inside I am outraged

I cannot get help from my own people

I feel so helpless, so weak.
It is for that reason alone that I am going
to Japan: to rally up aid, to look for assistance.

On July 15, 1907 at the age of 32, Qiu Jin is publicly executed in her home village, Shānyīn, beheaded after a failed uprising.

In the short life of a ‘violent dancing spirit’, she speaks out for women’s rights, the  right to education and choice of marriage, and against the forced binding of their feet. Her own feet had also been bound.

She herself stands in a Western male dress and demands an end to the Qing dynasty. As principal at a school for girls, she works to unite the secret revolutionary societies in the overthrow of government, for its return to the people.

For some time she has been in Japan, ‘your three islands’, where friends and allies live in exile. She returns in 1906 for the last months of her life.

Her poems are full of the legends of China: the great generals of myths and the wandering poet-warrior who protects the innocent and the poor. But now the ‘bronze camels’, symbolic guardians of the land, are ‘lost in thorns’.

Her poems are also driven by a recent past: the so-called Eight-Nation Alliance invades China in 1900 and crushes the ‘Boxer Uprising’ in a campaign of slaughter, rape, and pillage. The proper name of the rebels is not ‘Boxer’ but ‘I-he quan’, the ‘Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists’.

In another poem at the time she writes:

“Our skulls pile up in mounds;

our blood billows in cresting waves

and the ghosts of all the millions massacred

still weep…”

The Qing dynasty falls in 1912 with the declaration of a republic. Decades of conflict, of civil war and invasion follow. The life and death and the poems of Qiu Jin are still remembered and recited.

Michael A. Mikita, A New Translation of Qiu Jin’s Crimson Flooding into the River. Comparative Literature Student Association at San Francisco State University (2005): http://userwww.sfsu.edu/~clsa/portals/2005/mikita.html

Qiu Jin: A Chinese Poet and a Revolutionary. Women of China. 2006: http://www.womenofchina.cn


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