A first English translation of an autobiography whose initial volume was published in 1936 in Shanghai introduces a feisty woman warrior who defied—not always successfully—her autocratic traditional family, wrote prolifically, served on the front, and loved passionately.
Xie Bingying, born in 1906 in a Chinese village (and died in 2000 in San Francisco, where she had lived since 1974), lived in proverbially interesting times—as Warlords and Nationalist and Communist forces fought for power and Japan invaded. A romantic idealist rather than cold-blooded theoretician, Xie ruefully recalls her life from childhood until the 1938 Japanese invasion, when she nursed soldiers at the front. The daughter of a scholar, who taught her to read, she was determined not to be a conventional woman of the period. Though she deeply loved her equally strong-willed mother, she strongly resisted having her feet bound—but to no avail. Then, when her mother refused to let her continue her education, she threatened suicide. Betrothed since childhood to a neighbor’s son, Xie again tried to defy her mother when the marriage was to take place. She ran away, was caught, held prisoner, and eventually went through with the ceremony in 1927, though the marriage was soon annulled. Xie moved to Beijing, had lovers, and bore an illegitimate daughter. Even before the marriage, however, Xie was writing for progressive publications, had joined a regiment in Chiang Kai-shek’s army, and fought the feudal warlords. She later studied in Japan to study, was imprisoned briefly for her political views, and, back in China, continued to write and teach. Despite intimidation, poverty, and often near-starvation, Xie continued fearlessly to fight for change and women’s rights.
Without a chronology, an autobiography that reprises the high and low points of a life can make for a riveting but at times confusing story. Nonetheless, this is an evocative self-portrait of a Chinese woman who really was a warrior.