The Magnificent 7: Warrior Women of China

This weekend is International Women’s Day (8th of March). In China, it is celebrated with speeches on TV, stage shows and gifts for women from their junior loved ones. I remember presenting my mother and aunties with flowers and pictures I drew as a child. A Polish colleague once told me that in Polish tradition, females of all ages are eulogised on International Women’s Day. So both her and her daughter of five years of age, would get flowers on this day. Over here though, it is celebrated by white middle-aged men asking “when is it International Men’s Day?” all over Facebook and Twitter. So I’ve written about some strong female warriors throughout Chinese history, to remind everyone to think about how recent women’s emancipation still is, even in Britain, the land of the Suffragettes; and to also tell you that even if a civilization as patriarchal as China, there are strong female role models to be found, throughout history.

妇好 Lady Fu Hao 

Born: Shang Dynasty

Lived: Anyang, Henan

Skills: Wielding a pair of 钺 Yue4 (giant ancient Chinese battle axe); Shamanistic rituals

Known For: Conducting special ritual ceremonies and participating in military activities

Achieved:  As general, Fu Hao led military campaigns against neighbouring Tu, Ba, Yi and Qiang tribes.


花木兰 Hua Mu Lan 

Born: possibly 5th century (subject to debate)

Lived: Wei Kingdom (Henan)

Skills: Fighting battles

Known for: For her filial piety, cross-dressing, and as a leader in the imperial army who refused high court position

Achieved: Fought many long, bloody and hard battles for the Imperial Army.


平阳公主 Princess Ping Yang 

Born: Sui Dynasty

Lived: Chang An

Skills: Fighting in battle, negotiation

Known for: Helping her father overthrow the Sui Dynasty and found the Tang, creating the Women Warrior Army

Achieved: Seizing power of the Sui capital with her Women’s Army, winning peasant loyalty and forging powerful alliances


Liang Hong Yu 

Born: Song Dynasty

Lived: Anhui

Skills: Drums, military strategy

Known For: The prostitute who fell in love with and married General Han Shi Zhong; Ability to communicate and lead battles with her drum beats

Achieved: At the Battle of Huangtian Lake, greatly outnumbered by Jin army of the northern tribes, Liang devised a plan of luring the enemy into the rushes and attacking them with fire arrows while she communicated with her husband in secret messages from her drums.


穆桂英 Mu Gui Ying  

Born: Song Dynasty

Lived: Fortress on Mu Mountain

Skills: Martial arts, especially rare schools

Known for: Being the second female Supreme Commander in history, she is a legendary heroine and there’s some debate about the existence of a real person

Achieved: Leading imperial Song troops against the Liao tribe and breaking their famous Heavenly-Gate Formation


王聪儿 Wang Song Er 

Born: Qing Dynasty

Lived: Hubei

Skills: Wielding two swords, leading revolutions

Known for: Being part of the anti-Manchu White Lotus Revolution and commander of Bayi army

Achieved: Led the Revolution for two years, an army of 10,000 across 4 provinces, vital role in strengthening the peasant revolution movement


秋瑾 Qiu Jin 

Born: 1900s

Lived:  Zhejiang

Skills: Leading armies, spearheading revolutions

Known for: Deputy Leader of the revolutionary Guang Fu Army, started China’s first women’s newspaper, and pioneered women’s societies in China. She was executed by the ruling power after refusing to go in to hiding when her cell was uncovered.

Achieved: The Guang Fu Army was key in the overthrow of the autocratic Qing State, and the founding of a republic based on Sun Yat-sen’s three principles of democracy. Brought feminist issues to the forefront in China. Her work was intrinsic to the enshrining of women’s rights in China’s constitution.


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