Translation: Poems by Chinese feminist and revolutionary writer Qiu Jin


While Qiu Jin is widely known as a Chinese revolutionary and her writing is often taught through that context, many existing translations of her poetry are either quite dated or else are completed primarily through the lens of academic and scholarly translation. As a translator, I am particularly drawn to Qiu Jin’s work because of her exploration of themes such as strong female friendships, gender identity, the role of women in modern China, and the heroic code, which I hope to highlight through my translation of these five poems.

The first poem subverts gender expectations by showing a narrator who is located in the home sphere, yet is concerned about the troubles of the nation. The second poem explores Qiu Jin’s complex relationship with gender identity and cross-dressing. The last three poems were all written around the time she travelled to Japan to study abroad, a pivotal period in her life when she started actively taking part in feminist activism and planning a revolution against the Qing dynasty.  

Photograph of a young Qiu Jin, who was also a notorious cross-dresser. Credit: Paul Fearn/Alamy

About Qiu Jin

Qiu Jin (1875-1907) was a Chinese poet, essayist, fiction writer, feminist, and revolutionary. Defying the gender expectations of her time, she acquired a traditional scholarly education as well and learned martial arts, sword-fighting, and horseback riding. As she struggled within an unhappy marriage, she connected with other Chinese feminist activists, pawned her jewels to study abroad in Japan, and returned home to join a revolution against the corrupt Qing dynasty government and fight for women’s rights. When the uprising failed, she chose to die as a martyr rather than escape and became the best-known figure of China’s early feminist movement.   

About the translator

Yilin Wang is a writer, editor, and Chinese-English translator. Her writing has appeared in Clarkesworld, The Malahat Review, Arc Poetry, Grain, Contemporary Verse 2, carte blanche, The Best of Abyss & Apex, The Tyee, and elsewhere, as well as been longlisted for the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize. Her translations have appeared or are forthcoming in LA Review of Books’ China Channel, Asymptote, Pathlight, Samovarand the anthology The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories (Tor). Yilin has an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and is a member of the Clarion West Writers Workshop 2020/2021. She is currently at work on her debut short story collection and poetry chapbook. Follow her on Twitter and visit her website.