Remembering Liu Manqing on International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day!

Of all the people who figure in my dissertation, my favorite is Liu Manqing 劉曼卿 (1906-1941). Born to a Han Chinese father and Tibetan mother, she married young at the urging of her father, but then divorced her husband and went back to school in pursuit of a nursing career. When she realized nursing wasn’t for her either, she decided at age 23 to undertake an overland journey from China proper to Lhasa to meet with the 13th Dalai Lama, with the vague goal of improving Sino-Tibetan relations.

Liu Manqing

Liu obtained the blessing of Chinese (ROC) president Chiang Kai-shek before setting off for Lhasa, but the trip was of her own initiative and was not an official diplomatic mission. She was a member of the Guomindang (Nationalist Party) and an impassioned believer in Sun Yat-sen’s “Three Principles of the People” and the Guomindang vision of the “unity of the five races”–referring to the Han, Manchus, Hui, Mongols, and Tibetans. Yet at times she was harshly critical of Guomindang implementation of that vision, which typically emphasized assimilation of ethnic minorities into the Han majority.

As Liu’s riverboat traveled up the Yangtze in 1929, she reflected on her difficulty relating to most of the other women in her cabin. Her travel memoir recalls:

I thought upon my cohabitants in this small cabin, these women with whom I am coeval, and of my attending to the affairs of the nation and their attending to the affairs of the home, laden with heavy hearts and under pressure all day long. Although some of our affairs are great and others small, some are public and others private, yet they all occupy us equally and are similar in this respect. (Liu Manqing 1933, p. 4)

Liu Manqing played an active role in Sino-Tibetan relations until her death of illness at age 35. For more on her life, see Fabienne Jagou’s article “Liu Manqing: A Sino-Tibetan Adventurer and the Origin of a New Sino-Tibetan Dialogue in the 1930s” in Revue d’Etudes Tibétaines no. 17. Liu also features heavily in chapter three of my dissertation.

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