Audience Reactions to the Film “Autumn Gem” on Qiu Jin (秋瑾)

In the August 2009 issue of this website, we reported on a new documentary film “Autumn Gem” about the life story of Qiu Jin (秋瑾), China’s first feminist.[1]  This film was made by a young couple from California, Rae Chang and Adam Tow, who dedicated one and a half years of their young lives and used their limited savings to produce this film.  In the last several months, they have held a series of special screenings of their film around the country.  For example, during a span of 23 days in October 2009, they had 17 screenings in 16 cities spanning the midwest and northeast, and for each screening Rae and Adam also participated in a Q&A session with the audience.

The audience receptions from all these screenings were extremely positive.  I personally attended four of these screenings, in NJ, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Since Qiu Jin is a historical figure and played a significant role in modern Chinese history and her life history still has relevance in today’s world, I want to summarize some of the key comments and questions from the audiences of these screenings, as well as Rae and Adam’s responses.

  • “What made you decide to make a film on Qiu Jin?” Many years earlier, Rae read a book that mentioned a radical female feminist in China from about a hundred years ago.  She was intrigued, because she didn’t think that a hundred years ago in China, there was a female feminist, let alone a radical female feminist.  So she did some research on this and became fascinated with Qiu Jin.  Several years ago, Rae actually made a short film (about 10 minutes long) on Qiu Jin.  Periodically, people would comment to her “why don’t you make a full-feature film on Qiu Jin?”  So in 2007 after discussion with Adam, they decided to do this project.
  • “Why does the film call Qiu Jin China’s first feminist, and not Modern China’s first feminist?” Although there were many famous heroines in China’s long history, including Qiu Jin’s childhood heroines such as Mulan, Qiu Jin and her colleagues were the first to attempt to emancipate women as a group and brought attention to the women’s movement to a national level.  In other words, she went beyond being a great individual heroine and a role model, but was the first Chinese female who tried to educate, mobilize, and organize other women into a political force to change woman’s role in society.
  • “What was the most difficult aspect of making this film?” It was probably the scheduling and simultaneous management of a multitude of activities.  Let’s give an example.  Originally we were planning to do the filming in China during our visit to China in February and March 2008.  Almost at the last minute, we found out that Li Jing, the leading actress who played Qiu Jin, could no longer make the trip due to changes in her other film commitments in the U.S.  So we had to change the filming location, most of the filming schedule, and recruiting of standby actors and actresses..
  • “This is an excellent film and should be exposed to many more people.  Have you tried to get it shown on TV?” Yes, we are working on that.  In particular, we are trying to get it shown on San Francisco’s public TV channel.
  • “This is a good film that can be submitted to film festivals.  Have you done that?” Yes, we have submitted it to several film festivals, but so far it has been rejected each time, including film festivals that focus on Asian American films or films made by Asian Americans.  Usually these film festivals prefer contemporary documentaries over historical documentaries.  Furthermore, it seems that a door opener for acceptance is whether the film has been shown in some other film festivals.  So if we can get it accepted in one film festival, then it will be much easier to get it accepted in other film festivals.  We will continue to pursue this.
  • This film should also be shown in China.  Has that been done? Not yet, although we did receive an indirect invitation to show our film at a conference in China.  That conference date happened to be on the same date as our already committed screening in New Jersey.  Furthermore, to show the film to an audience in China, we would need to add Chinese subtitles when the dialogue is in English.  We do plan to do that, but we haven’t done it yet.  For these reasons, we have not shown the film in China yet.
  • Was Qiu Jin a nationalist or a feminist? Qiu Jin was both.  As stated earlier, Qiu Jin was not satisfied with being just a female role model.  She wanted also to mobilize and organize Chinese women into a political force to effect changes in woman’s role in the Chinese society.  To carry out her feminist agenda, she needed to make the feminist movement part of the nationalist movement occurring in China in the late 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.  That is why Qiu Jin was both a nationalist and a feminist.
  • “What happened to Qiu Jin’s two children?” Qiu Jin’s daughter (1901-1967) was Wang Canzhi (Wang was her father’s surname).  Later she changed her surname to Qiu (her mother’s surname).  When Qiu Jin left her for Japan, she was only 2 years old.  She stayed in Beijing with her mother’s friend.  A few years later when she was very ill, her father took her to Hunan to live with her grandmother and brother.  However, her grandmother disliked her and the little girl had a very hard time there.  She became more and more like her mother when she grew up.  She wrote poems and did physical exercise regularly.  In 1918 when she was 17 years old, she went to the U.S. to study  aircraft engineering.  After graduation, she was appointed professor at a Chinese university.  In 1927 she was invited to be the principal of Jin Xong School, which was named after her mother.  After 1949 she went to Taiwan.  She was Qiu Jin’s biographer and authored the book “Biography of Qiu Jin.”  Her daughter (Qiu Jin’s granddaughter) currently lives in the U.S.  Qiu Jin’s son was Wang Yuante.  He grew up with his grandmother.  He later graduated from Chengfeng University and worked as a journalist and a middle school teacher.  He remained in mainland China after 1949 and became Secretary of the Hunan Office for Research on Archives.
  • “Was Qiu Jin a lesbian?” It is hard to say, although there is that possibility.  It is true that Qiu Jin did not have a good and loving relationship with her husband and she was very close to many of her female activist friends, but that could be very natural, because her soul mates were her female activist friends, and not her husband.  There is no direct evidence that she was a lesbian.
  • “Since many people in the audience tonight said that they really like the film and wish more people would be able to see the film, let me suggest that we can help to publicize this film by buying a DVD of the film and show it to our relatives and friends.” Yes, we would really appreciate that kind of help.  DVDs can be purchased via the Autumn Gem website: http://autumn-gem.com/buy/.  [2]

Rae and Adam plan to have another round of screening of “Autumn Gem.”  The next east coast tour is tentatively scheduled in late March of 2010.


[1] For more information about Qiu Jin and the film “Autumn Gem,” see the article “Qiu Jin (秋瑾):  China’s First Feminist” under the August 2009 Release of this website.

[2] DVDs can also be purchased by contacting me via an email to don@tow.com.

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