Remarkable Women in Ancient China (7)- Fu Shan Xiang

Who is she:

  • The first and only female Zhuang yuan (the one with the highest score who sat the examination for scholars to become government officials) in ancient China

Notable Life Events:

  • Born in 1833 in Nanjing to a scholarly family, which quickly fell into poverty after both of her parents died when she was aged 8 
  • Married at the age of 13 to her fiance engaged from before her birth but widowed at the age of 18 when her husband passed away from measles 
  • Joined the rebel army of Taiping Heavenly Kingdom after it took over the city of Nanjing as it capital (which was renamed Tianjing or the Heavenly Capital) in 1851 because her mother-in-law wanted to sell her for money after her husband’s funeral 
  • Sat the first scholar examination for women run by the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom in 1853 and won the title of Zhuang yuan
  • Became Chancelloress in the court of Yang Xiuqing, the East King (Dong Wang), where she dealt with correspondence and official papers. 
  • Responsible for many gender equality and heritage protection policies under the rule of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom
  • Personal fate unknown after the Tianjing incident, when Yang Xiuqing was killed and his whole court exterminated: apparently there are four different versions over her possible fate, only one of which is positive.  

Why is she remarkable:

  • Although she was part of the rebel army, she was still the only female Zhuang yuan record in Chinese history 
  • Despite her political achievements, it was said that she later became mistress to Yang Xiuqing (whether she was forced or not could not be ascertained) which might be a pity 

Moonlake’s thoughts on her: 

I get the sense that this is a woman who has a logical brain and can always pick the relatively best outcome for herself given the constraints and specific circumstances. 

English reference on her: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fu_Shanxiang#CITEREFMao1998