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Chinese women in history - soldiers, pirates, scholars, sages and rulers

Lin Hei'er - head of the Red Lantern Unit

Lin Hei'er was a prostitute who joined the Yihetuan (League of Righteous Harmony), a grassroots organization whose goal was to end the foreign occupation of China.1 The League became active during the late Qing Dynasty, when seven foreign nations - Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and Russia - had occupied parts of China. The Yihetuan was known to Westerners as the Boxers because their members practiced martial arts.2 The 30-something Lin Hei'er, with the blessing of League leadership, organized the all-female Red Lantern Unit in Tianjin.3 The Red Lantern Unit was not a unique phenomenon - it is said to be only one of many all-female units within the Boxers. The political circumstances of the era had created an unprecendented phenomenon of widespread armed resistance among ordinary Chinese women.4

In 1900, the combined armies of Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States descended on Beijing and Tianjin, looting, slaughtering and burning their way through the local population. Lin Hei'er and other Yihetuan leaders launched a fierce resistance using medieval weapons against guns and cannons. Tens of thousands of Boxers were killed, and not all of them by foreign troops. The Boxers had the secret backing of Empress Dowager Cixi but the combat situation gave reactionary elements of the Qing Government the chance to eradicate the Boxers. Government troops, pretending to support the Boxers, put the Yihetuan members in the vanguard of the anti-invasion forces and then shot them in the back.5 After being injured in battle, Lin Hei'er, the Yellow Lotus Holy Mother of the Yihetuan, was captured by the combined invasion army on July 14th of 1900. Her whereabouts are still unknown.6 But songs and ditties about the exploits of the Red Lantern Unit still survive to this day.7

X.T.


Notes
  1. Prostitutes in Politics (Chinese article)
  2. The Boxer Rebellion
  3. Window into Tianjin - Yihetuan and the Red Lantern Unit (Chinese article)
    The Red Lantern Unit (Chinese article)
  4. The Red Lantern Unit (Chinese article)
    Window into Tianjin - Yihetuan and the Red Lantern Unit (Chinese article)
  5. Qing History Research (Chinese article)
  6. Events of the 1900s (Chinese article)
  7. The Red Lantern Unit (Chinese article)
    Window into Tianjin - Yihetuan and the Red Lantern Unit (Chinese article)