Modern Ideas in China
Chinese Women Give a Banquet to Foreign Women
A few weeks ago at Shanghai there was a remarkable invasion of ancient Chinese customs and an event that could not have occurred outside of a fairy tale two years ago. It illustrates more forcibly than that has happened how modern ideas are penetrating Chinese society, and how rapidly the restrictions that have been imposed by the policy of exclusion are being broken down.
Three native young women, who were educated at the University of Michigan, persuaded ten Chinese ladies, wives of Mandarins of the highest rank, to invite fifty foreign ladies to be their guests at luncheon at a restaurant in public garden in the suburbs of Shanghai, mostly frequented by foreigners, for the purpose of discussing ways and means for the establishment of a school in that city in which the daughters of the nobility may obtain a modern education.
It is believed to be the first time that noble women of China, in their own country, have sat at the same table and eaten from the same dishes with women of a foreign race, and, what is even more remarkable, it was at the expense of their husbands. Hitherto a barrier more formidable than the great Chinese wall has separated the women of the two races, and although the men have mingled in commerce and often in social gatherings, a native woman of rank who voluntarily appeared among foreigners would have been eternally disgraced and condemned to perpetual seclusion, if not to a worse fate. But upon this occasion they sat around a table spread in European style, conversed, so far as their command of the English language would permit, ate French cooking with knives and forks, drank each other's health and even made speeches.
When a Chinaman gives a dinner to his foreign friends, even when there are ladies in the party, his wife never appears, and it has been a gross violation of etiquette to allude to her. Mrs. Grant is said to be the only woman who ever dined with the wife of a Chinese noble, and she was entertained by Mrs. Li Hung Chang. The wives of all foreign Consuls at Shanghai were asked to this dinner, the ladies who compose the Executive Committee of the Tien Tsu Hsui, or National Feet Society; several members of the missionary and the wives of merchants who are prominent in educational and charitable movements.
At the close of the luncheon, the wife of the manager, Mr. Sheug, of the telegraphic service, arose and made what is believed to be the first public speech ever delivered by a Chinese woman of rank, in her own country at least, perhaps in the world. She explained in a hesitating manner, and in her own tongue, the desire of herself and her associates to enlist cooperation of the ladies of the foreign colony in the establishment of a school in the native section of Shanghai, similar to the school for peeresses founded by the Empress of Japan, at Tokio, for the education in the modern style of their daughters and other girls of rank.
Their plans were not formed, and they had very few ideas on the subject because of their ignorance and inexperience, but they were anxious that their daughters should have advantages that had been withheld from them, and hoped that the foreign ladies present who had knowledge of such affairs would aid them. The little speech was translated by one of the Michigan University girls and heartily applauded. Mrs. Archibald Little, an English lady, responded in an apporpriate address, which was also translated, expressing the thanks of the foreign ladies for the hospitality and their sympathy with the movement, and assuring their hosts of their earnest desire to co-operate in every manner possible.
At this point, all the Chinese ladies arose and bowed several times in acknowledgment of the sentiments offered. A Chinese woman physician then made a speech of some length, giving more in detail the plans for the proposed school, and several foreign women responded. Before the party separated it was arranged that another meeting should be held at a residence in the foreign settlement, at which an organization will be formed and practical steps taken for securing a building and the employment of teachers.— W. E. Curtis in the Chicago Record, 1898
Etiquette Enthusiast Maura J Graber is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia