Remembered today as the first female college president in China and an opponent of Lu Xun, Yang Yinyu (1884-1938) was one of modern Chinese overseas students, educators and bureaucrats, as well as a controversial figure of women’s education. She was a progressive female at that time—fighting against an arranged marriage and studying in Western-style schools. She even won official support to study in Japan and the U.S. and got two master degrees. She built a successful career and was appointed as the president of Beijing Normal University for Women in 1924. However, she was also expelled by her students from 1924 to 1925 and featured as the reviled target of nearly half of political commentary in Lu Xun’s collection Huagaiji. The notoriety that resulted forced Yang to leave her position, but she was praised again as a national heroine after her death in 1938.
Drawing on local newspapers and memoirs by her students, contemporaries and relatives, this paper studies Yang Yinyu’s life trajectory and explore her multifaceted experiences, interpretation of female enfranchisement and women’s education. It argues that the view of some female intellectuals with overseas experience about education and responsibilities to the nation differed from predominant ones, which overwhelming emphasized radicalism and national survival mainly supported by male literati. Nevertheless, their proposals were devalued in their era. Educated women could neither serve as successful liaisons between Chinese and western educational perspectives. Their attempt to introduce western systems of knowledge, values and new goal was rejected by Chinese society.