A CENTURY-OLD private school in Hexi Village, Bao’an District which taught the country’s first female lawyer and revolutionary Zheng Yuxiu has now become part of a modern public primary school.
Qiyun Private School was the city’s biggest-ever private school and has been listed as a city-level protected monument since 1998.
The ancient building now stands empty and surrounded by a fence with few people, even local taxi drivers and residents, aware of its existence. To find it you must first find the modern Xixiang primary school and because of its relatively shabby condition, only keen historians would probably find a visit worthwhile.
History and actuality
The private school, whose beautiful Chinese name “Qiyun Shushi” means “the study of rosy clouds,” was built in 1885 during the Qing Dynasty by Zheng Yao, a successful Hong Kong businessman.
Zheng’s third son Zheng Wenzhi, once served as an official in Beijing during the Qing Dynasty. He owned more than 200 houses in Beijing and Tianjin after he too went into business.
The two led successful lives, but the person who established the family’s name in history was Zheng Wenzhi’s youngest daughter Zheng Yuxiu, who became China’s first female lawyer.
Thanks to her prosperous family, Zheng Yuxiu was able to study abroad in Japan and France when she was 14 and 23. She was granted a doctoral degree in law in 1924 after studying in Paris for a decade, becoming the first female lawyer in Chinese history. As a member of the law drafting committee of the Republic of China, Zheng Yuxiu helped to draft a law that gave women the right to their own decisions in marriage.
While Zheng was still a child, she was able to study at her grandfather’s private school for her early education which was rare for girls at that time.
Before it was listed as a city-level protection, the 3,600-square-meter building was rented out as a storehouse. It is said that most of the precious artistic stone and wood carvings were destroyed during that time. Peng Quanmin, a researcher from the municipal heritage administration office, said only a quarter remains of the original construction.
However, some ancient wood and stone carvings can still be identified on the roof.
To protect the site, the Xixiang subdistrict spent 1.7 million yuan (US$220,770) to buy it from its previous owner. It’s now empty and has been administered by No. 2 Xixiang Primary School for the last three years.
Visitors need to make an appointment with the primary school beforehand.
Only confident drivers are recommended to drive there due to the road conditions and frequent traffic jams. A return trip takes about four hours either driving or by public transport.
How to get there:
Zheng Yuxiu: first female lawyer
ZHENG YUXIU (1891-1959) was the first Chinese woman to become a lawyer after she was granted a doctoral degree in law in France, and was the first Chinese woman to practice law in Shanghai.
She advocated women having their own voices and choices in marriage, and wrote it into law during the Republic of China period (1912-1949).
Zheng was also one of the revolutionaries who tried to assassinate military official and politician Yuan Shikai, commonly reviled in Chinese history for taking advantage of both the Qing imperial court and the Republicans.
Her husband, Wei Daoming, was the first governor of Taiwan Province (1947-1949), and was a diplomat to the United States for more than 30 years. He had also been the mayor of Nanjing City.
The Zhengs migrated to the United States, spending their later years there and where Zheng died in 1959.