As far as I could tell there is almost nothing available free online in English about Cai Chang and her role as a founding figure of the Chinese revolution and women’s liberation in China in particular. So I threw a quick translation together from the biography posted here. It’s dry and oddly skips over some key points in her life (like her participation in the Long March), but it has the basic details and perhaps someday it will inspire someone out there to read up a little more about her.
Ever since she joined the revolution at a young age, Cai Chang always stood at the forefront of the revolutionary struggle, with special dedication to the women’s liberation movement led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). She gave her blood and sweat for the liberation of the Chinese people and to help the masses of Chinese women stand up. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) she served as Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee of the Fourth and Fifth National People’s Congress (NPC), Chair of the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) for its first three terms and Honorary Chair for its fourth. She was an outstanding leader of the Chinese women’s movement and a famous activist in the international progressive women’s movement.
At the first meeting of the first session of the NPC in 1954, Cai Chang was elected as a member of the Standing Committee. At the second meeting of the NPC in 1959, Cai Chang delivered a speech entitled “The Great Ideal of Total Women’s Liberation Is Becoming a Reality in Our Country.” Cai Chang was chosen during this meeting as a member of the Standing Committee. During the third meeting of the NPC, she was again chosen as a member of the Standing Committee.
On August 18, 1980, at the age of 80 and after being chosen as well as Vice-Chair of the Fourth and Fifth Standing Committees, Cai Chang resigned on the grounds of her age and infirmity. In her resignation letter she wrote: “Now our country is moving into the future… I hope that from my generation onwards, we will completely eradicate the bad system of leading cadres holding lifetime tenures in their posts. Our goals as Communists are those of the people, not any private interests of our own. As we age, we should take the lead to systematize this so that leading bodies at all levels will get gradually younger, our workteams will be eternally full of vigor and vitality, and the political life of the country will become stronger and more democratic… after my resignation I will continue to devote all of the meager forces at my disposal for the cause of our country’s revolution.”
Cai Chang’s life is closely linked with the Chinese women’s movement. She was born May 14, 1900 in Yongfeng Town, Shuangfeng County in Hunan. Her original name was Cai Xianxi and she was nicknamed Little Hairy Sister. Cai Chang along with her mother Ge Jianhao were influenced by the new ideas which sprang up in the wake of the Revolution of 1911 and Cai Chang was soon enrolled in the Xiangxiang County Girl’s School.
Although Cai Chang was a talented student, she became a target of fixation by a member of the local gentry who wanted to take her as a bride for his son. With the support of her mother and her brother Cai Hesen, in 1915 she left her old home to resist the arranged marriage, changed her name to Cai Chang, and began studying at Zhounan Women’s Normal School in Changsha. This school was a famous institution committed to revolutionary education; the principle of its founder Zhu Jianfan was that “women’s liberation is the precondition for revolution to enlighten the masses.” Cai Chang intended to become a women’s teacher after leavng the school in order to help awaken women. During her time at Zhounan School met Xiang Jingyu and other students with whom she often met and talked about current events, gender equality and their own hopes and ambitions.
After graduation Cai Chang stayed on as a teacher and her involvement with the women’s liberation movement begins from that point on. At that time Cai Chang lived with her mother and her brother Cai Hesen in Changsha. Mao Zedong and other progressive young people would come over to talk with Hesen about how to solve the problems facing China and the Chinese people; Cai Chang would often listen and take part in the discussions.
Following the creation of the “New People’s Study Society” in Hunan, Mao Zedong and Cai Hesen along with others established the “Study Abroad in France Movement” which included women’s participation from the beginning, with Cai Chang and Xiang Jingyu establishing the “Hunan Women’s Study Abroad in France Society.” Within a year Cai’s mother and Xiang Jingyu were enrolled in the program along with Cai Chang and thirty others.
Inspired by her brother Hesen, Cai Chang concentrated on studying Marxist theory and the experience of the October Revolution while in France, developing a new world view of struggle for the cause of Communism. Under the leadership of Cai Hesen, Zhou Enlai and Zhao Shiyan, the students in the “Study Abroad in France Movement” waged increasingly militant struggles against the Northern Warlord government in China and the reactionary government in France. Cai Chang actively participated in the famous “February 28” movement, the movement for the refusal of student loans, and the occupation of the Sino-French University in Lyon; she withstood the severe testing of these revolutionary movements.
In 1923 Cai Chang joined the Chinese Communist Party branch in Europe. In those years of struggle in France, Cai Chang became a true woman revolutionary.
In her book Inside Red China, American progressive writer Helen Snow wrote: “Since the death of Xiang Jingyu, Cai Chang is the leading woman Communist in China, and its most active female revolutionary. There is no country on earth that can produce a more active woman revolutionary than her or one with a more beautiful personality.” This was an early evaluation of the active role that Cai Chang played in the Chinese revolution.
After she returned home Cai Chang remained wholeheartedly devoted to the development of the Chinese people’s revolution and the women’s liberation movement. In 1941, Cai Chang replaced Wang Ming as Secretary for the CCP’s Women’s Commission. In 1943 she oversaw the drafting of the “Policy of the CCP Central Committee on Women’s Work in the Anti-Japanese Base Areas.” This is the famous “April 3 decision” which set the Chinese women’s movement on a new course.
Cai Chang remains one of the best known early activists in the Chinese women’s movement. In February 1947 and November 1948 she represented the Chinese Women’s Federation in the Liberated Areas at the International Association of Democratic Women’s Federations, opening up international opportunities for Chinese women. After the founding of the PRC, she led the ACWF and successfully developed friendship and solidarity between Chinese women and women of other countries. From 1949 to 1966 she met delegations of women from more than forty countries in Asia and Europe, as well as many well known women from around the world.