In Paul Bailey's "'Women Behaving Badly': Crime, Transgressive Behavior and Gender in Early Twentieth Century China" (Nan Nu: Men, Women and Gender in Early and Imperial China v8n1, Mar. 2006) can be found the following facts, which I think provide small or large hints about various aspects of China in the early 20th century, and which I as an aspiring novelist find good for inspiration:
In 1919 3,992 women were convicted of crimes in China. Most of these were for opium-related offenses, but 431 were convicted of abduction, 335 of homicide, and 315 of adultery or bigamy. Other crimes included gambling (250), theft (101), and extortion (76). "Crimes for which women were not imprisoned (according to the statistics) were jeopardizing diplomatic relations, divulging industrial secrets, banditry, and salt smuggling." (I can't be the only one getting ideas about a story involving female criminals in, say, Beijing or Shanghai in 1919, can I?)
The largest number of female criminals in 1919 were within the 30-50 age group. Of the 3,647 women whose personal details were listed, 2,512 were married.
In 1930 there were a reported 7,482 female prisoners, increasing to 10,462 in 1934.
In July and December 1914 53 women were executed for crimes. All were found guilty of homicide, the most common scenario being murder of husbands due to an adulterous relationship. In 1915 115 women (of 816 total) were executed.
In a 1906 article in a Beijing current affairs journal an author asserted--and apparently this was a common view among government officials studying crime--that (and I'm quoting Bailey here, not the 1906 author) "because of Chinese women's dependent lives within the household and their lack of moral and vocational training they had become not only a social burden (lei zhui wu) but also 'basically wicked in nature' (e'gen xing), which was manifested in their brazenness (hanxing), jealousy (duxing), indolence (duoxing), and promiscuity (yinxing)--all of which contributed to...greater levels of crime amongst men due to women's malevolent influence." (So women were pretty much damned for being socially active and working, and damned for staying home and being good homemakers. Got it).
A 1905 school reader blamed (quoting Bailey) "men's apathy and the country's sorry plight" on "women's tendency to waste time and money gambling, burning incense or making themselves up in egotistic competition with neighbors."
In 1907 in Guangzhou it was reported that "'lower class women' (xialiu funü) had infiltrated a girls' school as teachers and students and were behaving in an 'unbridled and ostentatious way,' recklessly mouthing theories of freedom and 'showing disrespect for every convention. More alarmingly, reports referred to the presence of prostitutes as 'bogus' students in girls' schools, such as the one in Changsha (Hunan province) where they apparently absented themselves on a regular basis to indulge in 'wildly promiscuous activities' and exerted a bad influence on girls from 'good' families. In Wuchang (Hubei province) and Anqing (Anhui province), also, local prostitutes were entering school (dressing up as students) and using it as a front to facilitate their activities."
"During the Revolution itself women organized their own military units, mobile Red Cross teams and various other support groups." This has an accompanying footnote which reads "Although women's military units did not take part directly in the large-scale battles that raged between revolutionary and pro-Qing forces, some women's militia units played a forceful role in local affairs, such as the one in Yangzhou led by a thirty-year-old widow that helped enforce restrictions on the transportation of rice outside the area by 'traitorous merchants' keen to exploit rising grain prices elsewhere."
The newspaper press drew attention to "the participation of female brigands (nüzei) in a spate of armed robberies in Guangzhou, or the presence of female assassination squads (nüzi ansha tuan) in Beijing and Shanghai." Accompanying footnotes mention "the presence of a woman amongst a gang of thieves in Ningbo...who apparently had the strength to resist four of her captors" and "One of the leaders of such a female assassination squad (which targeted members of Yuan Shikai's regime), the 17-year-old Fu Wenyu, was dubbed 'the female Jing Ke' (the celebrated male assassin who unsuccessfully attempted to kill Zheng Ying, the king of Qin and future Qin Shi Huangdi)." (Jet Li's character in Hero was roughly modeled on Jing Ke).
Members of the Women's Suffrage Alliance "stormed the assembly building [in Nanjing] on three separate occasions, breaking windows, knocking guards to the ground, accosting assembly members, and jeering during assembly proceedings." Suffragettes' desire for political power led newspapers to report, in shocked terms, about Liu Wuying, a female bandit chief who called herself "president." Quoting Bailey, "If women could aspire to becoming president, the report mused, where would it all end?"
In 1911, one observer tut-tutted, "Many female students today loosen their braids, devote energy to their attire, narrow their sleeves, wear gold-rimmed spectacles and leather shoes and carry leather handbags; they swagger through the streets looking around them with an air of haughtiness."
"Some commentators...referred to the dangerous fashion of 'singlehood' (dushen zhuyi) taking hold among some young women, while others noted that female students were increasingly engaging in same-sex relationships (tongxing zhi aiqing) out of a perverse desire to be unconventional. This latter practice apparently did not just take place in girls' schools....the Hong Society, founded by a celebrated courtesan known as Grandma Hong...whose rationale was to sponsor relationships between women as if they were 'man and wife.' Members not only included courtesans and 'dissolute' women but also the wealthy daughters of officials and merchants, all of whom apparently regarded men as 'superfluous and useless' (zhuiliu)."
"Female students (and young women in general) were accused of being irascible...aggressive, egotistical, immodest in their opinions, and unmindful of hygiene and physical fitness. They were disrespectful towards teachers and regarded their parents as meal tickets. In fact, one outraged observer complained, they behaved like 'young ruffians' (e'shao), giving rein to rude comments and mocking laughter in the streets at the expense of passers-by, brazenly travelling alone, and boisterously grabbing seats for themselves in libraries and teahouses."
In 1912 in Huangzhou a 48-year-old married woman (described as "fierce and promiscuous" [han erqie yin] had an affair with a lodger, a 21-year-old law student, and then strangled and poisoned her 17-year-old son who had reprimanded her for the affair.
Women were often described as hanhen, "fierce and ruthless," but there was a separate term, xionghan, for the especially fierce and ruthless, such as the female bandits in Shandong province "who were apparently skilled in horseback riding and in the use of firearms."
Pretty neat, eh?