Wang Cong’er (c. 1777-1798) was born into poverty as the only daughter of a single mother during the late 18th century. Her mother was likely a washerwoman who had to resort to begging to survive. At a young age, to avoid living in abject poverty, Wang chose to join a travelling performing group.
It was there she learned acrobatics, and finding she excelled at it, continued on learning and soon mastered martial arts, including the art of Kung Fu. When she was 16, Wang was attacked by a group of men, and despite her skills was unable to defeat them on her own. Her rescuer was a city official who would later reveal to Wang a secret that would forever change her life—he was a member of an underground group, the White Lotus Sect. The secret sect believed in the coming of the Buddha of the Future who would then establish a paradise on earth. It met in secrecy in many villages in Northwestern China and in the Upper and Middle Yangzi regions organising and arming peasants to lead them in a planned revolt.
Wang played a significant role leading recruited peasants, amassing to about 100,000 troops in total, consisting of both men and women, against the Imperial Troops of the Qing Dynasty. In battle, Wang Cong’er used guerrilla warfare tactics, a revolutionary style of fighting for the time period, that involved using surprise attacks that were often short, but powerful, and tampering and destroying of supplies—going even as far as destroying their own crops so the enemy lines would be unable to use them. Wang and the men and women she led into battle against the Manchu army were very familiar with the surrounding lands and areas using them to their every advantage. Previous to Wang’s use of guerrilla warfare, this style of fighting had not proved effective, but Wang was able to use it so successfully that it forever changed the way East Asian nations fought.
When people remember Wang Cong’er they see an incredibly intelligent and able General who reportedly fought with a sword in each hand and used Kung Fu and acrobatics in battle, depicting the picture of a great woman warrior. She is often credited with leading one of the first successful armed revolts against the Qing Dynasty. Without the leadership of Wang, the White Lotus Rebellion would not have been as successful, nor would it have had such a distinct impact on China as it challenged and helped weaken what would become known as the last dynasty of China.
Today, Wang would be a resilient activist, organising protests and marches to hold the government accountable for it’s crimes internationally. I have no doubt that if Wang Cong’er were alive today she would stand up for her beliefs and lead people in discussions—encouraging them to be active and participate in creating change. As a leader, Wang would not be afraid to challenge the government and call it out on its harmful policies.