Gao Guiying

Gao Guiying was a Chinese revolutionary general who fought against the Ming and Qing dynasties during the early 17th century.

Gao was raised in Mizhi City at a time when the Ming dynasty that had ruled China for nearly 3 centuries was struggling to hold onto power in the face of numerous popular rebellions. In 1627 Gao met the outlaw Li Zicheng when he was brought to the Gao family home by her brother to hide from the authorities. Li was wanted for the murder of a local gang leader who had been terrorizing Yanan. Gao and Li formed a fast bond while they practiced martial arts together, with Gao repeatedly proving herself to be a most challenging opponent for Li. The pair married and began to instruct the local population in martial arts.

Eventually the authorities learned of Li's whereabouts and he and the Gao family were forced to flee their home. They joined a group of peasant rebels among whom Gao and Li quickly rose to positions of power. In 1630 they launched a large scale revolt. The pair split as Li led a an army of peasant men while Gao trained and educated her own army formed entirely of women. She established a stronghold in Changde in the Hunan region which became known as the 'Lady's Base' and would serve as her base of operations for the next 17 years. The rebellion was an enormous success as Gao and Li carved out their own huge territories across China and declared them independent from Ming rule.

In 1644 Li's forces captured the capital of Beijing, ending the Ming dynasty and declaring himself Emperor of the new Shun Dynasty with Gao as his Empress. However Li's reign was short-lived. The break-up of China had created a new enemy in the form of the Machunian Qing dynasty, who captured Beijing just months later and killed Li. Declaring herself the greatest opponent of the Qing, Gao allied herself with her former enemies, the Ming, some of whom still clung on in Southern China. She became the supreme military commander in the fight against the Qing and was given the noble title of 'Lady of the First Degree' by the King of Nantang.

Gao led the fight against the Qing until her death in 1647. She is remembered in Chinese culture as a remarkable leader and has appeared in novels, plays, films and comics.

Eritrean Soldiers

Eritrean soldiers during the 30-year long Eritrean War of Independence between Eritrean forces and the Ethiopian government. Women made up 30% of Eritrea's army of 100,000 soldiers and were a popular symbol of the liberation effort.

After Eritrea won its independence in 1993 women were given 30% of the seats in parliament and gained new legal rights. However some complained that they were treated more respectfully as fighters than they were as civilians.

Virginia Ghesquière

Virginia Ghesquière was a soldier in the French army during the First French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte during the 19th century.

While little is known of Ghesquière's early life, it is established that she joined the French army in 1806. Ghesquière elected to take her brother Jean Baptiste's place in the French army, disguising herself as a man. Accounts vary as to whether her brother died in battle and she replaced him masquerading as another brother, or if she represented herself as Jean Baptiste himself in order to enlist. Regardless, Ghesquière served in the 27th Line Regiment of the army for 6 years.

Ghesquière had a distinguished military career serving in a number of campaigns during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1807 she took part in the invasion of Portugal during the Peninsular War, serving under General Jean-Andoche Junot. Distinguished numerous times for her performance, Ghesquière was promoted to Sergeant for her bravery at the Battle of Wagram, where she saved her captain from drowning in the Danube river. She was also commended for saving the life of a colonel who had fallen from his horse after being shot.

Ghesquière was injured in battle in 1812 and the surgeon treating her wounds discovered her identity as a woman. This led to her immediate dismissal from the army. However for her contribution in the war she was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal by Napoleon himself.

Ghesquière's dismissal from the army brought her a small amount of fame and she was featured in an article of the Journal de l'Empire newspaper. There was also a song composed about her life, which referred to her as the 'jolie sergent' (pretty sergeant). Although her year of birth is unknown, Ghesquière is believed to have been over 100 years old when she died in 1854.