In 1986 Wu Ruo’an, a former pupil at the Wuben Girls’ School in Shanghai – among the first public schools established for girls in China at the beginning of the twentieth century – reminisced about her experiences in the years following the school’s founding in 1902.1 Aged 97 at the time of her written memoir, and apparently still serving as the vice-chairperson of the executive committee of the Shanghai People’s Congress, Wu Ruo’an provided intriguing details concerning the school’s organization, curriculum and daily routine. Such details, moreover, also illustrate many of the general features, paradoxes and contradictory impulses that underpinned the project of women’s public education in China during its first two decades in the twentieth century.