It is not unusual today for a Chinese woman to travel alone in Europe or the United States, armed only with a travel guide. But it certainly would have been early in the last century, when poet Lu Bicheng blazed a trail for the modern woman. Lu, born in 1883, was a poet and lyricist of songs from the late Qing dynasty. She was also one of the first women journalists in China, publishing her travel writings in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin 80 years ago. Grace Fong, of the East Asian studies department at McGill University in Canada, discovered the story of Lu in the 1980s. 'I found Lu's words about Switzerland in a journal published in the 1930s,' she said. 'Why was this woman poet talking about Switzerland in the 1930s?' From this small find, Professor Fong began a journey in the intrepid writer's footsteps. Since 2003 she has followed Lu's travels, visiting cities across China, Europe and America, as well as Hong Kong, where Lu spent her last days before she died in 1943. To learn more about Lu's life in Hong Kong, Professor Fong applied for a six-month visiting professorship with Chinese University. Having finished a few research papers about Lu, she wants to start a biography. 'Once it is started it cannot be stopped,' she said. 'This is not something personal. Lu Bicheng is special, she is an icon showing how Chinese women stepped into modernity.' Professor Fong has walked down every avenue in an attempt to uncover everything about Lu, but as with every research project there are obstacles. 'When I went to Montreux in Switzerland, her name created some difficulties. Lu called herself Alice Lee, but Lee is a popular Chinese surname. However, I was able to track her down when I went to the national library of Vienna. A then paper, Der Tag, did mention her attendance at the International Animal Protection Conference in Europe.' The research was made even more difficult because only relatives were able to access her records in some places. 'When I went to Shanghai to check for the records on Lu's property in Shanghai, I was told by an official that only later generations of Lu can search for relevant details,' she said. 'As my major was in women's literature in the Ming and Qing dynasties, I used to spend most of my time in libraries reading translations or exploring archives. 'But studying Lu is different. I have to go around the world, as she travelled everywhere, to explore every possibility.' Proficient in English and Chinese, Lu's travel writings were published in papers in major cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin. 'Lu wrote as a tour guide,' Professor Fong said. 'She gave practical advice, like exchanging money at Thomas Cook. She also talked about how to travel alone in Europe and America. Sometimes she talked about the discrimination she faced.' In an article from the 1920s, she writes that she was asked to stop smoking by two French women on a train. She then asked why a man smoking a cigar was not stopped. This showed Lu was a strong character, Professor Fong said. Lu settled in Hong Kong in 1940 and converted to Buddhism. Professor Fong leaves next month for Columbia to continue her journey in Lu's footsteps.