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Early Women Writers

Ban Jieyu



Ban Jieyu


Su County (Loufan), Shanxi province


48-6 B.C.E.


Ban Jieyu was the first female poet during Western Han dynasty. She was a concubine of Emperor Cheng. She was gifted and well-read, and was chosen by the emperor’s court to work as a librarian in the palace. Lady Ban entered the imperial harem as a junior maid which was rank eleven in the fourteen-rank System. She rapidly rose to rank two, the position of jieyu Favorite Beauty). She bore the emperor two sons, both of whom died within a few months oi birth. She was known for her learning and strong sense of propriety. Ban Jieyu was later vilified by the Zhao sisters who lied to the emperor saying that she had cursed the emperor in secret through witchcraft in conspiring with Empress Xu. Ban Jieyu stood up to the emperor, proclaimed her innocence and loyalty, and was not punished. She petitioned to be moved to the Changxin palace, to wait upon the empress dowager. Ban Jieyu was well-liked by the empress dowager for her modesty, her adherence to feudal traditions and Confucian ethics, and her suggestions of frugality made to the emperor. She lived a secluded and reflective life, devoted to writing poetry. Many of her poems express her sorrows of unrequited love. She was one of the few well-educated concubines able to leave a literary legacy. She has been credited with three poetic works.


3 poems, Song of Resentment (Yuan ge xing), Rhapsody on Pounding Silk (Dao su fu), Rhapsody of Self-Commiseration(Zi dao Fu)




Poetry, Elegy

Editions and Translations

Kang-i Sun Chang and Haun Saussy. Women Writers of Traditional China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.


Knechtges, David R. "The Poetry of an Imperial Concubine: The Favorite Beauty Ban." Oriens Extremus 36.2 (1993): 127-144; Peterson, Barbara Bennett. Notable women of China: Shang dynasty to the early twentieth century. Routledge, 2016;Lee, Lily Xiao Hong, Agnes D. Stefanowska, and Sue Wiles. Biographical Dictionary of Chinese women: antiquity through Sui, 1600 BCE-618 CE. Routledge, 2015;
Kang-i Sun Chang, Haun Saussy, Charles Yim-tze Kwong, editors. "From ancient Times to Six Dynasties," Women Writers of Traditional China: An Anthology of Poetry and Criticism, Standford University Press, 1999, pp. 17-22;
Peterson, Barbara Bennett. "Ban Jieyu, poet, Western Han dynasty." Notable Women of China. Routledge, 2016. 110-112.

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