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Early Women Writers

Ban Zhao



Ban Zhao


Chenliu, Kaifeng, Henan




Wife of Historian, Ban Gu, who posthumously finished her husbands work and went on to write Lessons for Women, which was later compiled, in 1624, into the 4 Books for Women. Ban Zhao was a Chinese historian, philosopher, and politician. She also had great interest in astronomy and mathematics and wrote poems, commemorative writings, argumentations, commentaries, essays and several longer works, not all of which survive. She became China's most famous female scholar and an instructor of Taoist sexual practices for the imperial family. Ban Zhao contributed greatly to the completion and transmission of Hanshu (" The Book of the [Former] Han"), the official dynastic history of the Western Han. After Ban Gu was imprisoned and died, Ban Zhao helped finish the work by making up for the missing part of the Babiao (Eight Tables). She added the genealogy of the mother of the emperor, providing much information which was not usually kept. Later, Ma Xu added a treatise on astronomy, making Hanshu a complete work.
Ban Zhao also wrote the Lessons for Women. This treatise on the education of women was dedicated to the daughters in Ban Zhao's family but was circulated immediately at court. It was popular for centuries in China as a guide for women's conduct. This is a moralistic book, which generally advises women to be compliant and respectful towards the greater purpose of maintaining familial harmony, a highly regarded concept in historical China. According to this interpretation, the book also indicates women should be well-educated so they can better serve their husbands. Modern interpretations of Lessons for Women indicate that it is a founding text of Confucian feminism
She taught Empress Deng Sui and members of the court in the royal library, which gained her political influence. The Empress and concubines gave her the title Gifted one and the empress made her a Lady-in-waiting. As the Empress became regent for the infant Emperor Shang of Han, she often sought the advice of Ban Zhao. The Empress gave both Ban Zhao's sons appointments as officials. Ban Zhao was also a librarian at court, supervising the editorial labors of a staff of assistants and training other scholars in her work. In this capacity, she rearranged and enlarged the Biographies of Eminent Women by Liu Xiang. It is possible that she supervised the copying of manuscripts from bamboo slips and silk onto a recently invented material, paper.


Lessons for a Women,
Han shu (History of the Han Dynasty)




Poetry, History, Conduct

Editions and Translations

4 Books for Women, Lessons for Women


Burton, Margaret E. Notable women of modern China. Cosimo, Inc., 2005; Perkins, Dorothy. Encyclopedia of China: History and culture. Routledge, 2013;
Wang, Robin. Images of women in Chinese thought and culture: writings from the pre-Qin period through the Song dynasty. Hackett Publishing, 2003;
Lee, Lin-Lee. "Inventing familial agency from powerlessness: Ban Zhao's lessons for women." Western journal of Communication 73.1 (2009): 47-66;
Mann, Susan. Precious records: Women in China's long eighteenth century. Stanford University Press, 1997;
Raphals, Lisa Ann, and Lisa Raphals. Sharing the light: Representations of women and virtue in early China. SUNY Press, 1998.

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