Instructions for Chinese Women and Girls

by Ban Zhao

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Little known today, Instructions for Chinese Girls and Women has a storied place in Chinese history as the first educational text for women and a standard reference for them from the first century AD all the way into the nineteenth. Polymath author Ban Zhao was perhaps China’s greatest female scholar. A writer, historian, mathematician, and astronomer, she was also a tutor to the ladies of the imperial court and a close confidant of Empress Deng. Although Ban Zhao completed a monumental historical tome on the Western Han dynasty, she would be best remembered for this slighter work – a short handbook of female etiquette in which she advises submissiveness in order to achieve household harmony. A kind of women’s Art of War, there is more yielding than winning in the guidebook, but at least Ban Zhao was a pioneer in asserting that girls should be educated.

Instructions for Chinese Girls and Women is an easy, enjoyable read. It contains passages preaching subservience that will make the modern reader cringe and/or laugh, but there is interesting nuance there for readers with an open mind.


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