Ban Zhao: Women in Classical Societies

1 January 2018

Ban Zhao (45-116 CE) is the younger sister of the court historian Ban Gu. Ban Zhao attributes her success from her father then her mother as she received an education from her literate mother “ I am fortunate both to have received not a little favor from my scholarly Father, and to have had a cultured mother and instructresses upon whom to rely for a literary education as well as for training in good manners”. Ban Zhao is best known for Lesson for Women, which purported to be an instructional manual for her daughters, but in fact, she intended it for a much wider audience. According to Ban Zhao women have four qualifications: woman virtue, womanly words, womanly bearing, and womanly work emphasizing the importance of the roles of a husband and wife. The qualifications of becoming one and advised women on their conducts in the home of the husband or the husband’s family. She wants her daughters to learn to not humiliate her ancestors “ I fear that by failure inn good manners in other families you will humiliate both your ancestors and your clan”

The proper relationship between a husband and wife is balance like the Yin and Yang. Ying is the soft yielding feminine element, and it is connected with the moon, cold, and darkness. The Yang is the hard aggressive male element, and is associated with the sun, heat, and light, every substance contains both elements in varying propertions. The roles is that a man is to control his wife and the wife is to serve the husband “they only know that wives must be controlled, and that the husband’s rules of conduct manifesting his authority must be established”.

She describes herself as unintelligent, her target audiences were women in waiting and for women not wanting to shame their family wants it to be common knowledge for all women “if a woman fail to observe them, how can her name be honored: how can she but bring disgrace upon herself?

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