Four Books for Women

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Four Books for Women
Banzhao.jpg
Han scholar Ban Zhao was one of the authors of Four Books for Women.
Chinese女四書

The Four Books for Women (Nǚ sìshū[1]) was a collection of material intended for use in the education of young Chinese women. In the late Ming and Qing dynasties, it was a standard text read by the daughters of aristocratic families.[2] The four books had circulated separately and were combined by the publishing house Duowen Tang in 1624.[2]

The four books are Admonitions for Women (Nǚjiè[3]) by Ban Zhao, Women's Analects (Nǚ lúnyǔ[4]) by Song Ruoshen and Song Ruozhao, Domestic Lessons (Nèixùn[5]) by Empress Xu, and Sketch of a Model for Women (Nüfan jielu[6]) by Lady Liu.[7]

In Admonitions, Ban Zhou, China's foremost female scholar, expounds on general principles and philosophical points. In Women's Analects, the Songs illustrate these principles with practical examples relevant to everyday life.[8]

In Model for Women, Lady Liu retells the inspiring tales of various women in Chinese history. There are example of every kind of famous women from every period. Aside from Ban Zhao, there is also Liang Hongyu, who beat war drums in battle to encourage her husband, a Song dynasty general. Scholarship and sacrifice for nation and family are extolled.[2]

Ban Zhao's book was the most widely read of the four. She wrote that a woman should practice "reverent submission", respect for the three obediences and four virtues, and "set her husband on a par with Heaven."[2] Ban Zhao compared marriage to the Dao, with the husband as the yin and the wife as the yang. This is a more romantic view of marriage than anything found in Confucius.

Ban Zhao's life story was more inspiring than her writing.[9] She was a Han dynasty scholar who not only tutored an empress, but also completed an official history begun by her brother. Reformers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries often cited her to make the case for female education.[9]

The Four Books explicitly argues for such education. "There were no wise and chaste women who were not created through education," as Domestic Lessons puts it. Regardless of content, the Four Books were designed to teach women to read, a controversial and progressive idea at the time. All four books were written by accomplished women, a point many editions underline by including biographical sketches and drawings of the authors in scholarly regalia.

The "four books" of the title alludes to the four books of Neo-Confucianism compiled by Zhu Xi. This was a textbook used by those studying for the Imperial Examinations. Female learning is thus promoted as a realm on the same level as male learning.[2] "The is no doubt that women read both the Four Books for Women and the Four Books they were not supposed to read," according to modern scholar Dorothy Ko.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ In Chinese, «女四書».
  2. ^ a b c d e Zhang Mingqi, "The Four Books for Women: Ancient Chinese Texts for the Education of Women", B. C. Asian Review, volume 1, 1987.
  3. ^ In Chinese, «女誡».
  4. ^ In Chinese, «女論語».
  5. ^ In Chinese, «内训».
  6. ^ In Chinese, «女范捷录».
  7. ^ Liu, Wenjia, "Female Same-sex Desire and Women's Agency in Feng shuangfei," Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, Issue 35, July 2014.
  8. ^ Wang, Robin, Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture: Writings from the Pre-Qin Period Through the Song Dynasty, "The Analects for Women", pp. 327-340. Hackett Publishing, 2003.
  9. ^ a b c Ko, Dorothy, Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women and Culture in Seventeenth-century China, Stanford University Press, 1994, pp. 54-55.