Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Experts in China

My daily travails on the Internet today--on Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica--led me to find the notable Ban Zhao. Born in AD 45, Anling, Gufang [now Xianyang, Shaanxi province], China (according to the Encyclopedia Britannica), Ban Zhao was China's first female historian (according to Wikipedia). This was very unique in a country that, at the time, treasured boys over girls in most situations. Married at age fourteen, Ban Zhao was known as the Venerable Madame Cow. Cow? Fine, Cao.

While there is no definite information on Ban Zhao’s humble beginnings, I would assume that Ban Zhao first became interested in history for practical reasons. History seemed to be in Ban Zhao's blood. Her father, Ban Biao, had begun a history of the Han Dynasty (the Book of Han). The emperor commissioned Biao's son (and Ban Zhao's brother), Ban Gu, to complete the work, after their father's death. Ban Zhao helped her brother and took up the task after her brother was executed for an unrelated matter. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica,

"The resulting Han shu ("Book of Han") is one of the best-known histories
ever written and the model for all future dynastic histories in China."

As a widow and an "exemplary scholar" (Britannica), Ban Zhao was made a lady-in-waiting to the Empress. Ban Zhao was also into literature--she wrote numerous poems and essays, the most famous of which is the Nüshi (also spelled Nu Jie), or Lessons for Women. Lessons for Women is a volume on good behavior for women. The following quote, courtesy of the UCLA Center for East Asian Studies, is taken from Lessons for Women.

"I, the unworthy writer, am unsophisticated, unenlightened, and by nature
unintelligent, but I am fortunate both to have received not a little favor from
my scholarly Father, and to have had a cultured mother and teachers upon whom to
rely for a literary education as well as for training in good

Although Ban Zhao seems to have a low opinion of herself, she was one of China’s most prominent historians and women. She gave me an idea of the life of an educated woman in Ancient China; her collaborative effort on the Book of Han dished out, as Britannica said earlier above, "one of the best-known histories ever written"; Ban Zhao persevered throughout her lifetime and Ancient China.

"Ban Zhao." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007.
Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
27 Sept. 2007

"Ban Zhao." Wikipedia. 2007.
Wikipedia Online.
27 Sept. 2007

“Lessons for Women: Ban Zhao.” UCLA. 2007.
UCLA Online.
27 Sept. 2007


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:32 PM

    When I read that one part, I didn't so much think she had a low opinion of herself. Rather, she could have been writing in the sense of the place of women in her culture.