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Ban Zhao

B n Zh o (45 c. 116 CE) (), courtesy name Huiban ( ), was the first known female Chinese historian. She completed her brother Ban Gu's work on the history of the Western Han, the Book of Han. She also wrote Lessons for Women, an influential work advising women to be submissive. She also had great interest in astronomy and mathematics and wrote poems, commemorative writings, argumentations, commentaries, essays and several longer works,[1] not all of which survive. She became China's most famous female scholar.[2]


Ban Zhao was born in Anling, near modern Xianyang, Shaanxi province. At age fourteen, she married a local resident named Cao Shishu, and was called in the court by the name as Venerable Madame Cao ( ). Her husband died when she was still young and she raised their sons on her own.[3] She never remarried, instead devoting her life to scholarship.[4] She was the daughter of the famous historian Ban Biao and younger sister of the general Ban Chao and of historian Ban Gu. She was also the grandniece of the notable scholar and poet Consort Ban.


Ban Gu was author of the history of the Western Han, a book known in modern times as the Book of Han. After he was imprisoned and executed in the year 92 because of his association with the family of Empress Dowager Dou, Ban Zhao then finished the work. She added the genealogy of the mother of the emperor, providing much information which was not usually kept. She also added a treatise on astronomy.[5]

Ban Zhao also wrote the Lessons for Women. This book generally advised women to be submissive and accept that their husbands can have concubines while as wives they must remain faithful, although the book does indicate women should be as well-educated as her so they can better serve their husbands. With her husband at the top of the pyramid of authority (or her father if she was unmarried), a woman was supposed to accord the appropriate amount of respect to her brothers, brothers-in-law, father, father-in-law and other male relatives. According to her, Nothing is better than obedience which sacrifices personal opinion". A modern revisionist theory states that the book is a guide to teach women how to avoid scandal in youth so they can survive long enough to become a powerful dowager. This treatise on the education of women was dedicated to the daughters in Ban Zao's family but was circulated immediately at court. It was popular for centuries in China as a guide for women's conduct.[6]

She taught Empress Deng Sui and members of the court in the royal library, which gained her political influence.[7] 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. In gratitude, the Empress gave both Ban Zhao's sons appointments as officials.[8] 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 Hsiang. It is possible that she supervised the copying of manuscripts from bamboo slips and silk onto a recently invented material, paper.[9]

As Ban Zhao got older, she decided to travel to Chengliu. Both the book she wrote about her traveling and another book, Collected Works of Dagu, compiled by her daughter-in-law Ding, have been lost.


When Empress Dowager Deng Sui heard about Ban Zhao's death at advanced age, she dressed all in white to mourn her.


Ban Zhao crater on Venus is named after her.


  • Ban Biao ( ; 3-54; father)
    • Ban Gu ( ; 32-92; eldest brother)
    • Ban Chao ( ; 32-102; second brother)
      • Ban Xiong ( ; ?-after 107; Ban Chao's eldest son)
      • Ban Shi ( ; ?-130; Ban Chao's second son)
      • Ban Yong ( ; ?-after 127; Ban Chao's youngest son)

See also

  • Book of Han


Work Referenced

  • Perkins, Dorothy (2000). Encyclopedia of China: The Essential Reference to China, Its History and Culture. First edition (1999) Dorothy Perkins and Roundtable Press. First paperback edition (2000) Roundtable Press, New York, N.Y. ISBN 0-8160-2693-9 (hc); ISBN 0-8160-4374-4 (pbk).

External links

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