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  • Gordon Dumoulin

International Women's Day... a "proto-feminist" in China 2000 years ago

In the light of ๐˜๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ญ ๐˜ž๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ'๐˜ด ๐˜‹๐˜ข๐˜บ 2022 last Tuesday (March 8),

meet ๐—•๐—ฎ๐—ป ๐—ญ๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ผ ็ญๆ˜ญ (45-116 CE),

China's first and arguably most famous female scholar in ancient Chinese history.

Ban Zhou wrote the book Lessons for Women ๅฅณ่ฏซ, in which she explains that, 40 years after being married at the age of 14, she had decided to write down things that, in her view, would be useful for every woman (especially for her daughters). From her descriptions we can learn about the discrimination against women since birth.

Her 2000 years old book emphasizes on the traditional virtues a woman must abide by at that time; proper virtue, proper speech, proper countenance, and proper conduct. Moreover the book includes 'guidelines' for women which are very traditional and for most unacceptable today such as do not distinguish or outperform your talents and intelligence, do not sharpen your language and speech, or do not seek outwardly beautiful or ornamented. Along with serve her husband, obey his parents, and refrain from confrontations with his family.

Today considered a feudal moralistic book by most, criticized for belittling womenโ€™s social status and suppressing their pursuit of freedom, self-confidence and individuality. Though it is perhaps unfair and anachronistic to judge a 2000 year old historical figure by today's categories. Modern scholars regularly describe Ban Zhao as a sort of proto-feminist. Considering the book as a guide for women to play the "feudal society game" to earn power and respect from their male counterparts. A revolutionary advice in the book is that girls and boys should receive the same education until the age of 15.

Although she did not sharpen her language or speech, she definitely sharpened her own mind along with her expression and focus on femininity by appearance through clothing and for example make-up.

She became China's first and arguably most famous female scholar, especially as political advisor to Empress Deng Sui ้‚“็ปฅ (81-121 CE) and historian in the court of Emperor He Di ๅ’Œๅธ (ruled 88-105 CE) with the contribution to complete and transmit Hanshu (ๆผขๆ›ธ, literally the "Book of the [Former] Han"), the official dynastic history of the Western Han.

She also had great interest in among others astronomy and mathematics and wrote poems, commemorative writings, argumentations, commentaries, essays and several longer works. She was also an instructor of Taoist sexual practices for the imperial family.

While again many today would (rightfully) not agree with Ban Zhao's book about how women should or should not act, no one can argue with the fact that by owning her own femininity, Ban Zhao was able to succeed in a male dominated world 2000 years ago and be an example for other women at the time. She took the freedom to be whomever you wish without judgement or restriction based off of gender.

#chinesehistory #internationalwomensday #banzhou

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