"The thoughts of the princely man ought to be written down.
But why should one not voice his own opinion?
As we admire the ancients,
Every action of that virtuous one (my father)
Meant a literary creation…"
From Dungzheng Fu (Traveling East)
by Pan Chao
Pan Chao was born in the year 45 CE during the Han Dynasty and was to become a preeminent scholar and first female historian of China.
The Han Dynasty was considered the Imperial Age of China. It was a time of growth for arts, sciences, literature, sport and industry. Confucianism became dominant at court, and China again became a feudal state. It was also a time when men received court appointments based on merit rather than lineage or royal favor.
Pan Chao was born into a family of such men. Her father, Pan Ku, was a court administrator and historian. Chao had twin brothers -- Ku, who served under General Tou Hsien in military campaigns against the Hsiung-nu (the predecessors of the Mongols), and Ch'ao, who became a famous military man who fought in Central Asia and reestablished Han supremacy in Chinese Turkistan. Pan Ku was also a historian, and recorded first hand account of the military campaigns that he marched on. His description of the Hsiung-nu is still considered one of the most authentic among Chinese primary resources.
It was during this dynasty that China gave birth to its first historians. Ssu-ma Ch'ien wrote Shih Chi (Historical Records) which was the universal history of China from the beginning of the world to the reign of Emperor Han Wu-ti. Pan Piao took up where Ssu-ma Ch'ien left off, and began to compile the Han shu (Book of Han) which focused on the history of the Former Han Dynasty from the collapse of the Ch'in Empire to the reign of Wang Mang, a period of approximately 300 years. Both the Shih Chi and the Han shu set the precedent and organizational format for the writing of later dynastic histories. The Han shu is considered a classic in Chinese historical writing and continues to serve as a reference work for the study of this period.
Upon Piao's death, his son Ku took over the completion of the Book of Han. The work was to evolve to 100 chapters, including essays on law, science, geography and literature. Pan Ku spent twenty years collecting and organizing these chapters but was also unable to complete the work after he was arrested. He spent the rest of his life in prison. It was Chao, Pan Liao's daughter and youngest child, that finished the history fourteen years later, an accomplishment which earned her Imperial recognition and favor. She is credited with the eight chronological charts and the treatise on astronomy that are contained with the work.
Pan Chao was educated by her mother at home. She married at the age of fourteen and had children, but became a widow prematurely and refused to remarry. She was later summoned to the court of Emperor He to tutor the empress and palace ladies. She served as imperial historian to the court of Emperor Han Hedi as well as advisor to Empress Deng in 106 CE. Pan Chao died in the year 114 CE.
Pan Chao wrote poetry and commentary on the literary works of others. She wrote her most famous work when she was 54, entitled the Nu Jie (Lessons for Women). This book of instruction, Confucian ideals and moral guidance became an influential work that circulated widely for centuries.
"…On the third day after the birth of a girl the ancients observed three customs; first to place the baby below the bed; second to give her a potsherd with which to play; third to announce her birth to her ancestors. To lay the baby below the bed plainly indicated that she should regard it as her primary duty to humble herself before others. To giver her potsherds with which to play indubitably signified that she should consider it her primary duty to be industrious. To announce her birth before her ancestors clearly meant that she ought to esteem as her primary duty the continuation of the observance of worship in the home…"
Respect and Caution
"…for self-culture nothing equals respect for others. To counteract firmness nothing equals compliance. Consequently it can be said that the Way of respect and acquiescence is woman's most important principle of conduct. So respect may be defined as nothing other than holding on that that which is permanent; and acquiescence nothing other than being liberal and generous. Those who are steadfast in devotion know that they should stay in their proper places; those who are liberal and generous esteem others, and honor and serve them…"
"A woman ought to have four qualifications; womanly virtue; womanly words; womanly bearing; and womanly work. Now what is called womanly virtue need not be brilliant ability, exceptionally different from others. Womanly words need be neither clever in debate nor keen in conversation. Womanly appearance requires neither a pretty nor a perfect face and form. Womanly work need not be work done more skillfully that that of others…these four qualifications characterize the greatest virtue of a woman. No woman can afford to be without them. In fact they are very easy to possess if a woman only treasures them in her heart…"
from Nu Jie (Lessons for Women)
by Pan Chao
Pan Chao: Foremost Woman Scholar of China; Nancy Lee Swann, translator; Century Co., NY 1932
A Short History of the Chinese People; L. Carrington Goodrich; Harper & Row, NY 1959
China's Imperial Past; Charles O. Hucker; Gerald Duckworth & Ltd., London 1975
The Ageless Chinese; Dun J. Li; Charles Scribner's Sons, NY 1978
100 Celebrated Chinese Women by Kate Foster