TANG SOCIETY, FAMILY LIFE AND WOMEN

SOCIETY, NOBLES AND SLAVES DURING THE TANG DYNASTY


court ladies pounding silk

A government system supported by a large class of Confucian literati selected through civil service examinations was perfected under Tang rule. This competitive procedure was designed to draw the best talents into government. But perhaps an even greater consideration for the Tang rulers, aware that imperial dependence on powerful aristocratic families and warlords would have destabilizing consequences, was to create a body of career officials having no autonomous territorial or functional power base. As it turned out, these scholar-officials acquired status in their local communities, family ties, and shared values that connected them to the imperial court. From Tang times until the closing days of the Qing empire in 1911, scholar officials functioned often as intermediaries between the grassroots level and the government. [Source: The Library of Congress]

In the Tang Dynasty era, the nobility's power was eclipsed by scholar-officials. The The Li family of Zhaojun, the Cui family of Boling, the Cui family of Qinghe, the Lu family of Fanyang, the Zheng family of Rongyang, the Wang family of Taiyuan, and the Li family of Longxi were the seven noble families between whom marriage was banned by law. The prohibition on marriage between the clans issued in 659 by the Gaozong Emperor was flouted by the seven families since a woman of the Boling Cui married a member of the Taiyuan Wang, giving birth to the poet Wang Wei. [Source: Wikipedia]

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “ Tang China was not a slave society in the sense of having an economy that relied on chattel slavery along the lines of the economies of the Roman Empire or the ante-bellum American south. However, slavery did exist. Poor men and women might sell themselves into slavery, and poor families might sell children into slavery. During the Tang dynasty, slavery was hereditary, and slaves could be bought and sold. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

Good Websites and Sources on the Tang Dynasty: Wikipedia ; Google Book: China’s Golden Age: Everday Life in the Tang Dynasty by Charles Benn books.google.com/books; Empress Wu womeninworldhistory.com ; Good Websites and Sources on Tang Culture: Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org ; Tang Poems etext.lib.virginia.edu enter Tang Poems in the search; Tang Horses persiancarpetguide.com China Vista chinavista.com

Good Websites and Sources on Early Chinese History: 1) Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu; 2) Chinese Text Project ctext.org ; 3) Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization depts.washington.edu ; 4) Ancient China Life ancientchinalife.com ; 5) Ancient China for School Kids elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)

Books: 1) Benn, Charles, “Daily Life in Traditional China: The Tang Dynasty,” Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002; 2) Schafer, Edward H. “The Golden Peaches of Samarkan,” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963; 3) Watt, James C. Y., et al. “China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 200–750 A.D. Exhibition catalogue. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004; 4) Cambridge History of China Vol. 3 (Cambridge University Press); 5) The Culture and Civilization of China, a massive, multi-volume series, (Yale University Press). You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.

Deed of a Sale for a Tang Dynasty a Slave

The following document records the sale of a female slave. “A contract executed on the 12th day of the eleventh month of 991. On this day the functionary, Han Yuanding, having expenses to meet and lacking sufficient stores of silk, sells his household slave Jiansheng, aged about twenty-eight. The slave is being sold to the monastery dependent, Zhu Yuansong, then to Zhu’s wife and sons, etc. The price of the slave has been fixed at a total of five bolts of silk, consisting of both finished and unfinished goods.1 This day the buyer has remitted three bolts of unfinished silk. The fifth month of next year has been established as the deadline for the delivery of the remaining two bolts of finished silk. [Source: Translated by Patricia Ebrey and Clara Yu; “”Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook”, edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey,” 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 126-127. Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]


“After the woman and the goods have been exchanged and the sale completed, it is agreed that the sons and daughters of the Zhu family shall be masters of this slave forever and ever, from generation to generation. If in future a relative of the seller should reclaim this slave, it is ordered that Han Yuanding and his wife, Seventh Daughter, seek out an adequate slave as a replacement. If an imperial amnesty should be declared subsequent to the sale, it may not be used to reopen discussions among the negotiants. <|>

“The two parties to the contract have met face to face and have reached their agreement after joint discussions. If one of the parties should default, he shall be fined one bolt of decorated silk and two large rams — all to be turned over to the non-defaulting party. In light of the chance of this contract’s not being made in good faith, the following persons have witnessed it and will serve as its guarantors: The woman whose person is being sold, Jiansheng The seller of the woman, her mistress, Seventh Daughter; The Seller of the woman, her master, Han Yuanding; A relative by marriage, who has participated in the discussion, Fuzhen; A witness, Monk Chouda of Baoen Monastery; A witness, Monk Luo Xian of Longxing Monastery. <|>

Note: 1 Bolts of plain silk of standard size and quality were used as a unit of currency for larger transactions in the Tang and even formed a part of the standard tax payment. In place of one of the bolts of finished silk it has been decided to furnish six lengths of Zhu serge and six lengths of white serge, making a total of twelve lengths, each measuring between ten and twenty feet. These goods are to be delivered by the fifth month of next year. In case this woman should prove to have a sickness, a waiting period of ten days has been agreed upon. Beyond this time withdrawal from the agreement will be impossible.)

House Instructions of Mr- Yan

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “It was common for successful men in China and elsewhere in East Asia to write down “House Instructions” for the benefit of their heirs and descendants... This particular set of house instructions was written by Yan Zhitui (531-591), who was from a leading family of scholars and officials of the period of north-south division (317-589). Accordingly, he served four different, short-lived dynasties, including several whose rulers were foreigners — men of Turkic warrior clans who ruled northern China. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

Yan Zhitui wrote in “House Instructions of Mr. Yan”: “Of books written by sages and worthies that teach men to be sincere and filial, to be careful in speech and circumspect in conduct, and to take one’s proper place in society and be concerned for one’s reputation, there are more than enough already. Since the Wei and Jin periods prudential writings have reiterated principles and repeated practices as if adding room upon room [to the household] or piling bed upon bed. In doing the same now myself, I do not presume to prescribe rules for others or set a pattern for the world, but only to order my own household and give guidance to my own posterity. [Source:“House Instructions of Mr. Yan (Yanshi Jiaxun)” by Yan Zhitui, A.D. 531-591, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 541-546 ^=^]


“The habits and teaching of our family have always been regular and punctilious. In my childhood I received good instruction from my parents. With my two elder brothers I went to greet our parents each morning and evening to ask in winter whether they were warm and in summer whether they were cool; we walked steadily with regular steps, talked calmly with good manners, and moved about with as much dignity and reverence as if we were visiting the awe-inspiring rulers at court. They gave us good advice, asked about our particular interests, criticized our defects and encouraged our good points.. always zealous and sincere. When I was just nine years old, my father died. The family members were divided and scattered, every one of us living in dire straits. I was brought up by my loving brothers; we went through hardships and difficulties. They were kind but not exacting; their guidance and advice to me were not strict. Though I read the ritual texts, and was somewhat fond of composition, I tended to be influenced by common practices; I was uncontrolled in feelings, careless in speech, and slovenly in dress. When about eighteen or nineteen years old I learned to refine my conduct a little, but these bad habits had become second nature, and it was difficult to get rid of them entirely. After my thirtieth year gross faults were few, but still I have to be careful always, for in every instance my words are at odds with my mind, and my emotions struggle with my nature. ^=^

“Each evening I am conscious of the faults committed that morning, and today I regret the errors of yesterday. How pitiful that the lack of instruction has brought me to this condition! I would recall the experiences of my youth long ago, for they are engraved on my flesh and bone; these are not merely the admonitions of ancient books, but what has passed before my eyes and reached my ears. Therefore I leave these twenty chapters to serve as a warning to you boys.” ^=^

House Instructions of Mr- Yan: On Family Governance

Yan Zhitui wrote in “House Instructions of Mr. Yan”: Beneficial influences are transmitted from superiors to inferiors and bequeathed by earlier to later generations. So if a father is not loving, the son will not be filial; if an elder brother is not friendly, the younger will not be respectful; if a husband is not just, the wife will not be obedient. When a father is kind but the son refractory, when an elder brother is friendly but the younger arrogant, when a husband is just but a wife overbearing, then indeed they are the bad people of the world; they must be controlled by punishments; teaching and guidance will not change them. If rod and wrath are not used in family discipline, the faults of the son will immediately appear. If punishments are not properly awarded, the people will not know how to act. The use of clemency and severity in governing a family is the same as in a state. [Source:“House Instructions of Mr. Yan (Yanshi Jiaxun)” by Yan Zhitui, A.D. 531-591, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 541-546 ^=^]


“Confucius said, “Extravagance leads to insubordination, and parsimony to meanness. It is better to be mean than to be insubordinate.” [Analects 7:35] Again he said, “Though a man has abilities as admirable as those of the Duke of Zhou, yet if he be proud or niggardly, those other things are really not worth being looked at.” [Analects 8:11] That is to say, a man may be thrifty but should not be stingy. Thrift means being frugal and economic in carrying out the rites; stinginess means showing no pity for those in poverty and urgent need. Nowadays those who would give alms are extravagant, but in being thrifty are stingy. It would be proper to give alms without extravagance and be thrifty without being stingy. ^=^

“A wife in presiding over household supplies should use wine, food, and clothing only as the rites specify. Just as in the state, where women are not allowed to participate in setting policies, so in the family, they should not be permitted to assume responsibility for affairs. If they are wise, talented, and versed in the ancient and modem writings, they ought to help their husbands by supplementing the latter’s deficiency. No hen should herald the dawn lest misfortune follow. ^=^

“The burden of daughters on the family is heavy indeed. Yet how else can Heaven give life to the teeming people and ancestors pass on their bodily existence to posterity? Many people today dislike having daughters and mistreat their own flesh and blood. How can they be like this and still hope for Heaven’s blessing? …It is common for women to dote on a son-in-law and to maltreat a daughter- in-law. Doting on a son- in-law gives rise to hatred from brothers; maltreating a daughter-in-law brings on slander from sisters. Thus when these women, whether they act or remain silent, draw criticism from the members of the family, it is the mother who is the real cause of it. ^=^

“A simple marriage arrangement irrespective of social position was the established rule of our ancestor Qing Hou. Nowadays there are those who sell their daughters for money or buy a woman with a payment of silk. They compare the rank of fathers and grandfathers, and calculate in ounces and drams, demanding more and offering less, just as if bargaining in the market. Under such conditions a boorish son-in-law might appear in the family or an arrogant woman assume power in the household. Coveting honor and seeking for gain, on the contrary, incur shame and disgrace; how can one not be careful?” ^=^

House Instructions of Mr- Yan: On Brothers

Yan Zhitui wrote in “House Instructions of Mr. Yan”: “After the appearance of humankind, there followed the conjugal relationship; the conjugal relationship was followed by the parental; the parental was followed by the fraternal. Within the family, these three are the intimate relationships. The other degrees of kinship all develop out of these three. Therefore among human relationships one cannot but take these [three] most seriously. [Source:“House Instructions of Mr. Yan (Yanshi Jiaxun)” by Yan Zhitui, A.D. 531-591, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 541-546 ^=^]

“When brothers are at odds with each other, then sons and nephews will not love each other, and this in turn will lead to the cousins drifting apart, resulting finally in their servants treating one another as enemies. When this happens then strangers can step on their faces and trample upon their breasts and there will be no one to come to their aid. There are men who are able to make friends with distinguished men of the empire, winning their affection, and yet are unable to show proper respect toward their own elder brothers. How strange that they should succeed with the many and fail with the few! There are others who are able to command troops in the thousands and inspire such loyalty in them that they will die willingly for them and yet are unable to show kindness toward their own younger brothers. How strange that they should succeed with strangers and fail with their own flesh and blood!” ^=^

Record of Family Division in The Tang Dynasty


Emperor Taizong

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The ideal for pre-modern Chinese families was the extended family of “four generations under one roof.” In practice, this was rarely achieved. Family structure changed over the life of a family, with parents raising children, children marrying out, some children living with and supporting their parents, elderly parents dying and leaving their children and grandchildren as a two.generation family and so on. Furthermore, whereas daughters generally married out of the family, brothers remained and, for various reasons, might want to divide the family property and set up households on their own. Family property was held in common, and thus, when brothers desired to divide the property on the death of their parents, each had an equal share: the Chinese did not practice primogeniture. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“The document below is a blank deed of family division — in other words, it is legal boilerplate — from the Tang dynasty, preserved in the caves of Dunhuang in the extreme northwest of China proper. Ir reads: “Brothers come from the same womb, share the same vital essences, and have strong affections toward each other. They complement each other like luxuriant leaves and stately boughs, and think that they will stay together forever. Little do they realize that one day they will part like birds that fly in different directions — each to a corner of the four seas. Just as winters and summers alternate, the bramble shrubs become withered and branches detach from each other, their time for parting eventually comes. [Source: “Record of Family Division in The Tang Dynasty”, Tang dynasty, preserved in the caves of Dunhuang; “A Sourcebook, edited by Patricia Buckley Ebrey, 2nd ed. (New York: The Free Press, 1993), 126 +++]

“Elder brother, A, and younger brother, B, now have, in the presence of neighbors and relatives of various branches, meticulously divided into two parts their estate and fields outside of the city. The details are clearly itemized below...Afterwards, each brother is in charge of his own share of the family property, and there are to be no complaints or quarrels over it. Should either of them violate this agreement, he will be fined a bolt of fine silk for government use and fifteen bushels of wheat as ration for the military. +++

“This document is drawn up as evidence of the agreement. From now on, each of the brothers has his own household. When the tree has grown too big, its branches will part. When the leaves become scattered, the attachment will be lost. Even the four black birds of the Heng Mountain have to fly their separate ways when their feathers turn dark. This agreement on the division of family property is based on the same principle.” +++

Women During the Tang Period

Concepts of women's social rights and social status during the Tang era were notably liberal-minded for the period. However, this was largely reserved for urban women of elite status, as men and women in the rural countryside labored hard in their different set of tasks; with wives and daughters responsible for more domestic tasks of weaving textiles and rearing of silk worms, while men tended to farming in the fields. There were many women in the Tang era who gained access to religious authority by taking vows as Daoist priestesses. The head mistresses of the bordellos in the North Hamlet of the capital Chang'an acquired large amounts of wealth and power. Their high-class courtesans, who likely influenced the Japanese geishas, were well respected. These courtesans were known as great singers and poets, supervised banquets and feasts, knew the rules to all the drinking games, and were trained to have the utmost respectable table manners. There were some prominent court women after the era of Empress Wu, such as Yang Guifei (719–756), who had Emperor Xuanzong appoint many of her relatives and cronies to important ministerial and martial positions. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Although they were renowned for their polite behavior, the courtesans were known to dominate the conversation amongst elite men, and were not afraid to openly castigate or criticize prominent male guests who talked too much or too loudly, boasted too much of their accomplishments, or had in some way ruined dinner for everyone by rude behavior (on one occasion a courtesan even beat up a drunken man who had insulted her). When singing to entertain guests, courtesans not only composed the lyrics to their own songs, but they popularized a new form of lyrical verse by singing lines written by various renowned and famous men in Chinese history. +

It was fashionable for women to be full-figured (or plump). Men enjoyed the presence of assertive, active women. The foreign horse-riding sport of polo from Persia became a wildly popular trend amongst the Chinese elite, and women often played the sport (as glazed earthenware figurines from the time period portray). The preferred hairstyle for women was to bunch their hair up like "an elaborate edifice above the forehead", while affluent ladies wore extravagant head ornaments, combs, pearl necklaces, face powders, and perfumes. A law was passed in 671 which attempted to force women to wear hats with veils again in order to promote decency, but these laws were ignored as some women started wearing caps and even no hats at all, as well as men's riding clothes and boots, and tight-sleeved bodices. +


women preparing silk


Analects for Women

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Confucius had very little to say about the roles and expectations of women in the family or in society. Thus it was left for Confucian scholars to apply the principles enunciated by Confucius and Mencius to the task of prescribing expectations and behavioral norms for women in a Confucian family and a Confucian society. To these scholars also fell the task of justifying the education of women and the task of laying forth the parameters and techniques for the education of girls and women. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

Two of the most influential scholars in this area were women of the Tang dynasty: Song Ruohua and her sister, Song Ruozhao. Both were daughters of a high-ranking Tang official, Song Fen. Ruohua wrote the text below, while her sister, Ruozhao, propagated it. Ruozhao did not marry, but dedicated her life to the instruction of women, being invited to the court of the Tang Dezong Emperor in the late eighth century to serve as instructor of the royal princesses. The “Analects for Women” was one of the most popular texts for women’s education in pre-modern China.

Song Ruozhao wrote in “Analects for Women”: “To be a woman, you must first learn how to establish yourself as a person. The way to do this is simply by working hard to establish one’s purity and chastity. By purity, one keeps one’s self undefiled; by chastity, one preserves one’s honor. [Source:“Analects for Women by Song Ruozhao, A.D. 8th Century, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 827-831 <|>]

“When walking, don’t turn your head; when talking, don’t open your mouth wide; when sitting, don’t move your knees; when standing, don’t rustle your skirts; when happy, don’t exult withloud laughter; when angry, don’t raise your voice. The inner and outer quarters are each distinct; the sexes should be segregated. Don’t peer over the outer wall or go beyond the outer courtyard. If you have to go outside, cover your face; if you peep outside, conceal yourself as much as possible. Do not be on familiar terms with men outside the family; have nothing to do with women of bad character. Establish your proper self so as to become a [true] human being. <|>

Analects for Women: On Chores and Work


Tang dancer

Song Ruozhao wrote in “Analects for Women”: “Learning How to WorkTo be a woman one must learn the details of women’s work. Learn how to weave with hemp and ramie; don’t mix fine and rough fibers. Don’t run the shuttle of the loom so quickly that you make a mess. When you see the silkworms spinning their cocoons, you must attend to them day and night, picking mulberry leaves to feed them. … Learn how to cut out shoes and make socks. Learn how to cut fabric and sew it into garments. Learn how to embroider, mend, and darn. [Source:“Analects for Women by Song Ruozhao, A.D. 8th Century, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 827-831 <|>]

“Do not learn the ways of lazy women who from an early age are silly and shiftless and who have a distaste for women’s work. They don’t plan ahead in making clothes to fit the needs of each season and hardly ever pick up a needle to sew. … Married, they bring shame upon their new family, who go around in ill-fitted, patched, and ragged clothing, so that meeting others they are pointed to as the laughingstock of the neighborhood...Their inconsiderate manners are displayed to all their neighbors, to the humiliation of theirparents-in-law. Talked about by everyone, how can they not be overcome with shame! <|>

“Rising Early [to Begin Household Work]: To be a woman one must learn to make it a regular practice, at the fifth watch when the cock crows, to rise and dress. After cleaning your face and teeth, fix your hair and makeup simply. Then go to the kitchen, light the fire, and start the morning meal. Scrub the pots and wash the pans; boil the tea water and cook the gruel. Plan your meals according to the resources of the family and the seasons of the year, making sure that they are fragrant and tasty, served in the appropriate dishes and in the proper manner at the table. If you start early, there is nothing you can’t get done in a day! <|>

“Do not learn the ways of those lazy women who are thoughtless and do not plan ahead. The sun is already high in the sky before they manage to get themselves out of bed. Then they stagger to the kitchen, disheveled and unwashed, and throw a meal together, long past the hour. What is more, they are overly fond of eating and compete to get the tastiest morsels at each meal. If there is not enough of the best to go around, they steal some to eat later on the sly. <|>

“Managing the Household: A woman who manages the household should be thrifty and diligent. If she is diligent, the household thrives; if lazy, it declines. If she is thrifty, the household becomes enriched; if extravagant, it becomes impoverished … If your husband has money and rice, store and conserve them. If he has wine or foodstuffs, save and keep them for the use of guests when they come; do not take any to indulge your own desires. Great wealth is a matter of fate and fortune; a little wealth comes from persistent thrift… Thus a couple may be blessed with riches and enjoy life.” <|>

Analects for Women: Proper Etiquette


Song Ruozhao wrote in “Analects for Women”: “Ritual Decorum: Learning Proper Etiquette: To be a woman one must learn the rules of ritual decorum. When you expect a female guest, carefully clean and arrange the furniture and tea implements. When she arrives, take time to adjust your clothing, and then, with light steps and your hands drawn up in your sleeves, walk slowly to the door and with lowered voice, invite her in. Ask after her health and how her family is doing. Be attentive to what she says. After chatting in a leisurely way, serve the tea. When she leaves, send her off in a proper manner.[Source:“Analects for Women by Song Ruozhao, A.D. 8th Century, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 827-831 <|>]

“If you are invited to someone’s house, understand your female duties and help with the preparation of the tea. After having talked for a time, rise to leave. Don’t overstay your welcome. If your hostess presses you to stay longer to share a meal, conduct yourself with propriety. Don’t drink so much that your face turns red and you get sloppy in the handling of your chopsticks. Take your leave before all the food is gone and before you forget your manners. <|>

“Entertaining Guests: Most families have guests. You should have hot water and clean bottles, and keep the table clean and neat, ready for guests. When a guest arrives, serve him tea and then retire to the rear of the hall and await your husband’s orders about the meal. Don’t learn the ways of the lazy woman who doesn’t attend to household matters anyway, so that when a guest arrives, the place is in a mess and she is unprepared to offer him tea right away. She is so flustered that she loses her head. If her husband asks the guest to stay for a meal, she is annoyed and loses her temper. She has chopsticks but no soup spoons, soy sauce but no vinegar. She scolds and slaps the servants around, to her husband’s great chagrin and the guest’s embarrassment.” <|>

Analects for Women: on Parents-in-Law and Husbands


Song Ruozhao wrote in “Analects for Women”: “Serving One’s Parents-in-Law: Your father-in-law and mother-in-law are the heads of your husband’s family … You must care for them as your own father and mother- Respectfully serve your father-in-law. Do not look at him directly [when he speaks to you], do not follow him around, and do not engage him in conversation. If he has an order for you, listen and obey. [Source:“Analects for Women by Song Ruozhao, A.D. 8th Century, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 827-831 <|>]

“When your mother-in-law is sitting, you should stand. When she gives an order, you should carry it out right away. Rise early in the morning and open up the household, but don’t make any noise that would disturb your mother-in-law’s sleep. Sweep and mop the floors, wash and rinse the clothes. When your mother-in-law wakes up, present her with her toiletry articles, withdraw while she bathes until she beckons you. Greet her and then withdraw. Prepare tea and broth; set out spoons and chopsticks. As long known, the aged have poor teeth, so you should be especially careful in the preparation of food for them, so that they might enjoy their old age with all sorts of delicacies, cooked in a manner that allows them to be easily chewed and swallowed. At night before retiring, check to see if they are comfortably settled for the night. Bid them good night and then go to bed. <|>

“Serving a Husband: Women leave their families to marry, and the husband is the master of the household [they marry into]. … The husband is to be firm, the wife soft; conjugal affections follow from this. While at home, the two of you should treat each other with the formality and reserve of a guest. Listen carefully to and obey whatever your husband tells you. If he does something wrong, gently correct him. Don’t be like those women who not only do not correct their husbands but actually lead them into indecent ways. … Don’t imitate those shrewish wives who love to clash head on with their husbands all the time. Take care of your husband’s clothing so that he is never cold in winter, and of his meals so that he never gets thin and sickly from not being fed enough. As a couple, you and your husband share the bitter and the sweet, poverty and riches. In life you share the same bed; in death the same grave. <|>

Analects for Women: Instructing Sons and Daughters

Song Ruozhao wrote in “Analects for Women”: “Most all families have sons and daughters. As they grow and develop, there should be adefinite sequence and order in their education. But the authority/responsibility to instruct them rests solely with the mother. When the sons go out to school, they seek instruction from a teacher who teaches them proper [ritual] form and etiquette, how to chant poetry, how to write essays. [Source:“Analects for Women by Song Ruozhao, A.D. 8th Century, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 827-831 <|>]

“Daughters remain behind in the women’s quarters and should not be allowed to go out very often. … Teach them sewing, cooking, and etiquette. … Don’t allow them to be indulged, lest they throw tantrums to get their own way; don’t allow them to defy authority, lest they become rude and haughty; don’t allow them to sing songs, lest they become dissolute; and don’t allow them to go on outings, lest some scandal spoil their good names. <|>

“Worthy of derision are those who don’t take charge of their responsibility [in this area]. The sons of such women remain illiterate, they poke fun at their elders, they get into fights and drink too much, and they become addicted to singing and dancing. … The daughters of such women know nothing about ritual decorum, speak in an overbearing manner, can’t distinguish between the honorable and the mean, and don’t know how to serve or sew. They bring shame on their honorable relatives and disgrace on their father and mother. Mothers who fail to raise their children correctly are as if they had raised pigs and rats!” <|>

House Instructions of Mr- Yan: On Instructing Children

Yan Zhitui wrote in “House Instructions of Mr. Yan”: “Those of the highest intelligence will develop without being taught; those of great stupidity, even if taught, will amount to nothing; those of medium ability will be ignorant unless taught. [Source:“House Instructions of Mr. Yan (Yanshi Jiaxun)” by Yan Zhitui, A.D. 531-591, from “Sources of Chinese Tradition,” compiled by Wm. Theodore de Bary and Irene Bloom, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 541-546 ^=^]


“The ancient sage kings had rules for prenatal training. Women when pregnant for three months moved from their living quarters to a detached palace where they would not see unwholesome sights nor hear reckless words, and where the tone of music and the flavor of food were controlled by the rules of decorum [rites]. These rules were written on jade tablets and kept in a golden box. After the child was born, imperial tutors firmly made clear filial piety, humaneness, the rites, and rightness to guide and train him. ^=^

“The common people are indulgent and are unable to do this. But as soon as a baby can recognize facial expressions and understand approval and disapproval, training should be begun so that he will do what he is told to do and stop when so ordered. After a few years of this, punishment with the bamboo can be minimized, as parental strictness and dignity mingled with parental love will lead the boys and girls to a feeling of respect and caution and give rise to filial piety. I have noticed about me that where there is merely love without training this result is never achieved. Children eat, drink, speak, and act as they please. Instead of needed prohibitions they receive praise; instead of urgent reprimands they receive smiles. Even when children are old enough to learn, such treatment is still regarded as the proper method. Only after the child has formed proud and arrogant habits do they try to control him. But one may whip the child to death and he will still not be respectful, while the growing anger of the parents only increases his resentment. After he grows up, such a child becomes at last nothing but a scoundrel. Confucius was right in saying, “What is acquired in infancy is like original nature; what has been formed into habits is equal to instinct.” A common proverb says, “Train a wife from her first arrival; teach a son in his infancy.” How true such sayings are! ^=^

“Generally parents’ inability to instruct their own children comes not from any inclination just to let them fall into evil ways but only from parents’ being unable to endure the children’s looks [of unhappiness] from repeated scoldings, or to bear beating them, lest it do damage to the children’s physical being. We should, however, take illness by way of illustration: how can we not use drugs, medicines, acupuncture, or cautery to cure it? Should we then view strictness of reproof and punishment as a form of cruelty to one’s own kith and kin? Truly there is no other way to deal with it. …As for maintaining proper respect between father and son, one cannot allow too much familiarity; in the love among kin, one cannot tolerate impoliteness. If there is impoliteness, then parental solicitude is not matched by filial respect; if there is too much familiarity, it gives rise to indifference and rudeness. ^=^

“Someone has asked why Chen Kang [a disciple of Confucius] was pleased to hear that gentlemen kept their distance from their sons, and the answer is that this was indeed the case; gentlemen did not personally teach their children [because, as Yan goes on to show, there are passages in the classics of a sexual kind, which it would not be proper for a father to teach his sons.] … In the love of parents for children, it is rare that one succeeds in treating them equally. From antiquity to the present there are many cases of this failing. It is only natural to love those who are wise and talented, but those who are wayward and dull also deserve sympathy. Partiality in treatment, even when done out of generous motives, turns out badly.” ^=^

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated November 2016

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