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(By Pan Chao, from Nancy Lee Swann’s Foremost Women Scholars in China, ( NY: Russell & Russell, 1968, pp. 82-60; abridged Copyright 1932 by Princeton University Library. Reprinted by permission.)

Editor’s Introduction:
The story of Meng Hsiang-ying frequently refers to the “old rules.” Let us go to an early source of those rules, the famous “Lessons for Women,” by Pan Chao, who is sometimes called the most famous woman scholar in China. She wrote the “lessons” for her daughters in the first century A.D. They were based on the customs and values handed down through the centuries, and for nearly two thousand years they continued to be the standard for proper conduct for every young lady. As you read them, try to imagine what a similar essay called “Rules for Men” might prescribe.

HUMILITYOn the third day after the birth of a girl, the ancients observed three customs: (1) to place the baby below the bed; (2) to give her a potsherd with which to play; and (3) to announce her birth to the ancestors by an offering. Now, to lay the baby below the bed plainly indicated that she was lowly and weak and should regard it as her primary duty to humble herself before others. To give her potsherd with which to play signified she should practice labor and 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.

These three ancient customs epitomize a woman’s ordinary way of life and the teachings of the traditional ceremonial rites and regulations. Let a woman modestly yield to others; let her respect others; let her put others first, herself last. Should she do something good, let her not mention it; should she do something bad, let her not deny it. Let her bear disgrace; let her even endure when others speak or do evil to her. Always let her seem to tremble and to fear. Then she may be said to humble herself before others.

Let a woman retire late to bed, but rise early to duties; let her not dread tasks by day or by night. Let her not refuse to perform domestic duties whether easy or difficult. That which must be done, let her finish it quickly, tidily and systematically. Then she may be said to be industrious.

Let a woman be correct in manner and upright in character in order to serve her husband. Let her live in purity and quietness [of spirit] and attend to her own affairs. Let her love not gossip and silly laughter. Let her cleanse and purify and arrange in order the wine and food for the offerings to the ancestors. Then she be said to continue ancestral worship.

No woman who observes these three [fundamentals of life] has ever had a bad reputation or fallen into disgrace. If a woman fails to observe them, how can her name be honored; how can she but bring disgrace upon herself.


If a husband does not control his wife, then the rules of conduct manifesting his authority are abandoned and broken. If a wife does not serve her husband, then the proper relationship [between men and women] and the natural order of things are neglected and destroyed.


If a husband and wife have the habit of staying together, never leaving one another and following each other around within the limited space of their own rooms, then they will lust after and take liberties with one another. From such action improper language will arise between the two. One of licentiousness will be born a heart of disrespect to the husband. Such a result comes from not knowing that one should stay in one’s proper place


A woman [ought to] have four qualifications: (1) womanly virtue; (2) womanly words; (3) womanly bearing; and (4) womanly work

To guard carefully her chastity; to control her behavior; in every motion to exhibit modesty; and to model each act on the best usage – this is womanly virtue.

To choose her words with care; to avoid vulgar language; to speak at appropriate times; and not to weary other [with much conversation] may be called the characteristic of womanly words.

To wash and scrub filth away; to keep clothes and ornaments fresh and clean; to wash the head and bathe the body regularly, and to keep the person free from disgraceful filth may be called the characteristics of womanly bearing.

With wholehearted devotion to sew and weave; to love not gossip and silly laughter; in cleanliness and order [to prepare] the wine and food for serving guests may be called the characteristics of womanly work.

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 posses if a woman only treasure them in her heart. The ancients had a saying: “Is love far off? If I desire love, then love is at hand!” So can be said of these qualifications.


Now in the “Rites” is written the principal that a husband marries again, but there is no Canon that authorizes a woman to be married the second time. Therefore it is said of husbands as of Heaven, that as certainly as people cannot run away from Heaven, so surely a wife cannot leave [a husband’s home]

The ancient book “A Pattern for Women” says: “To obtain the love of one man is the crown of a woman’s life: to lose the love one man is to miss the aim in woman’s life.”


Whenever the mother-in-law says, “Do not do that,” and if what she says is right, unquestionably the daughter-in-law obeys. Whenever the mother-in-law says, “do that,” even if what she says is wrong, still the daughter-in-law submits unfailingly to the command.

Let a woman not act contrary to the wishes and the opinions of parents-in-law about right and wrong; let her not dispute with them what is straight and what is crooked.