Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD)
Compared with other later dynasties in China, Han girls were relatively free in public life. Girls were welcome to engage in industries such as business, medicine, divination, and performance. Girls from royal families also could be conferred a rank of nobility. For example, Emperor Guangwu once conferred his three granddaughters as “Little State Sovereigns”. However, the Han Dynasty also witnessed that Confucianism affected the cultural construct of girlhood when Confucian moral values, which demanded girls to be chaste and obedient, gradually became the mainstream of society.
Ever since Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty who chose Confucianism as the mainstream philosophy of China, Confucianism-led education began to invade the construct of girlhood. The right to public education became no longer available to girls, and they could only receive family education. Confucianism advocates the idea that women as homemakers are inferior to men who are breadwinner. Therefore, the goal of female education was to instruct a girl to put her heart and soul into supporting the intellectual and professional development of their male relatives-their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons.
In Western Han Dynasty, Lie Nu Zhuan, a collective biography of female historical figures, introduced girl readers to six types of virtues. Being loving, thoughtful, and chaste were among the most important virtues that girls were expected to possess. Another classic reading for girls was Nv Jie, written by Ban Zhao, a female scholar in the Eastern Han Dynasty. She believed that women should give priority to assisting their husbands. Girlhood became a site to instill the ideology of proper female behaviors, and these values reincarnated into countless moral books and stories for girls of future generations.