March 8 2010
Women’s Education in Ancient China
The Reasons and Ways For Women’s Education in Ancient China
Those female characters in the book “the Story of the Stone” were almost contained all kinds of women in Qing dynasty. From the most underclass farmer like Grannie Liu to the upper class women like Lin Dai-yu and Wang Xi-feng, they were just like a mirror which reflects the real women in that era. The elite women like Lin Dai-yu and Xue Bao-chai in the novel the Story of the Stone were intelligent on making poems. That kind of women had powerful family background. Their father or male older members in the family were high rank government officers or rich business man. As a result, their families were rich and powerful, so that they could let their children to be well educated. But the question here was why those women were educated and how they were educated? The purposes of education of ancient Chinese Women were scholarly family background of women, making a living, and to get a good marriage. And those women were educated by female teachers, relatives, or by themselves.
In ancient China, saying “absence of talent in a woman is synonymous with virtue” is a popular value at that time. People thought that only those women who were not been educated could be a noble one, and education would make women to be bad, bring disaster to the society. So in ancient China, most women were illiteracy, and only a few women from rich families could have the chance to be educated due to family reason. For example, Li Qingzhao was the most famous one among ancient female scholar in ancient China, and her family was very rich at that time. So education for women was very luxury, and only rich families could support their young daughters to be educated. But why rich families wanted their daughters to be educated? There were couples of reasons.
First, the scholar family background of a woman leaded her to be educated. Although there were not existed any schools for girls at that time, but those girls from rich families could be taught by the private teachers hired by their rich families. The materials used by the teachers for teaching was Si Shu and Wu Jin which were long historical famous reading in China. The contexts of those books were moral principals or ideas to be a perfect human being. That kind of readings was most widely used to teach students in ancient China. Men in ancient China need to be educated so that they can go to take part in the government officer examination. If they pass the examination, they would have the chance to take part in the politics. But the situation was totally different for women at that time, because they were not allowed to be government officers. So women didn’t have such a clear purpose of education like men had. That was why all most all the elite women came from rich families, but the elite men were not, some of them born in rich families and others were poor. Because fathers of those elite women were those government officers who got their positions by studying hard and passing the civil examination, so they knew the power of education, they got a lot from education. That was why they want their daughters to be educated even there was no such a way for women to be a government officer.
For example, the most famous female poem in Chinese history, Li Qing-zhao, she came from a government officer family. Her father was a scholar and a government officer, and he was also a friend of the master Su shi who was one of the best poems in Chinese history all time. So for that reason, it seems normal that Li Qing-zhao would be an elite woman due to her family background.
Second, women could learn some skills to make a live. Education for women in ancient China might include arts like music and painting, not always should be what Chinese men used to learn like The Four Books and The Five Classics. In ancient China, skillful women could be an artist called