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The Confucian Four Books for Women

A New Translation of the Nü Shishu and the Commentary of Wang Xiang

Translated with introductions and notes by Ann A. Pang-White

May 2018

ISBN: 9780190460891

344 pages

Price: £23.49



This volume brings the first English translation of the Confucian classics, Four Books for Women, to the English-speaking world with extensive commentary by the compiler, Wang Xiang, and annotations by the translator. As a female counterpart to the famous Sishu (Four Books) compiled by Zhu Xi, Wang Xiang's Nü sishu was an indispensable primer for women's education from its publication in the 16th century until the beginning of the 20th century. This work provides an invaluable look at the long-standing history and evolution of Chinese women's writing, education, identity, and philosophical discourse, along with their struggles and triumphs, across the millenniums and numerous Chinese dynasties.

  • First complete English translation of the Confucian Four Books for Women
  • Reveals the history and evolution of Chinese women's writing, education, identity, and philosophical discourse over a span of 1,600 years
  • Includes commentary, annotations, and introductions by the original compiler and the translator

About the Author(s)

Translated with introductions and notes by Ann A. Pang-White, Professor of Philosophy, University of Scranton

Ann A. Pang-White is Professor of Philosophy and Founding Director of Asian Studies at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She is the editor of Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Chinese Philosophy and Gender (2016) and the author of over a dozen articles on Chinese and comparative philosophy as well as medieval philosophy.

Table of Contents

    Note on Editions, Commentaries, and Translation
    Chronology of Chinese Dynasties
    Essential Classic Chinese Terms with Corresponding English Translation
    Introduction: Uncovering the Confucian Four Books for Women: Why Nü sishu? Why Now?
    I. The Han Women: Ban Zhao and the Lessons for Women (c. 45-117)
    Wang Xiang's Biographic Introduction of Ban Zhao
    Original Preface to This Work by Ban Zhao
    Chapter 1 The Lowly and the Weak
    Chapter 2 Husband and Wife
    Chapter 3 Respect and Compliance
    Chapter 4 Women's Conduct
    Chapter 5 One-Mindedness
    Chapter 6 Conceding Obedience
    Chapter 7 Harmony with Younger Brothers-and-Sisters-in-Law
    II. The Tang Women: The Song Sisters and the Analects for Women (?-820/825)
    Wang Xiang's Biographic Introduction of the Song Sisters
    Original Preface to This Work by the Song Sisters
    Chapter 1 Establishing One's Person
    Chapter 2 Learning the Work
    Chapter 3 Learning the Rituals
    Chapter 4 Rising Early
    Chapter 5 Serving One's Parents
    Chapter 6 Serving Parents-in-Law
    Chapter 7 Serving One's Husband
    Chapter 8 Instructing Boys and Girls
    Chapter 9 Managing the Household
    Chapter 10 Hosting Guests
    Chapter 11 Harmony and Gentleness
    Chapter 12 Guarding One's Integrity
    III. The Ming Imperial Women: Empresses Renxiaowen and the Teachings for the Inner Court (1361-1407)
    Wang Xiang's Biographic Introduction of Empress Renxiaowen
    Original Preface to this Work by Empress Renxiaowen
    Chapter 1 Virtuous Nature
    Chapter 2 Self-Cultivation
    Chapter 3 Prudent Speech
    Chapter 4 Careful Conduct
    Chapter 5 Diligence
    Chapter 6 Frugality
    Chapter 7 Watchfulness
    Chapter 8 Accumulating Good Deeds
    Chapter 9 Becoming Good
    Chapter 10 Revering Sagely Teachings
    Chapter 11 Admiring Wise Role Models
    Chapter 12 Serving One's Parents
    Chapter 13 Serving One's Ruler
    Chapter 14 On Serving Parents-in-Law
    Chapter 15 Performing Religious Rites
    Chapter 16 Model Motherhood
    Chapter 17 Friendly Relationship with Family Clans
    Chapter 18 Benevolent Love for the Young
    Chapter 19 Treating Imperial Concubines
    Chapter 20 Treating Imperial Consorts' Maternal Relatives
    IV. The Ming Women: Madame Liu and the Short Records of Models for Women (c. 16th century)
    Wang Xiang's Biographic Introduction of His Mother, Madame Liu
    Chapter 1 Unifying Thesis
    Chapter 2 Queenly Virtues
    Chapter 3 Model Motherhood
    Chapter 4 Filial Conduct
    Chapter 5 Chastity and Ardency
    Chapter 6 Loyalty and Righteousness
    Chapter 7 Benevolent Love
    Chapter 8 Upholding Ritual Propriety
    Chapter 9 Wisdom
    Chapter 10 Diligence and Frugality
    Chapter 11 Talent and Virtue
    Appendix: Liu Xiang's Biographies of Women vis-à-vis Wang Xiang's Four Books for Women: Comparative Timelines and Categories of Women's Virtue


"Ann Pang-White's recent work, The Confucian Four Books for Women: A New Translation of the Nü Sishu and the Commentary of Wang Xiang, is a gift for Anglophone scholarship on Chinese philosophy and religion. It is also a major step for feminist reclamation...As it stands, the text is an incredible resource to both scholars and teachers, and I hope to see many using it to reread and reappropriate Confucian canons in new and interesting ways." - Sarah Mattice, University of North Florida, Reading Religion

"Pang-White has truly done a superb job here. This first complete translation...is not to be missed in any serious collection on Confucianism and premodern East Asian/Chinese culture." - Lukas Pokorny, University of Vienna, Religious Studies Review

"Pang-White's new translation is an admirable acheivement. It is significant to the field because of its historical value as well as the value to contemporary feminist discourse suggested by Pang-White." - Guotong Li, California State University, Long Beach, Journal of Chinese Religions

"With this complete translation of the Four Books for Women, Ann A. Pang-White fills a longstanding and embarrassing gap in Western literature on traditional China. Her decision to include the commentary by the late-Ming literatus Wang Xiang adds immensely to the collection by affording a glimpse of its reception at the turn of the seventeenth century. The texts are preceded by Pang-White's thoughtful and evenhanded discussion of not only their historical value, but also their place in contemporary feminist discourse." - Paul R. Goldin, Professor of Chinese Thought, University of Pennsylvania, author of Confucianism