Biographies of Exemplary Women

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Biographies of Exemplary Women
An 11th-century woodblock print of the book
Author Liu Xiang
Original title 列女傳 (Liènǚ Zhuàn)
Country Han Dynasty China
Language Classical Chinese
Genre Biography
Publication date
c. 18 BC

The Biographies of Exemplary Women (Chinese: 列女傳; pinyin: Liènǚ Zhuàn) is a book compiled by the Han Dynasty scholar Liu Xiang c. 18 BC. It includes 125 biographical accounts of exemplary women in ancient China, taken from early Chinese histories including Chun Qiu, Zuo Zhuan, and the Records of the Grand Historian. The book served as a standard Confucianist textbook for the moral education of women in traditional China for two millennia.


The idealized biographies are divided into eight scrolls, including the eighth addendum from an unknown editor, as shown below.

Chapter Chinese Translation
1 母 儀 傳 Matronly Models
2 賢 明 傳 The Worthy and Enlightened
3 仁 智 傳 The Benevolent and Wise
4 貞 順 傳 The Chaste and Obedient
5 節 義 傳 The Principled and Righteous
6 辯 通 傳 The Accomplished Speakers
7 孽 嬖 傳 Depraved Favorites
8 續 列 女 傳 Supplemental Biographies

This book follows the lièzhuàn (列傳 "arrayed biographies") biographical format established by the Chinese historian Sima Qian. The word liènǚ (列女 "famous women in history") is sometimes understood as liènǚ (烈女 " women martyrs"), which Neo-Confucianists used to mean "woman who commits suicide after her husband's death rather than remarry; woman who dies defending her honor".

The online Chinese Text Initiative at the University of Virginia provides an e-text edition of the Lienu Zhuan, including both digitized Chinese content and images of a Song Dynasty woodblock edition with illustrations by Gu Kaizhi 顧凱之 (c. 344-405 CE) of the Jin Dynasty.

Biographies included

  1. The mother of Mencius (孟子)
  2. Zheng Mao (鄭瞀)
  3. Consort Ban (班婕妤), Scholar and poet
  4. Empress Zhao Feiyan (趙飛燕) (c. 32 BC – 1 BC), empress from 16 BC until 7 BC
  5. Empress Wang (王皇后) (8 BC – 23 AD), last empress of the Western Han
  6. Empress Ma (馬皇后) (40–79 AD), empress from the year 60 until her death in 79

See also


  • Carlitz, Katherine. (1991). "The Social Uses of Female Virtue in Late Ming Editions of Lienu Zhuan." Late Imperial China 12.2: 117-48.
  • Raphals, Lisa. (1998). Sharing the Light: Representations of Women and Virtue in Early China. SUNY Press.
  • O'Hara, Albert Richard, tr. (1945). The position of woman in early China: according to the Lieh nu chuan, "The biographies of Chinese women". Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press. 1955 reprint. Hong Kong: Orient Publishing Co. 1980 reprint. Westport, CT: Hyperion Press.

External links