Asian Girl Problem #32: The Proverbial Womanly Wiles

I don’t know much about ancient, legendary Chinese figures. There’s Confucious, the bloodthirsty leader Qinshihuang who built part of the Great Wall and other wonders, that rabbit lady who lives in the moon, and Yangguifei. I’ve always liked Yangguifei the most, since my grandparents would call me that when I was younger.

Yangguifei was one of the Four Beauties of Ancient China (at the very right), so yeah I grew up a little vain–but it’s pretty impossible for a Chinese girl with a bowl cut to stay vain when she lives in Ohio.

Basically, all stories about Yangguifei revolve around her beauty. As the favorite consort of the emperor, she had 700 seamstresses, had lychee delivered to her on horseback from the south, and give or take a billion tributes made depicting her “fleshy” figure. Some say she was executed for distracted the emperor from his responsibilities.

Intrigued by the strict gender roles of my parents’ generation, I researched “The Classic for Girls” the other day. It’s a short book of simple lessons all Chinese people are familiar with, and still often used for educating young people (the boys have their own version). A mother goose rhyme for all matter of pleasing your parents, husband, children and keeping your head vacant, if you will.

Some gems include:

You should rise from bed, as early in the morning as the sun,
Nor retire at evening’s closing, till your work is wholly done.
Then by wrapping in a towel,
So that clean your hair may keep,
You should early take your brushes and should neatly dust and sweep.
Pay particular attention that the dust may not arise,
Clean your own apartments neatly, and ’twill glad your parents’ eyes.

“Girls are difficult to manage,”
This is often said as true,
So from youth til grown to teach them is the best that we can do.
If she disregards instruction and refuses to be good,
Husband’s parents will abuse her, as indeed they often should.
Girls have three on whom dependent, All their lives they must expect,
While at home to follow father, who a husband will select,
With her husband live in concord from the day that she is wed,
And her son’s directions follow if her husband should be dead.

Have you ever learned the reason
For the binding of your feet ?
‘Tis from fear that ’twill be easy to go out upon the street..
It is not that they are handsome when thus like a crooked bow,
That ten thousand wraps and bindings are enswathed around them so.


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