Article of Interest: “Instructions to Women” by Olivia Milburn

Milburn, Olivia. “Instructions to Women: Admonitions Texts for a Female Readership in Early China”, NAN NÜ 20, 2: 169-197, doi:


The texts written for the instruction of women in ancient China are some of the earliest examples of didactic sources aimed at a female readership to be produced anywhere in the world. The oldest surviving texts in the transmitted tradition date to the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). However, in 2010, Peking University acquired a cache of manuscripts written on bamboo, one of which, the Jiaonü (Instructions to women), predates these Han dynasty admonitions texts by several centuries. This paper provides a full translation of this important text, a discussion of the historical and cultural context in which it was produced, and examines its relationship with the later similar works in the transmitted tradition. The Jiaonü throws new light on the way in which women were educated in appropriate gender roles in ancient China.

5 replies on “Article of Interest: “Instructions to Women” by Olivia Milburn”

  1. This is the third time that you have blogged a link to an ‘article of interest’ that is behind a paywall for anyone who does not have some form of institutional access. I mention this because I have just been reading an article that includes the observation “if members of the public tried to read new academic research, they would very quickly hit paywalls”. I am a member of the public whose ability to pursue an interest in Chinese philosophy is greatly limited by journal publishers’ paywalls and many book publishers’ extortionate cover prices.

    • Dear John — This is a complicated issue, because one has to sympathize with publishers’ efforts to find a viable economic model in rapidly changing circumstances. Academic libraries are generally open to members of the public and thus provide access to journals — whether hard copy or, increasingly, through on-line access.

  2. Dear Steve — Thank you for responding to my comment. I am glad that some journal publishers do facilitate limited sharing of content, and I am grateful to you for drawing attention to such content on this site. For example, your recent link to the contents of Volume 41 of Early China resulted in my reading one article online because it was partly concerned with a topic of interest to me, so I now know a little more about a little more. From my point of view (having first taken an independent interest in China when there were far fewer resources available online) academia’s most helpful initiative in recent years has been the provision of alumni access to much of the older material archived on JSTOR.

    • If you can’t get a hold of the article through a library, you can also try to locate the author’s contact information and send an email. May or may not work. Also, some authors make their work available, or requests for their work available, through or

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