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Chinese Cultural Studies:
Reading Guide
Daughter of Han


Ida Pruitt, A Daughter of Han: The Autobiography of a Chinese Working Woman by Ida Pruitt from the Story Told Her by Ning Lao T'ai t'ai, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1945, repr. Stanford CA; Stanford University Press, 1967)

It is customary in surveys of Chinese culture to read extracts from the various Chinese classics, the product of Chinese elite culture. In this module we shall also read A Daughter of Han, a book which, via the American writer Ida Pruitt, presents the autobiography of a Chinese working woman. In this way we shall gain a small insight into the China of the poor, of women, and of the provinces. Ning Lao T'ai-tai is also interesting as she lived in the period, the late 19th to mid 20th century, during which China underwent its most dramatic changes.

Your responsibility here is to read the entire book and answer the following questions. This will also help you prepare to talk about the book in class. You should make sure to compare information you find about Chinese women in Ning Lao T’ai-t’ai’s book with the information in the other assigned readings on Chinese men and women.

 

Questions for Class Discussion

1. The Book: Explain the origins of A Daughter of Han [Who wrote it? Why? When?]. What is the genre of the book? Who is the intended audience.

2. The Setting: When did Ning Lao T'ai-t'ai live? In which city? In which part of China? How typical/atypical does this make her as a representative of Chinese working women in the 19th century?

3. Class Issues: What are the bases for social stratification in Ning's world? What different levels of social class can you identify? Was class the only basis of social distinction? How educated was Ning? What was her attitude to highly educated people?

4. Gender Issues: How does a girl's life differ from a boy's? When do these differences first become apparent? What happens at a wedding? In your answer explain what happens to the woman, to the man, and to the family? How much power did a woman have within a marriage?

5. Beliefs: What is Ning's religion? If this question is to difficult, explain what she thinks of gods, spirits, demons, luck, dreams, and temples? What is Ning's position on Christianity and Christian missions?

6. Cultural tropes: What is "face"? Why is it so important? What is the role of opium in Chinese society?