Paul Halsall

Brooklyn College/Core Studies 9

Daughter of Han Exercise


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 exercise 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 do not need to read anything else but A Daughter of Han for this exercise, but you do need to read the book itself very carefully. Document your comments and answers by referring to specific page numbers in parentheses (p. 10 - for example). In all other respects, your layout should conform to the Stylesheet included with Course Packet I. Remember that there is no need to quote the book. Each question should take up about one to two pages. If you can combine both questions into an indepth answer, you will be given extra credit.

  1. In what ways does A Daughter of Han illustrate Chinese concepts of femininity?

  2. In what ways does A Daughter of Han illustrate the process of modernization in China?


Questions for Class Discussion

[Not for inclusion in the written exercise, but to prepare you for the questions we will discuss in class]

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 dod 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?