Notes and Commentary on Lieh-nü-chuan (『列女傳』), I
Liu Hsiang (劉向, 79-8 B.C.), Confucianist in the closing period of Qian Han (前漢), is well known for his compilation of a classified catalogue of the old books owned by the court library. Moreover, he published a number of books himself, which include Lieh-nü-chuan (『列女傳』), Xin-xu (『新序』) and Shuo-yuan (『説苑』). They are all moral stories gleaned from classics and edited on the Confucian principles.
Lieh-nü-chuan is the first biographies of women in China, and is worthy of note in that it advocates how women should live in the feudal society. The author classifies women, according to their personalities, into seven types, i.e. mu-yi (母儀), xian-wing (賢明), ren-zhi (仁智), chen-shun (貞順), jie-yi (節義), bian-tong (辯通) and nie-bi (孼嬖); and he makes brief comments on each type from the Confucian point of view.
It is true that the book was utilized for the purpose of controlling women's characters in various ways; but it is to be highly valued from the viewpoint of the history of Confucianism, since before that time very little had been written about women's social role as compared with that of men. Liu Hsiang prescribed in this book, for the first time, women's social role distinct from men's, and clearly defined women's social status in the light of the Confucian outlook on mankind. Consequently, with the publication of Lieh-nü-chuan, Confucianism reached the more solid stage as a precept on which the world is kept in order and improved.