An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

Ban Jieyu 班婕妤

Dec 29, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Ban Jieyu 班婕妤 (48-6 BCE), whose personal name is not known (jieyu is the rank of a court lady, meaning "Lady of Handsome Fairness"), was a famous writer of the late Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE). She hailed from Loufan 樓煩 (modern Wuning 武寧, Shanxi) and belonged to the same family as the early Later Han-period 後漢 (25-220 CE) historian Ban Gu 班固.

Lady Ban received an excellent education and learned reading and writing. She started writing poems and rhapsodies at an early age. When Emperor Cheng 漢成帝 (r. 33-7 BCE) mounted the throne, she became a court lady, first serving in lower positions, but then she was promoted to the rank of jieyu and became a favourite of the emperor.

Yet Emperor Cheng soon met the dancers Zhao Feiyan 趙飛燕 and her sister and lost his head for her. Zhao Feiyan slandered Lady Ban, so that the emperor decided to demote her, along with his main consort, Empress Xu 許皇后. Lady Ban asked to be allowed to serve the Empress Dowager in the Changxin Palace 長信宫.

During that time her literary productivity was very great, and most of the famous poems of her were written during that time, like Daosu fu 搗素賦, or Yuange xing 怨歌行.

Mao Zhengzheng 毛錚錚 (1995). "Ban Jieyu 班婕妤", in Lu Leshan 盧樂山, ed. Zhongguo nüxing baike quanshu 中國女性百科全書, Wenhua jiaoyu 文化教育 (Shenyang: Dongbei daxue chubanshe), 473.