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Lienü Zhuan

One of my favourite classical Chinese books is the 列女傳 (Lienü Zhuan, Biographies of Notable Women) compiled by the famous scholar 劉向 (Liu Xiang) around 20 BCE. I have started translating a few of its chapters.


First of all, this is one of the few works that I can actually understand. Liu Xiang tends to use less obscure phrasing and more coherent narratives than some earlier texts covering the same events, such as the 左傳 (Zuozhuan). The biographical format is also much easier to read than the usual endless moralizing rants that were fashionable at the time.

Second, the stories of Lienü Zhuan are often very colorful. For a truly villainous villain, see the story of Moxi below. The story of Boji is frightening in a different way, she is "not very flexible," as someone put it.

Finally, some notes on the format. I have tried to provide an English translation of the main Lienü Zhuan entry, excluding the concluding "abstract" on verse. Translations of Shijing quotations are taken from Bernhard Karlgren's or James Legge's translations. In some cases there are also Mandarin translations, as a way for me to practice writing modern Chinese. Some Chinese friends have helped me to correct these, but there may still be some mistakes left. The same goes for the English translation. Remember that this is the work of an amateur with a bunch of dictionaries. In the end of each chapter I have provided a list of glosses, which are simply the words and phrases (excluding names) that were unknown to me. Hopefully this will help other beginner/intermediate students. Glosses are usually taken from 古代汉语词典 or Grammata Serica Recensa. At the end of each chapter I add a list of questions that I myself would like to know the answer to. Feel free to answer them, if you can.

When relevant I have also added additional material, such as other versions of the narrative, or more context to quotations from the classics. For these I use James Legge's or Bernhard Karlgren's translations.

The source of the text is the electronic edition at Project Gutenberg, with occasional corrections from the University of Virginia Chinese Text Initiative (although their main text contains many errors, they also have a scanned print edition---with illustrations!)



宋恭伯姬 (Bo Ji)


夏桀末喜 (Mo Xi)
殷紂妲己 (Da Ji)
周幽褒姒 (Bao Si)
衛宣公姜 (Jiang of Duke Xuan)
魯桓文姜 (Wen Jiang)
魯莊哀姜 (Ai Jiang)
晉獻驪姬 (Li Ji)
魯宣繆姜 (Mu Jiang)
陳女夏姬 (Xia Ji)
齊靈聲姬 (Sheng Ji)
齊東郭姜 (Dongguo Jiang)
衛二亂女 (Two Reckless Women of Wei)
楚考李后 (Queen Li)
趙悼倡后 (The Singer Queen)