Asian History

Ida Pruitt, Daughter of Han

Understanding life in another culture and another time is not an easy task. The autobiography Ida Pruitt, Daughter of Han sheds an excessive amount of light on the poverty stricken society of China. This book is filled with morbidity and the darkness that transpires in a lawless society. The place and time was prior to Japan attaching China so pre World War II.  Pruitt’s book is a secondary historical source because it is written from a secondary perspective as dictated by the main character Ning.  There is a significant amount of historical relevance to the Chinese culture presented as well.  The Daughter of Han is a great book that allows others to see what it would be like to live in China during this time period.

This book dictates the very obvious gender dominance that took place in this society. It holds a significant amount of historical themes and issues that were prevalent during this time.  The ideologies of Confucianism cultivate the mind to the proper role of the boys and girls in society. The upper-class received their education, the lower class had to fend for them and figure out what was right and wrong. McEwan validated this historical issue when he explained, “The writings and instruction of the Confucians aimed at bringing about the cultivation of these- natural capacities the innate capacities for Humanity, Righteousness, Ritual, Behaviour, Wisdom, and Good Faith.“ (McEwan, 1)  It set the precedence for what was acceptable during this time period.  This narrative story was a first-hand look Ning Lao Tai-Tai’s life as a poor woman in late-Imperial China.

The men of the lower-class had a much easier time to follow the expectation of Confucian values with the exception of being in contact with women.  In the situations of lower class, women did not have the option to stay in separate quarters, they were lucky to have housing in general.  Many women had to take jobs working in houses and doing jobs around men as a means to provide for their families.  The upper-class workers allowed the women to stay at home while the men worked to support the family.  This description holds historical relevance as well.  As explained, “These moral assumptions are to be more explicitly found in the religions and philosophies of China, but also generally govern cultural values, even if not explicitly recognized.” (Graham, 49)  Money may have been a big factor for being able to follow the cultural values and beliefs, but it was still equally important to the lower-class as well.

Ning explained that the lower class women still held the values dictated by Confucian of great importance.  During this time period this says a lot, because women did not know much outside of what they were told.  “We women knew nothing but to comb our hair and bind our feet and wait at home for our men. When my mother had been hungry she had sat at home and waited for my father to bring her food, so when I was hungry I waited at home for my husband to bring me food.” (Pruitt, 55)  Since her husband was opium addict, she had no choice but to take a job outside of the house to provide a home, food and clothing for her children. The jobs consisted of house cleaning, street sales person, begging and any other job that helped her raise money.  Ning had two children who survived by the man she called, old opium sot.  Much like her father did to her, Ning also married her daughter to an opium addict as well.  The opium epidemic was also a historical issue as well.  Several parties battled to keep the domestic and imported production.  It has resulted in tens of millions of individuals becoming addicted to the opium.

This book tells of Ning Lao Tai Tai and her living through many different portions of relative history.  This was there during the fall of the Qing Dynasty.  This is when the Japanese occupied northern China in an attempt to capture some of the power.  She also experiences Guomintang all the way till the Communist took over.  It also made a very important historical presentation regarding Ida Pruitt and her need to leave China.  When the communist defeated the Guomintang it was no longer safe for foreigners to live there and Ida needed to leave.  The part of this book that almost came across incomplete did never know how Ning Lao Tai Tai’s life ended. The reader was able to follow her story from birth, her growing up and adulthood, and all the historical changes that she had to live through, then not knowing the ending.  The end of the book tells of the granddaughter who was going to the countryside to fight the communist. She was a teacher and had been sent to the US for one year to learn how to teach as mandated by the Chinese government.  There was no indication if she was successful or not. During the Cultural Revolution is would have been extremely hard for her to survive.  So even if she made it through, she would have been imprisoned for being a teacher.


Graham, Angus C.  “Disputers of the Tao”. La Salle, IL Open Court, 1989.  Print.

McEwan J. R. “The Confucian Ideology and the Modernization of Japan”.  The Developing  Economies, 2007.  Print.

Pruitt, Ida.  “ A Daughter of Han:  The Autobiography of a Chinese Working Women”.  Martino Fine Books, 2011.  Print.