Consort Ban (c. 48 – c. 6 BCE), or Ban Jieyu (班婕妤), also known as Lady Ban, was a Chinese scholar and poet during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 23 CE). Jieyu was a title for a third-rank palace lady, one rank below concubines.
Consort Ban started as a junior maid, became a concubine of Emperor Chengdi and quickly rose to prominence at court. She bore him two sons, but both died in infancy. Once she declined an invitation to ride in a palanquin because she feared to distract him from matters of state. She was also renowned as a great scholar, able to recite poems from the Shi Jing and a lot of other texts.
Because neither the Empress Xu nor Consort Ban produced him an heir, the Empress Dowager Wang Zhengjun encouraged him to take more concubines. Around 19 BCE, however, Emperor Cheng took a liking to the dancing girl Zhao Feiyan and her sister Zhao Hede. They were both made concubines and he favored them over Empress Xu and Consort Ban. In 18 BCE both the Empress and Consort Ban were accused of witchcraft. Empress Xu was put under house arrest away from court, but Consort Ban pleaded her case. She used citations of Confucius and made a speech that impressed the emperor and he allowed her to stay at court. She then chose to become a lady in waiting to the Empress Dowager, instead of remaining consort to the Emperor. Consort Ban became part of the emperor’s funeral park after his death in 7 BCE and died a year later.
She “is accredited with two fu poems” but is best known for the famous poem attributed to her (“Yuan Ge Xing” or “Song of Resentment”), in which she compares herself to a discarded autumn fan, it deals with her sorrow at having been abandoned by the Emperor and is written in the yuefu style of poetry. However, there is a certain historical doubt about the attribution of this song to her, especially since it is not mentioned in her grand-nephew Ban Gu’s autobiography of her, the poems attributed to her, or written in her persona, have remained in circulation in the many centuries after her death.