Chinese female painters in the imperial era are scarcely recorded by historiographers and largely disregarded by art critics. According to the Confucian doctrines that regulated people’s social ethics, they were subordinate to the household’s male head. The featured story focuses on nine female painters living in the late imperial period (16th-18th century). They were the daughters and wives of renowned painters or prominent families living in high cultural environments, or women of humble origins, often courtesans, who sought to improve their cultural attainments in hopes of raising their social class or to better communicate with their intellectual male clients. Despite the ethical restrictions and a lack of breakthrough in terms of subject matter and individuality, they showed extraordinary understanding of classic aesthetics. Their repertoire covers landscape, bird-and-flower and narrative scenes, rendered in elegant and delicate styles unique to women’s self-expression. Their works of art are an integral part of China’s painting legacy.