One impressive feature of Chinese society that is central to A Daughter of Han is the largely underappreciated struggle of Chinese women to depart from traditional gender roles and determine their fate. Mistress Ning is born and raised in a difficult family life, and internalizes early on the path to marriage that is expected of her. Mistress Ning learns to embrace and find freedom within, rather than reject her married life outright. She salvages her husband and two daughters from homelessness, using her maternal role to empower rather than restrict herself.
The novel also illuminates the extreme cultural importance of honor in China and how it reflects different people's values and conceptions of what is morally good. For example, Mistress Ning realizes she cannot find "honorable" work unless she works as a housemaid, conceiving of work as something that is tied to self-worth. Her husband, meanwhile, sells one of their daughters, Chinya, out of a fear of falling into a dishonorable economic state. The two turn out to have starkly different definitions of "honor," which function to obfuscate the value systems that are really at work.