Imagery used by male local literati to describe the North China Famine of 1876-1879 demonstrates how Confucian ideals and the Chinese family system in the late imperial era should have shaped the moral dilemmas that famine imposed upon women. Local-level Chinese texts about famine place young wives and daughters in physically, morally, and sexually precarious positions during the disaster, but depict elderly mothers as persons with strong claims to a family's dwindling food supply. Demographic studies of famine and gender and observations made by foreign observers, however, call into question the assumption that Chinese families discriminated against young women when dividing a famished household's food supply. They further suggest that the burgeoning trade in women in some cases enabled young women to survive the disaster more successfully than their male counterparts. This article adds a local-level Chinese perspective to the ongoing dialogue on the "feminization of famine."