Eunuchs in China


July 1, 2022

The eunuchs in China existed in the courts of virtually all the rulers of Chinese states and empires. Many rulers used eunuchs not only to operate their harems, but also to perform various tasks of an economic and political nature, so that they sometimes played important roles in the administration of the state. In some cases, especially during the reigns of juvenile monarchs, eunuchs held key positions in government. Castration in China involved the removal of both the testicles and the penis, both of which were cut off at the same time with a knife.

Sources of eunuchs

The ruling court, or other lords, could obtain eunuchs in various ways: of boys captured in wars (in the Ming period, 14th-17th centuries, wars associated with the expulsion of the Mongols from China and the establishment of the Ming state, the war in Vietnam in the early 15th century, wars with the Miao and Yao tribes in the southwest), castrated and delivered to the royal court. Some of the eunuchs thus obtained were sometimes dismantled by local dignitaries; castration could be one of the punishments, including for political offenses; eunuchs, like concubines, often sent rulers of neighboring countries to Chinese rulers as a tribute; the poor castrated themselves or castrated their sons, hoping to be served at the royal court and escape from poverty. If the eunuchs reached a higher status at court, they helped their families. In some Chinese states and periods, such voluntary castration was possible and regulated by the state; his grandson, Emperor Chung-si, considered such voluntary eunuchs as breadwinners and sent them to the border troops. However, this did not deter poor people without life prospects in the wider hinterland of Beijing, and since the 1970s, neutered eunuchs have come to apply for work in the Forbidden City in tens and hundreds, and in the lateming period in the thousands. They were unsure of success, but in the 16th and early 17th centuries, the emperors, fearing unrest caused by crowds of thousands of otherwise unemployable castrates, admitted them en masse from time to time and eventually distributed them to princes of the imperial family.

Numbers and influence of eunuchs

The importance of the eunuchs stemmed from their close and regular contact with the monarch, whose personal needs they served. Their use was advantageous; because, first, they could have access to monarch's women (which was the original reason for their introduction and the reason why, despite the attacks on them, the scholars recognized their need and did not propose their abolition); second, in Chinese society, fixed on the preservation of the family, their physical disability gave rise to social inferiority, and therefore they had no hope of a decent position, let alone power or prestige, outside the ruling household. This resulted in their almost slavish dependence on the monarch. The rulers valued them also because the eunuchs could not take their place and establish their own dynasty. 2nd century AD in the period of Eastern Chan; in the years 755-903 in the Chang period from the uprising of An Lushan to the reduction of the power of the eunuchs by Emperor Chu Wen; in the Ming period from the beginning of the 15th century (the reign of Emperor Jung-le) until the fall of the Ming Empire (1644). They gained a firm position only in the Khan period under Emperor Wu-ti, who increased the number of his concubines from twenty to several thousand and, accordingly, the number of eunuchs; straight