Hidden Power: The Palace Eunuchs of Imperial China

Hidden Power: The Palace Eunuchs of Imperial China

Hidden Power: The Palace Eunuchs of Imperial China

Hidden Power: The Palace Eunuchs of Imperial China

Synopsis

A little-known yet significant role in Chinese history was played by the palace eunuchs, castrated men who developed a concealed subcaste that manipulated monarchs and caused the downfall of immense dynasties. This book vividly chronicles the history of the imperial eunuchs: from the murky origins of the practice to the Ming dynasty when 100,000 eunuchs were employed as agents of the Dragon Throne, to the 1912 uprising that swept away the monarchy and the age-old eunuch system forever.

Excerpt

That emperors of Imperial China kept castrated males as palace servitors and harem chamberlains—often numbering in the thousands—is a well‐ known fact. Less familiar is the decided influence these eunuchs had in shaping China's 2,000-year history of absolute, autocratic rule. Eunuchs became so powerful that they dominated emperors, gained control of state affairs, and caused the fall of some of China's greatest dynasties. Yet the story of Chinese palace eunuchs has never been thoroughly and systematically traced from their origins in antiquity to their abrupt termination with the fall of the last dynasty in 1911. This book attempts to fill that void.

Who were the untold multitudes down through the ages who lost their manhood to serve the monarchs of China? Why and how were they emasculated? What were the original functions of the eunuchs, and how did their role change over time? Why was this seemingly cruel system of wholesale mutilation accepted as a normal part of Chinese court life? What opportunities allowed this despised class to rise to power in a vast, highly cultured society? Why, with an immense officialdom of sophisticated, educated mandarins, did emperors repeatedly turn to eunuchs as their most trusted agents? As the story of Chinese eunuchs unfolds in the Introduction and following chapters, these and related questions will be addressed.

Aspects of China's culture and long history are presented as a background for eunuch activity during the various dynasties. Individual emperors, empresses, and concubines are introduced as intimate associates of the palace . . .

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