Imperial Chinese harem system

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The ranks of imperial consorts have varied over the course of Chinese history but remained important throughout owing to its importance in management of the inner court and in imperial succession, which ranked heirs according to the prominence of their mothers in addition to their strict birth order. Regardless of the age, however, it is common in English translation to simplify these hierarchy into the three ranks of Empress, consorts, and concubines.[1] It is also common to use the term "harem," an Arabic loan word used in recent times to refer to imperial women's forbidden quarters in many countries. In later Chinese dynasties these quarters were known as the hougong (rear palace).[2]

In Chinese, the system is called 後宮制度 (hougong zhidu).[3]

Early history[edit]

There exists a class of consorts called (媵; yìng) during early historical times in China. These were people who came along with brides as a form of dowry. It could be the female cousin or sister of the bride, or people from other countries (not necessarily from another race).

Worth noting is the fact that during the Shang Dynasty, there were times where two Empresses reigned at the same period.

The Rites of Zhou contains great details of an imperial consort ranking system. However, as the Rites of Zhou is considered by modern scholars[who?] to be merely a fictitious constitution for a utopian society, the system listed in that work of literature cannot be taken word for word. Rather, it offers a rough glimpse into the inner harem during the time.

Ranking System for Emperors[edit]

The Rites of Zhou states that for Emperors, they are entitled to the following:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 3 (夫人; fū rén)
  3. 9 (嬪; pín)
  4. 27 (世婦; shì fù)
  5. 81 (御妻; yù qī)

A grand total of 121 women. It was suggested that a system (not necessarily resembling the one listed above) was set up to prevent the situation of having two Empresses.

Ranking System for Others[edit]

According to the Rites of Zhou, Feudal Lords are entitled to 9 consorts in total, and cannot marry again after having 9 consorts, which makes for 1 wife and 8 consorts. For other officers, they are entitled to 1 wife and 1 consort. For normal citizens, only 1 wife is allowed.

Qin Dynasty[edit]

From the reign of King Huiwen:

  1. 1 Queen (王后; wáng hòu), which became Empress (皇后; huáng hòu) from the reign of Shi Huang
  2. (夫人; fū rén)
  3. (美人; měi rén)
  4. (良人; liáng rén)
  5. (八子; bā zi)
  6. (七子; qī zi)
  7. (長使; zhǎng shǐ)
  8. (少使; shǎo shǐ)

Han Dynasty[edit]

Western Han[edit]

During the reign of Gaozu:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. (夫人; fū rén)

Later:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. (夫人; fū rén)
  3. (美人; měi rén)
  4. (良人; liáng rén)
  5. (八子; bā zi)
  6. (七子; qī zi)
  7. (長使; zhǎng shǐ)
  8. (少使; shǎo shǐ)

From the reign of Emperor Yuan:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
  3. (婕妤; jié yú), created by Emperor Wu
  4. (娙娥; xíng é), created by Emperor Wu
  5. (容華; róng huá), created by Emperor Wu
  6. (充衣; chōng yī), created by Emperor Wu
  7. (美人; měi rén)
  8. (良人; liáng rén)
  9. (八子; bā zi)
  10. (七子; qī zi)
  11. (長使; zhǎng shǐ)
  12. (少使; shǎo shǐ)
  13. (五官; wǔ guān)
  14. (順常; shùn cháng)
  15. (舞涓; wǔ juān), (共和; gòng hé), (娛靈; yú líng), (保林; bǎo lín), (良使; liáng shǐ), (夜者; yè zhě)

The principal wife of the Crown Prince was called (妃; fēi). There also exists a sub-ranking system for concubines. They were called (良娣; liáng dì) and (孺人; rú rén). For grandchildren of the Emperor, their principal wives were called (夫人; fū rén). Concubines for these people have no titles, and were simple called (家人子; jiā rén zǐ).

Eastern Han[edit]

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. (貴人; guì rén)
  3. (美人; měi rén)
  4. (宮人; gōng rén)
  5. (才女; cǎi nǚ)

No limits were set for these consorts. This later created situations when more than 20,000 women were living in the palace during the reigns of Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling.

Three Kingdoms[edit]

Wei[edit]

During the reign of Cao Cao (who was not an emperor but a king):

  1. 1 Queen (王后; wáng hòu)
  2. (夫人; fū rén)
  3. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
  4. (婕妤; jié yú)
  5. (容華; róng huá)
  6. (美人; měi rén)

During the reign of Emperor Wen:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. (夫人; fū rén)
  3. (貴嬪; guì pín)
  4. (淑媛; shū yuàn)
  5. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
  6. (修容; xiū róng)
  7. (婕妤; jié yú)
  8. (容華; róng huá)
  9. (順成; shùn chéng)
  10. (美人; měi rén)
  11. (良人; liáng rén)

During the reign of Emperor Ming:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. (夫人; fū rén)
  3. (貴嬪; guì pín)
  4. (淑妃; shū fēi)
  5. (淑媛; shū yuàn)
  6. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
  7. (昭華; zhāo huá)
  8. (修容; xiū róng)
  9. (修儀; xiū yí)
  10. (婕妤; jié yú)
  11. (傛華; yǒng huá)
  12. (美人; měi rén)
  13. (良人; liáng rén)
  14. (鹺人; cuó rén)

Jin[edit]

The system was based on the systems used in Cao Wei and the Han Dynasty, as follows:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 3 (夫人; fū rén)
    1. (貴嬪; guì pín)
    2. (夫人; fū rén)
    3. (貴人; guì rén)
  3. 9 (嬪; pín)
    1. (淑妃; shū fēi)
    2. (淑媛; shū yuàn)
    3. (淑儀; shū yí)
    4. (修華; xiū huá)
    5. (修容; xiū róng)
    6. (修儀; xiū yí)
    7. (婕妤; jié yú)
    8. (容華; róng huá)
    9. (充華; chōng huá)
  4. (美人; měi rén)
  5. (才人; cái rén)
  6. (中才人; zhōng cái rén)

Southern and Northern Dynasties[edit]

Song[edit]

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 3 (夫人; fū rén)
    1. (貴嬪; guì pín)
    2. (夫人; fū rén)
    3. (貴人; guì rén)
  3. 9 (嬪; pín)
    1. (淑妃; shū fēi)
    2. (淑媛; shū yuàn)
    3. (淑儀; shū yí)
    4. (修華; xiū huá)
    5. (修容; xiū róng)
    6. (修儀; xiū yí)
    7. (婕妤; jié yú)
    8. (傛華; yǒng huá)
    9. (充華; chōng huá)
  4. (美人; měi rén)

From 456, during the reign of Emperor Xiaowu:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 3 (夫人; fū rén)
    1. (貴妃; guì fēi)
    2. (貴嬪; guì pín)
    3. (貴人; guì rén)
  3. 9 (嬪; pín)
    1. (淑妃; shū fēi)
    2. (淑媛; shū yuàn)
    3. (淑儀; shū yí)
    4. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
    5. (昭容; zhāo róng)
    6. (昭華; zhāo huá)
    7. (婕妤; jié yú)
    8. (容華; róng huá)
    9. (充華; chōng huá)
  4. (美人; měi rén)
  5. (中才人; zhōng cái rén)
  6. (充衣; chōng yī)

From the reign of Emperor Ming:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 3 (夫人; fū rén)
    1. (貴妃; guì fēi)
    2. (貴嬪; guì pín)
    3. (貴姬; guì jī)
  3. 9 (嬪; pín)
    1. (淑媛; shū yuàn)
    2. (淑儀; shū yí)
    3. (淑容; shū róng)
    4. (昭華; zhāo huá)
    5. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
    6. (昭容; zhāo róng)
    7. (修華; xiū huá)
    8. (修儀; xiū yí)
    9. (修容; xiū róng)
  4. 5 (職; zhí)
    1. (婕妤; jié yú)
    2. (容華; róng huá)
    3. (充華; chōng huá)
    4. (承徽; chéng huī)
    5. (列榮; liè róng)
  5. (美人; měi rén)
  6. (中才人; zhōng cái rén)
  7. (才人; cái rén)
  8. (良人; liáng rén)
  9. (充衣; chōng yī)

Qi[edit]

In 479, at the ascension of Emperor Gao, the Minister for Ceremonies (禮司) successfully petitioned the Emperor to establish the following system:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 3 (夫人; fū rén)
    1. (貴嬪; guì pín)
    2. (夫人; fū rén)
    3. (貴人; guì rén)
  3. 9 (嬪; pín)
    1. (修華; xiū huá)
    2. (修儀; xiū yí)
    3. (修容; xiū róng)
    4. (淑妃; shū fēi)
    5. (淑媛; shū yuàn)
    6. (淑儀; shū yí)
    7. (婕妤; jié yú)
    8. (容華; róng huá)
    9. (充華; chōng huá)
  4. (美人; měi rén)
  5. (中才人; zhōng cái rén)
  6. (才人; cái rén)

In 481, for the Crown Prince:

  1. (良娣; liáng dì)
  2. (保林; bǎo lín)
  3. (才人; cái rén)

In 483, when Emperor Wu ascended to the throne, the Minister for Ceremonies (禮司) successfully petitioned the Emperor to expand the system. This involved elevating the position of (貴妃; guì fēi) to a category all unto itself, with the following ranks:

  1. (貴妃; guì fēi)
  2. (淑妃; shū fēi)

The new category was just underneath the Empress. In 489, the position of (昭容; zhāo róng) was created to fill the gap created when (淑妃; shū fēi) was elevated to an independent category.

Liang[edit]

During the reign of Emperor Wu:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 3 (夫人; fū rén)
    1. (貴妃; guì fēi)
    2. (貴嬪; guì pín)
    3. (貴姬; guì jī)
  3. 9 (嬪; pín)
    1. (淑媛; shū yuàn)
    2. (淑儀; shū yí)
    3. (淑容; shū róng)
    4. (昭華; zhāo huá)
    5. (昭容; zhāo róng)
    6. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
    7. (修華; xiū huá)
    8. (修儀; xiū yí)
    9. (修容; xiū róng)
  4. 5 (職; zhí)
    1. (婕妤; jié yú)
    2. (容華; róng huá)
    3. (充華; chōng huá)
    4. (承徽; chéng huī)
    5. (列榮; liè róng)
  5. (美人; měi rén)
  6. (良人; liáng rén)
  7. (才人; cái rén)

For the Crown Prince:

  1. (良娣; liáng dì)
  2. (保林; bǎo lín)

Chen[edit]

Initially, during the reign of Gaozu, no specific ranking system for consorts were devised, due to the Emperor's desire to live a simple life. It was only until Emperor Wen's reign did a ranking system came into being:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 3 (夫人; fū rén)
    1. (貴妃; guì fēi)
    2. (貴嬪; guì pín)
    3. (貴姬; guì jī)
  3. 9 (嬪; pín)
    1. (淑媛; shū yuàn)
    2. (淑儀; shū yí)
    3. (淑容; shū róng)
    4. (昭華; zhāo huá)
    5. (昭容; zhāo róng)
    6. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
    7. (修華; xiū huá)
    8. (修儀; xiū yí)
    9. (修容; xiū róng)
  4. 5 (職; zhí)
    1. (婕妤; jié yú)
    2. (容華; róng huá)
    3. (充華; chōng huá)
    4. (承徽; chéng huī)
    5. (列榮; liè róng)
  5. (美人; měi rén)
  6. (才人; cái rén)
  7. (良人; liáng rén)

Wei[edit]

During the reign of Taizu, the consort ranking system was very simple, and only contained the rank of (夫人; fū rén). However, there existed an unwritten, subjective system of prestige rankings in between. It was during the reign of Shizu that the system of rankings listed below came into force:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. (左昭儀; zuǒ zhāo yí), (右昭儀; yòu zhāo yí)
  3. (貴人; guì rén)
  4. (椒房; jiāo fáng)
  5. (中式; zhōng shì)

During the sinification of the Northern Wei Dynasty, Emperor Xiaowen reformed the consort ranking system to the system below:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. (左昭儀; zuǒ zhāo yí), (右昭儀; yòu zhāo yí)
  3. 3 (夫人; fū rén)
  4. (三嬪; sān pín)
  5. (六嬪; (liù pín)
  6. (世婦; shì fù)
  7. (御妻; yù qī)

Qi[edit]

In the beginning, there were only three ranks for consorts: (夫人; fū rén), (嬪; pín), and (禦; ). However, as Emperor Wucheng ascended to the throne, a system of rankings more sophisticated than any devised before was promulgated:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 1 (左娥英; zuǒ é yīng), 1 (右娥英; yòu é yīng)
  3. 1 (淑妃; shū fēi)
  4. 1 (左昭儀; zuǒ zhāo yí), 1 (右昭儀; yòu zhāo yí)
  5. 3 (夫人; fū rén)
    1. (弘德; hóng dé)
    2. (正德; zhèng dé)
    3. (崇德; chóng dé)
  6. (上嬪; shàng pín)
    1. (隆徽; lóng huī)
    2. (光猷; guāng yóu)
    3. (昭訓; zhāo xùn)
  7. (下嬪; xià pín)
    1. (宣徽; xuān huī)
    2. (宣明; xuān míng)
    3. (凝暉; níng huī)
    4. (凝華; níng huá)
    5. (順華; shùn huá)
    6. (光訓; guāng xùn)
  8. 27 (世婦; shì fù)
  9. (才人; cái rén)
  10. (採女; cǎi nǚ)

Zhou[edit]

  1. 3 (夫人; fū rén), later 3 (妃; fēi)
    1. (貴妃; guì fēi)
    2. (長貴妃; zhǎng guì fēi)
    3. (德妃; dé fēi)
  2. 3 (㚤; )
  3. 6 (嬪; pín)
    1. (昭化; zhāo huà)
  4. (禦媛; yù yuàn)
    1. (上媛; shàng yuàn)
    2. (中媛; zhōng yuàn)
    3. (下媛; xià yuàn)
  5. (禦婉; yù wǎn)
    1. (上婉; shàng wǎn)
    2. (中婉; zhōng wǎn)
    3. (下婉; xià wǎn)

During the reign of Emperor Xuan, five Empresses were created (unprecedented by Chinese standards):

  1. Yang Lihua, First Great Empress of Heaven (天元大皇后 楊麗華)
  2. Zhu Manyue, Great Empress of Heaven (天大皇后 朱滿月)
  3. Chen Yueyi, Great Centre Empress of Heaven (天中大皇后 陳月儀)
  4. Yuchi Chifan, Great Left Empress of Heaven (天左大皇后 尉遲熾繁)
  5. Yuan Leshang, Great Right Empress of Heaven (天右大皇后 元樂尚)

In addition, there were an innumerable number of consorts in the harem.

Sui[edit]

In the beginning, there existed a simple system of rankings for imperial consorts:

  1. Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. Concubine (嬪; pín)
  3. 9 (世婦; shì fù)
  4. 38 (禦女; yù nǚ)

There also existed a system of (女官; nǚ guān) to manage ceremonial affairs in the harem. The system was based on similar systems in the past.

After the death of Empress Dugu, Emperor Wen expanded the ranks of the consorts to the following:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 3 (貴人; guì rén)
  3. 9 (嬪; pín)
  4. 27 (世婦; shì fù)
  5. 81 (禦女; yù nǚ)

During the reign of Emperor Yang, the ranking system was expanded yet again, based on systems in the past, to the following:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 3 (夫人; fū rén)
    1. (貴妃; guì fēi)
    2. (淑妃; shū fēi)
    3. (德妃; dé fēi)
  3. 9 (嬪; pín)
    1. (順儀; shùn yí)
    2. (順容; shùn róng)
    3. (順華; shùn huá)
    4. (修儀; xiū yí)
    5. (修容; xiū róng)
    6. (修華; xiū huá)
    7. (充衣; chōng yī)
    8. (充容; chōng róng)
    9. (充華; chōng huá)
  4. 12 (婕妤; jié yú)
  5. 15 (世婦; shì fù)
    1. Beauty (美人; měi rén)
    2. Regular (才人; cái rén)
  6. 24 (寶林; bǎolín)
  7. 24 (禦女; yù nǚ)
  8. 37 (採女; cǎi nǚ)

Tang[edit]

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 4 (夫人; fū rén)
    1. (貴妃; guì fēi)
    2. (淑妃; shū fēi)
    3. (德妃; dé fēi)
    4. (賢妃; xián fēi)
  3. 9 (嬪; pín)
    1. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
    2. (昭容; zhāo róng)
    3. (昭媛; zhāo yuàn)
    4. (修儀; xiū yí)
    5. (修容; xiū róng)
    6. (修媛; xiū yuàn)
    7. (充衣; chōng yī)
    8. (充容; chōng róng)
    9. (充媛; chōng yuàn)
  4. 9 (婕妤; jié yú)
  5. 9 (美人; měi rén)
  6. 9 (才人; cái rén)
  7. 27 (寶林; bǎo lín)
  8. 27 (禦女; yù nǚ)
  9. 27 (採女; cǎi nǚ)

During the reign of Gaozong:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 4 (夫人; fū rén)
    1. (貴妃; guì fēi)
    2. (淑妃; shū fēi)
    3. (德妃; dé fēi)
    4. (賢妃; xián fēi)
  3. 9 (嬪; pín)
    1. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
    2. (昭容; zhāo róng)
    3. (昭媛; zhāo yuàn)
    4. (修儀; xiū yí)
    5. (修容; xiū róng)
    6. (修媛; xiū yuàn)
    7. (充衣; chōng yī)
    8. (充容; chōng róng)
    9. (充媛; chōng yuàn)
  4. 9 (婕妤; jié yú)
  5. 9 (美人; měi rén)
  6. 9 (才人; cái rén)

During the reign of Xuanzong:

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 1 (惠妃; huì fēi), 1 (麗妃; lì fēi), 1 (華妃; huá fēi)
  3. 6 (儀; )
    1. (淑儀; shū yí)
    2. (德儀; dé yí)
    3. (賢儀; xián yí)
    4. (順儀; shùn yí)
    5. (婉儀; wǎn yí)
    6. (芳儀; fāng yí)
  4. 4 (美人; měi rén)
  5. 7 (才人; cái rén)

The principal wife of the Crown Prince is called Crown Princess (太子妃; tài zǐ fēi), which is held by only one person at any given time. There are 5 other ranks of consorts:

  1. 2 (良娣; liáng dì)
  2. 6 (良媛; liáng yuàn)
  3. 10 (承徽; chéng huī)
  4. 16 (昭訓; zhāo xùn)
  5. 24 (奉儀; fèng yí)

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms[edit]

During these times, governments were replaced frequently, and as a result, it is difficult for modern scholars to derive any solid information on ranking systems during these times.

However, it is known that the Later Tang used the following system:

  1. (昭容; zhāo róng)
  2. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
  3. (昭媛; zhāo yuàn)
  4. (出使; chū shǐ)
  5. (禦正; yù zhèng)
  6. (侍眞; shì zhēn)
  7. (懿才; yì cái)
  8. (咸一; xián yī)
  9. (瑤芳; yáo fāng)
  10. (懿德; yì dé)
  11. (宣一; xuān yī)

Whether there were any limits to the holders of these titles are unknown.

Liao, Song, Jin Dynasities[edit]

Liao[edit]

Song[edit]

  1. 1 Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. 4 (妃; fēi)
    1. (貴妃; guì fēi)
    2. (淑妃; shū fēi)
    3. (德妃; dé fēi)
    4. (賢妃; xián fēi)
    5. (宸妃; chén fēi), created by Renzong
  3. (嬪; pín)
    1. (太儀; tài yí)
    2. (貴儀; guì yí)
    3. (妃儀; fēi yí)
    4. (淑儀; shū yí)
    5. (婉儀; wǎn yí)
    6. (順儀; shùn yí)
    7. (順容; shùn róng)
    8. (淑容; shū róng)
    9. (婉容; wǎn róng)
    10. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
    11. (昭容; zhāo róng)
    12. (昭媛; zhāo yuàn)
    13. (修儀; xiū yí)
    14. (修容; xiū róng)
    15. (修媛; xiū yuàn)
    16. (充衣; chōng yī)
    17. (充容; chōng róng)
    18. (充媛; chōng yuàn)
  4. (婕妤; jié yú)
  5. (美人; měi rén)
  6. (才人; cái rén)
  7. (貴人; guì rén), created by Zhenzong

Jin[edit]

Yuan[edit]

The ranking system was at its simplest, and only consists of Empress, Consort, and Concubine. No limits were set on the number of people who could enjoy the title, but only one empress can exist.

Although the number of ranks were few, there existed a subsystem of ranking by prestige inside the Yuan harem. The tent (Chinese: 宮帳, translated term from Mongolian: 斡兒垜) that a consort lives in often determines their status. These tents often contain multiple Empresses, Consorts, and Concubines. In the many tents that existed, the first Empress of the first tent is considered to be the most prestigious consort.

As with all parts of the Mongol Empire, Goryeo provided palace women to the Mongols.[4] Korean concubines were procured by the Khan.[5] One of them was Empress Gi, who, through her political command and incorporation of Korean females and eunuchs in the court, spread Korean clothing, food, and lifestyle in the capital.[6] It became prestigious to marry Korean women among members of the Yuan elite.[7] Empress Gi intervened in Goryeo and her family contended with the Goryeo royal family; her family was purged by Gongmin of Goryeo, and Gi retaliated with a failed Mongol invasion of Korea in 1364.[8][9] The entry of Korean women into the Mongol court was reciprocated by the entry of Mongol princesses into the Korean court, beginning with the marriage of Chungnyeol of Goryeo and a daughter of Kublai Khan; in total, 9 princesses of the Yuan court married into the Goryeo royal family.[10]

Imperial marriages between the royal family of Mongol Yuan existed between certain states. These included the Onggirat tribe, Idug-qut's Uighur tribe, the Oirat tribe, and the Koryo (Korean) royal family.[11][12]

The Southern Song Han Chinese Emperor Gong of Song (personal name Zhao Xian) surrendered to the Yuan dynasty Mongols in 1276 and was married off to a Mongol princess of the royal Borjigin family of the Yuan dynasty. Zhao Xian had one son with the Borjigin Mongol woman, Zhao Wanpu. Zhao Xian's son Zhao Wanpu was kept alive by the Mongols because of his mother's royal Mongolian Borjigin ancestry even after Emperor Gong of Song was ordered to be killed by the Mongol Emperor Gegeen Khan. Zhao Wanpu was only moved and exiled. The outbreak of the Song loyalist Red Turban Rebellion in Henan led to a recommendation that Zhao Wanpu should be transferred somewhere else by an Imperial Censor in 1352. The Yuan did not want the Chinese rebels to get their hands on Zhao Wanpu so no one was permitted to see him and Zhao Wanpu's family and himself were exiled to Shazhou near the border by the Yuan Emperor. Paul Pelliot and John Andrew Boyle commented on Rashid-al-Din Hamadani's chapter The Successors of Genghis Khan in his work Jami' al-tawarikh, identified references by Rashid al-Din to Zhao Xian in his book where he mentions a Chinese ruler who was an "emir" and son-in-law to the Qan (Khan) after being removed from his throne by the Mongols and he is also called "Monarch of Song", or Suju (宋主 Songzhu) in the book.[13]

Ming[edit]

The system was simple with five commonly used titles:

  1. Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. Imperial Noble Consort (皇貴妃; huáng guì fēi)
  3. Noble Consort (貴妃; guì fēi)
  4. Consort (妃; fēi)
  5. Concubine (嬪; pín)

Other known titles including:

  1. (婕妤; jié yú)
  2. (昭儀; zhāo yí)
  3. (昭容; zhāo róng)
  4. (貴人; guì rén)
  5. (美人; měi rén)

For the Crown Prince:

  1. 1 Crown Princess (太子妃; tài zǐ fēi)
  2. (才人; cái rén)
  3. (選侍; xuǎn shì)
  4. (淑女; shū nǚ)

Human tribute, including servants, eunuchs, and virgin girls came from: China's various ethnic tribes, Mongolia, Korea, Vietnam,[14][15] Cambodia, Central Asia, Siam, Champa, and Okinawa.[16]

Joseon sent a total of 114 women to the Ming dynasty, consisting of 16 virgin girls (accompanied by 48 female servants), 42 cooks (執饌女), and 8 musical performers (歌舞女).[17][18] The women were sent to the Yongle and Xuande emperors in a total of 7 missions between 1408 and 1433.[18] Xuande was the last Ming emperor to receive human tribute from Korea;[19] with his death in 1435, 53 Korean women were repatriated.[20] There was much speculation that the Yongle Emperor's real mother was a Korean[21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29] or Mongolian[30] concubine.[31][32][33] Relations between Ming China and Joseon Korea improved dramatically and became much more amicable and mutually profitable during Yongle's reign.[25] Yongle and Xuande were said to have a penchant for Korean cuisine and women.[25][34][35]

Central Asian women were provided to the Zhengde Emperor by a Muslim guard and Sayyid Hussein from Hami.[36] The guard was Yu Yung and the women were Uighur.[37] It is unknown who really was behind the anti-pig slaughter edict.[38] The speculation of him becoming a Muslim is remembered alongside his excessive and debauched behavior along with his concubines of foreign origin.[39] Muslim Central Asian girls were favored by Zhengde like how Korean girls were favored by Xuande.[40] A Uighur concubine was kept by Zhengde.[41] Foreign origin Uighur and Mongol women were favored by the Zhengde emperor.[42]

Qing[edit]

Imperial Noble Consort Keshun, better known as Consort Zhen or popularly as the Pearl Concubine, was a consort of the Guangxu Emperor.

The system was among one of the simplest systems in Chinese history. Officially, there were eight classes:

  1. Empress (皇后; huáng hòu)
  2. Imperial Noble Consort (皇贵妃; huáng guì fēi)
  3. Noble Consort (贵妃; guì fēi)
  4. Consort (妃; fēi)
  5. Imperial Concubine (嫔; pín)
  6. Noble Lady (贵人; guì rén, literally "precious person")
  7. First-Class Female Attendant (常在; cháng zài, literally "often around")
  8. Second-Class Female Attendant (答应; dā yìng, literally "promise")
  9. Chosen Maid (官女子; guān nǘ zǐ), typically granted to female servants whom the emperor has taken to a liking and to accompany him without any official recognition while still doing regular servant work. This rank was not part of the official concubine ranking.

There were limits placed on how many consorts could hold the ranks of Imperial Concubine (嫔; pín), and above.

  1. 1 Empress (皇后)
  2. 1 Imperial Noble Consort(皇贵妃)
  3. 2 Noble Consorts(贵妃)
  4. 4 Consorts(妃)
  5. 6 Imperial Concubines(嫔)

Consorts that attained the rank of Concubine (嫔) and above would be honoured with a residence in the main section (and hence manager) of a palace in the Forbidden City, and be able to self-title themselves as “本宫 (ben gong)” (literally, "This Palace") when addressing those below them. When being addressed by lower ranked concubines, they would have to be addressed as "娘娘 (niang niang)" (ma'am). All people were expected to use deprecating self-titles when addressing higher ranks, and concubines were no different. They either used "嫔妾 (pin qie)" or "臣妾 (chen qie)". If the Emperor of a consort has died, they were self-titled as “哀家 (ai jia)" (literally, "Grieving House").

For an Empress who lived well into the reigns of at least two subsequent Emperors, she would be referred to as Empress Dowager (皇太后; huáng tài hòu) if her husband's son was the Emperor, or Grand Empress Dowager (太皇太后; tài huáng tài hòu) if her husband's grandson was the Emperor. If a consort was never an Empress during her husband's reign but her son became the next Emperor, she would be referred to as Holy Mother, Empress Dowager (聖母皇太后; shèng mǔ huáng tài hòu) and be posthumously honoured as an Empress. On the other hand, if a consort held the rank of Empress but had no son or her son does not succeed the throne, she would be honoured as Mother Empress, Empress Dowager (母后皇太后; mǔ hòu huáng tài hòu) and is officially honoured as an Empress.

The prefix for Dowager (太)was added to a consort's rank (皇贵妃 and below) if she was a consort of the reigning emperor's father. All consorts of the previous emperor usually resided within one palace (寿康宫 Shou Kang Gong), with the exception of those who attained the rank of Empress Dowager, who would be honoured with their own palace (慈宁宫 Ci Ning Gong).

The system was solid, but the number of consorts an emperor actually had during the Qing dynasty was subject to wild variations. The Kangxi Emperor holds the record for having the most consorts with 79, while the Guangxu Emperor holds the record for having the fewest consorts, with one empress and two consorts – a total of just three consorts.

The tradition of ranking concubines ended when the Qing dynasty was overthrown. However, the practice of giving rank to people who "unofficially" (lives with, but never marry) have more than one wife is still widespread. In addition, the term (夫人; fū rén) is still used, albeit rarely and only in very formal settings, as an honorific title towards another person's wife in China.

After the Second Manchu invasion of Korea, the Joseon kingdom was forced to give several of their royal princesses as concubines to the Qing prince-regent Dorgon.[43][44][45][46] In 1650, Dorgon married the Korean Princess Uisun, a distant relative of the king, who was adopted and given the royal princess title so she can be married off to Dorgon. Joseon court revoked Princess Uisun's title and royal privileges after Dorgon died.[47][48] Dorgon married two Korean princesses at Lianshan.[49] There is no evidence of Dorgon marrying any other Joseon princess besides Princess Uisun in Joseon records and it is extremely unlikely as Dorgon died in December 1650, only few months after his marriage to Princess Uisun.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ MacMahon, Keith (2013), Women Shall Not Rule: Imperial Wives and Concubines in China from Han to Liao, Rowman & Littlefield, p. 11
  3. ^ Hsieh, Bao Hua (2014), Concubinage and Servitude in Late Imperial China, Lexington Books, p. 296 n.3
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