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]

Early history[edit]

There exists a class of consorts called Ying (Chinese: 媵) 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 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 Empress (皇后)
  • 3 Madames (夫人)
  • 9 Imperial Concubines (嬪)
  • 27 Hereditary Consorts (世婦)
  • 81 Imperial Wives (御妻)

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]

In the Qin Dynasty, there exists a much simplified ranking system. The Emperor's wife was called Empress (后), and other consorts, should they exist, along with the wives of Feudal Lords were called Madames (夫人)

Empress (皇后)[edit]

There can be one at any given time.

Madames (夫人)[edit]

There can be an unlimited number of Madames, within the rank there exists a system of sub-rankings.

Han Dynasty[edit]

During the Eastern Han period, the Emperor's principal wife was called Empress (后), and consorts were all called Madames (夫人). Within the rank of Madame, there exists a system of sub-rankings.

  • Lady of Bright Deportment (Chao-i / Zhaoyi 昭儀, created during the reign of Emperor Yuan)
  • Madame (夫人)
  • Beautiful Lady (美人)
  • Virtuous Lady (良人)
  • Lady of Eight (Patzu / Bazi 八子)
  • Lady of Seven (Ch'itzu / Qizi 七子)
  • Senior Palace Woman (Ch'angshih / Zhangshi 長使)
  • Junior Palace Woman (Shaoshih / Shaoshi 少使)
  • Lady of Handsome Fairness (Chiehyü / Jieyü 婕妤, created by Emperor Wu)
  • Lady of Graceful Beauty (K'êng-ê / Keng'e 娙娥, created by Emperor Wu)
  • Lady of Lovely Countenance (Junghua / Ronghua 容華, created by Emperor Wu)
  • Lady of Complete Deportment (Ch'ung-i / Chongyi 充依, created by Emperor Wu)
  • Lady for Miscellaneous Uses (Wukuan / Wuguan 五官)
  • Lady of Complaisant Constancy (Shunch'ang / Shunchang 順常)
  • Lady Without Impurity (Wuchüan / Wujüan 無涓)
  • Lady of Reverent Gentleness (Kunghê / Gonghe 共和)
  • Lady who Pleases the Spirit (Yüling / Yüling 娛靈)
  • Lady who Could Comfort a Multitude (Paolin / Baolin 保林)
  • Lady of Excellent Employment (Liangshih / Liangshi 良使)
  • Lady for Night Attendance (Yehche / Yezhe 夜者)

No limits were set on the number of consorts during this time, except for the Empress, which was limited to one.

The principal wife of the Crown Prince was called Consort (妃). There also exists a sub-ranking system for other consorts. They were called Related Lady of Excellence (Liangti / Liangdi 良娣) and Jujên / Ruren (孺人). For grandchildren of the Emperor, their principal wives were called Madame (夫人). Consorts for these people have no titles, and were simple called people of the household (家人子).

When the Eastern Han (or Later Han Dynasty) began, the ranking system for consorts was dramatically scaled down, and only four ranks remained. They were Honoured Lady (貴人), Beautiful Woman (美人), Person of the Palace (宮人), and Lady of Elegance (Ts'ainü / Cainü 采女).

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

Cao Wei[edit]

Initial System[edit]

During the reign of Cao Cao, a new ranking system, as follows, was created. It expanded during the reigns of Cao Pi and Cao Rui.

  • Empress (皇后)
  • Madame (夫人)
  • Lady of Bright Deportment (昭儀)
  • Lady of Handsome Fairness (婕妤)
  • Lady of Lovely Countenance (容華)
  • Beautiful Lady (美人)

Cao Pi and Cao Rui Expansions[edit]

Cao Pi and Cao Rui further expanded the ranking system with the following ranks.

  • Zhaohua (昭華, created by Cao Pi)
  • Lady of Cultivated Countenance (修容, created by Cao Pi)
  • Virtuous Lady (良人, created by Cao Pi)
  • The Honoured Imperial Concubine (貴嬪, created by Cao Pi)
  • The Decent Consort (淑妃, created by Cao Rui)
  • The Decent Concubine (淑媛, created by Cao Pi)
  • Shuncheng (順成, created by Cao Pi, abolished by Cao Rui)
  • Lady of Cultivated Deportment (修儀, created by Cao Pi)

This created a final system with 12 ranks.

Jin Dynasty (265–420)[edit]

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

Madame Rankings[edit]

There exists three ranks for Madames.

  • The Honoured Imperial Concubine (貴嬪)
  • Madame (夫人)
  • The Honoured Lady (貴人)

Imperial Concubine Rankings[edit]

There exists nine ranks for Imperial Concubines

  • The Decent Consort "Shufei" (淑妃)
  • The Decent Concubine "Shuyuan" (淑媛)
  • The Decent Beauty "Shuyi" (淑儀)
  • Xiuhua (修華)
  • Lady of Cultivated Countenance (修容)
  • Lady of Cultivated Deportment (修儀)
  • Lady of Handsome Fairness (婕妤)
  • Ronghua (容華)
  • Chonghua (充華)

Other Ranks[edit]

There exists a ranking below Imperial Concubines also.

  • Beautiful Lady (美人)
  • The Talented Lady (才人)
  • The Average Talented Lady (中才人)

Southern Qi[edit]

The Southern Qi, like the other dynasties in the Southern and Northern Dynasties era, inherited the Jin system for their harems, albeit with some name changes.

Initial Ranking System[edit]

At the ascension of Emperor Gao to the throne, the Minister for Ceremonies (禮司) successfully petitioned the Emperor to establish the following system:

Empress[edit]

There was only 1 Empress.

Madames[edit]

There were three ranks for Madames:

  • The Honoured Imperial Concubine (貴嬪)
  • Madame (夫人)
  • The Honoured Lady (貴人)

Imperial Concubines[edit]

There were three ranks for Imperial Concubines:

  • Xiuhua (修華)
  • Xiuyi (修儀)
  • Xiurong (修容)
  • The Decent Consort (淑妃)
  • The Decent Concubine (淑媛)
  • The Decent Beauty (淑儀)
  • Jieyu (婕妤)
  • Ronghua (容華)
  • Chonghua (充華)

"Scattered Positions"[edit]

Three ranks were set aside in what became known as the "scattered positions" (散位)

  • Beautiful Lady (美人)
  • The Talented Lady (才人)
  • The Average Talented Lady (中才人)

1st Expansion[edit]

The system was expanded later in Emperor Gao's reign, and added the following new positions:

  • Liangdi (良娣)
  • Baolin (保林)

While the position of The Talented Lady (才人) was elevated to a more prestigious position.

2nd and 3rd Expansion[edit]

When Emperor Wu ascended to the throne, the Minister for Ceremonies (禮司) successfully petitioned the Emperor to once again expand the system.

This round of expansion involved elevating the position of The Decent Consort to a category all unto itself, with the following ranks:

  • The Decent Consort (淑妃)
  • The Honoured Lady (貴人)

The new category was just underneath the Empress. In the 7th year of Emperor Wu's reign, the position of Zhaorong (昭容) was created to fill the gap created when The Decent Consort was elevated to an independent category.

Chen Dynasty[edit]

Initially, during the reign of Emperor Wu, 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 for the Chen Dynasty.

The ranking system consists of the following:

Empress[edit]

There was only one Empress allowed at any time.

Madames[edit]

There were three sub-ranks within this category. Each titles within this rank may be held by only one person at any given time. This did not prevent the elevation of others into the title upon the death of an existing holder of the title in question.

  • Noble Consort (貴妃)
  • Honoured Imperial Concubine (貴嬪)
  • Guiji (貴姬)

Imperial Concubines[edit]

Each titles within this rank may be held by only one person at any given time. This did not prevent the elevation of others into the title upon the death of an existing holder of the title in question.

  • The Decent Concubine (淑媛)
  • The Decent Beauty (淑儀)
  • Shurong (淑容)
  • Zhaohua (昭華)
  • Zhaorong (昭容)
  • Zhaoyi (昭儀)
  • Xiuhua (修華)
  • Xiuyi (修儀)
  • Xiurong (修容)

Common Titles[edit]

There are five titles within this rank.

  • Jieyu (婕妤)
  • Ronghua (容華)
  • Chonghua (充華)
  • Chenghui (承徽)
  • Lierong(列榮)

Scattered Positions[edit]

Three titles exist in this rank. There were no limits on the number of holders for the following title.

  • Beautiful Lady (美人)
  • The Talented Lady (才人)
  • Good Lady (良人)

Northern Wei[edit]

During the reign of Emperor Daowu, the consort ranking system was very simple, and only contained the rank of Madame. However, there existed an unwritten, subjective system of prestige rankings in between the Madames. It was during the reign of Emperor Taiwu did a system of rankings listed below came into force:

  • Empress (皇后)
  • Left and Right Zhaoyi (左右昭儀)
  • The Honoured Lady (貴人)
  • Jiaofang (椒房)

Ranking Reform[edit]

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

  • Empress (皇后)
  • Left and Right Zhaoyi (左右昭儀)
  • Madame (夫人)
  • Imperial Concubine of the Third Class (三嬪)
  • Imperial Concubine of the Sixth Class (六嬪)
  • Shifu (世婦)
  • Imperial Woman (御女)

Northern Qi[edit]

In the beginning, there were only three ranks for Northern Qi's consort's: Madame (夫人), Imperial Concubine (嬪), and Imperials (御). However, as Emperor Wucheng ascended to the throne, a system of rankings more sophisticated than any devised before was promulgated.

Empress (皇后)[edit]

  • Only one person may hold the Empress (皇后) at any given time.

E-Ying (左右娥英)[edit]

There were two positions: Left and Right E-Yings (左右娥英). Only one person may hold each one of the positions at any given time, which means no more than two people can hold positions in this rank.

The Decent Consort[edit]

Only one person may hold this title at any given time.

Zhaoyi (左右昭儀)[edit]

There were two positions: Left and Right E-Zhaoyis (左右昭儀). Only one person may hold each one of the positions at any given time, which means no more than two people can hold positions in this rank.

Madame (夫人)[edit]

There were three sub-ranks within the rank of Madame (夫人):

  • Madame HongDe (弘德夫人)
  • Madame ZhengDe (正德夫人)
  • Madame ChongDe (崇德夫人)

Upper Imperial Concubines[edit]

There were three sub-ranks within the rank of Madame of the Upper Imperial Concubines (上嬪):

  • Longhui (隆徽)
  • Guangyou (光猷)
  • Zhaoxun (昭訓)

Lower Imperial Concubines[edit]

There were six sub-ranks within the rank of Madame of the Lower Imperial Concubines (下嬪):

  • Xuanhui (宣徽)
  • Xuanming (宣明)
  • Ninghui (凝暉)
  • Ninghua (凝華)
  • Shunhua (順華)
  • Guangxun (光訓)

Hereditary Consorts (世婦)[edit]

There were 27 sub-ranks within the rank of Hereditary Consort (Shifu 世婦), and each title can only be held by one person at any given time:

Imperial Woman[edit]

There were 81 sub-ranks within the rank of Imperial Woman (御女), and each title can only be held by one person at any given time:

Scattered Positions[edit]

  • The Talented Lady (才人)
  • Cainu (采女)

Northern Zhou[edit]

Initially, Northern Zhou only had a system that allows for six madames. However, during the reign of Emperor Xuan, five Empresses were created - unprecedented by Chinese standards:

  • Yang Lihua, The Great Empress of Tianyuan (天元大皇后楊麗華)
  • Zhu Manyue, The Great Empress of the Heaven (天大皇后朱滿月)
  • Empress Chen Yueyi, Chen Yueyi, The Great Center Empress of the Heaven (天中大皇后陳月儀)
  • Empress Yuchi Chifan, Yuchi Chifan, The Great Left Empress of the Heaven (天左大皇后尉遲熾繁)
  • Empress Yuan Leshang, Yuan Leshang, The Great Right Empress of the Heaven (天右大皇后元樂尙)

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

Sui[edit]

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

  • 1 Empress
  • 3 Imperial Concubines
  • 9 Shifu
  • 38 Imperial Women

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

However, since the Empress at the time, Dugu Qieluo, was jealous of others, no consorts were actually installed.

1st Expansion[edit]

After Dugu Qieluo died, Emperor Wen expanded the ranks of the consorts to the following:

  • 1 Empress
  • 3 Honoured Ladies (new creation)
  • 9 Imperial Concubines (up from 3)
  • 27 Shifu (up from 9)
  • 81 Imperial Women (up from 38)

2nd Expansion[edit]

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

  • 1 Empress (皇后)
  • 3 Madames
    • 1 Guifei (貴妃)
    • 1 Shufei (淑妃)
    • 1 Defei (德妃)
  • 9 Imperial Concubines
  • 12 Jieyu
  • 15 Shifu, Beautiful Ladies, and Talented Ladies in total
  • 24 Baolin (保林)
  • 24 Imperial Women
  • 37 Cainu (采女)

Tang[edit]

Indigenous tribals from southern China were used as eunuchs during the Sui and Tang dynasties.[2]

Initial System[edit]

During the early ages of the Tang Dynasty, a system based on previous dynasty's systems, as shown below, was used

Empress ("Huanghou" 皇后)[edit]

Only one person may hold this title at any given time.

Consorts[edit]

There were four titles within this rank, which consists of:

  • Noble Consort (Guifei 貴妃)
  • Pure Consort (Shufei 淑妃)
  • Virtuous Consort (Defei 德妃)
  • Able Consort (Xianfei 賢妃).

Only 1 person may hold each of the titles at any given time.

Imperial Concubines[edit]

There were nine titles within this rank, which includes

  • Lady of Bright Deportment (Zhaoyi 昭儀)
  • Lady of Bright Countenance (Zhaorong 昭容)
  • Lady of Bright Beauty (Zhaoyuan 昭媛)
  • Lady of Cultivated Deportment (Xiuyi 修儀)
  • Lady of Cultivated Countenance (Xiurong 修容)
  • Lady of Cultivated Beauty (Xiuyuan 修媛)
  • Lady of Complete Deportment (Chongyi 充儀)
  • Lady of Complete Countenance (Chongrong 充容)
  • Lady of Complete Beauty (Chongyuan 充媛)

All of equal rank. Only 1 person may hold each of the titles at any given time.

Other Titles[edit]

In additions, there were nine Ladies of Handsome Fairness (婕妤), nine Beautiful Ladies (美人), nine Talented Ladies (才人), 27 Ladies of Precious Bevy (寶林), 27 Imperial Women (御女), and 29 Ladies of Elegance (采女).

1st Reform[edit]

The first reform of the ranks occurred during the Emperor Gaozong's reign, which creating the following system

  • 1 Empress (皇后)
  • 2 Zande (贊德)
  • 4 Xuanyi (宣儀)
  • 5 Chenggui (承閨)
  • 5 Chengzhi (承旨)
  • 6 Weixian (衛仙)
  • 8 Gongfeng (供奉)
  • 20 Shijie (侍櫛)

2nd Reform[edit]

The second reform of the ranks occurred during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong, and created the following system:

  • 1 Empress (皇后)
  • 1 Noble Consort (貴妃. This position was originally of equal rank to other consorts. But during the time of Yang Guifei, this position became much more prestigious)
  • 3 Consorts (妃)
    • 1 Gracious Consort (惠妃)
    • 1 Elegant Consort (麗妃)
    • 1 Splendid Consort (華妃)
  • 6 Yi's (儀)
    • 1 Poyi (波儀)
    • 1 Deyi (德儀)
    • 1 Xianyi (賢儀)
    • 1 Shunyi (順儀)
    • 1 Wanyi (婉儀)
    • 1 Fangyi (芳儀)
  • 4 Beautiful Ladies (美人)
  • 7 Talented Ladies (才人)
  • 2 Directresses of General Palace Service (尙宮)
  • 2 Directresses of Ceremonial Sercive (尙儀)
  • 2 Directresses of Wardrobe Service (尙服)

Ranks of crown prince's imperial consorts[edit]

Tang dynasty's crown prince's wife is called crown princess (太子妃), which is held by only one person at any given time. There are 5 other ranks of consorts:

  • 2 Related Ladies of Excellence (良娣)
  • 6 Filial Ladies of Excellence (良媛)
  • 10 Ladies of Inherent Excellence (承徽)
  • 16 Ladies of Clear Instruction (昭訓)
  • 24 Ladies of Decorous Service (奉儀)

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period[edit]

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

However, it is known that the Later Tangs uses the following system:

  • Zhaorong (昭容)
  • Zhaoyi (昭儀)
  • Zhaoyuan (昭媛)
  • Chushi (出使)
  • Yuzheng (御正)
  • Shizhen (侍眞)
  • Yicai (懿才)
  • Xianyi (咸一)
  • Yaofang (瑤芳)
  • Yide (懿德)
  • Xuanyi (宣一)

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

Song[edit]

The Song Dynasty's system was sub-divided in six commonly known Titles:

  • Empress (皇后)
  • Consorts (妃)
  • Imperial Concubines (嬪)
  • Lady of Handsome Fairness (婕妤)
  • Beautiful Ladies (美人)
  • Talented Ladies (才人)

as well as the unofficial title of Yushi (御侍), who have not been consummated by the Emperor.

However, Consorts and Concubines can also be further classified under different title such as 貴妃、淑妃、德妃、賢妃 (for Consorts) and 太儀、貴儀、妃儀、淑儀、婉儀、順儀、順容、淑容、婉容、昭儀、昭容、昭媛、修儀、修容、修媛、充儀、充媛 (for Concubines).

Jin Dynasty, 1115–1234[edit]

Yuan[edit]

During the Yuan Dynasty, the ranking system was at its simplest, and only consists of Empress, Consort, and Imperial Concubine. No limits were set on the number of people who could enjoy the title, so multiple Empresses could 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 Imperial Concubines. In the many tents that existed, the first Empress of the first tent is considered to be the most prestigious consort.

Massive numbers of Korean boy eunuchs, Korean girl concubines, falcons, ginseng, grain, cloth, silver, and gold were sent as tribute to the Mongol Yuan dynasty.[3][4][5][6][7][8] such as the Korean eunuch Bak Bulhwa and Korean Empress Gi. Goryeo incurred negative consequences as a result of the eunuch Bak Bulhwa's actions.[9] The tribute payment brought much harm to Korea.[4] It was considered prestigious to marry Korean women.[10]

The entry of Korean women into the palace had an impact on relations between Korea and the Yuan.[11] If anything negative happened to their families, Korea itself was blackmailed by the Yuan Mongol's Korean concubines.[12] Great power was attained by some of the Korean women who entered the Mongol court.[13]

Ming[edit]

The Ming Dynasty's system was simple with five commonly used Titles:

  • Empress (皇后)
  • Imperial Noble Consort (皇貴妃)
  • Noble Consorts (貴妃)
  • Consorts (妃)
  • Imperial Concubines (嬪)

Other known Titles including:

  • Lady of Handsome Fairness (婕妤)
  • Lady of Bright Deportment (昭儀)
  • Lady of Bright Countenance (昭容)
  • Noble Ladies (貴人)
  • Beautiful Ladies (美人)
  • Talented Ladies (才人)
  • First Class Female Attendant (選侍)
  • Second Class Female Attendant (答應)

Human tribute, including servants, eunuchs, and virgin girls came from: China's various ethnic tribes, Mongolia, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Central Asia, Siam, Champa, and Okinawa.[14] During the early Ming period, Korean concubines and eunuchs were occasionally demanded as tribute by Ming Emperors,[15][16][17][18] such as the Xuande Emperor,[19] for the imperial harem in imitation of the previous dynasty's precedent,[20] as were Vietnamese women and eunuchs.[21][22] Korea stopped sending human tribute after 1435.[18] A total of 98 virgins and 198 eunuchs were sent from Korea to Ming.[23]

There were Korean, Jurchen, Mongol, Central Asian, and Vietnamese eunuchs under the Yongle Emperor,[24][25] including Mongol eunuchs who served him while he was the Prince of Yan.[26] Muslim and Mongol eunuchs were present in the Ming court,[27] including Zheng He.[28] Muslim eunuchs were sent as ambassadors to the Timurids.[29][30] Vietnamese eunuchs like Ruan Lang, Ruan An, Fan Hong, Chen Wu, and Wang Jin were sent by Zhang Fu to the Ming.[31] During Ming's early contentious relations with Joseon, when there were disputes such as competition for influence over the Jurchens in Manchuria, Korean officials were even flogged by Korean-born Ming eunuch ambassadors when their demands were not met.[18] Some of the ambassadors were arrogant, such as Sin Kwi-saeng who, in 1398, got drunk and brandished a knife at a dinner in the presence of the king.[32][33] Sino-Korean relations later became amiable, and Korean envoys' seating arrangement in the Ming court was always the highest among the tributaries.[18]

Zhu Shuang 朱樉 (Prince Min of Qin 秦愍王) had some boys castrated and women seized after a war against minority Tibetic peoples and as a result was reprimanded.[34][35][36][37]

On 30 Jan 1406, the Ming Yongle Emperor expressed horror when the Ryukyuans castrated some of their own children to become eunuchs in order to give them to Yongle. Yongle said that the boys who were castrated were innocent and didn't deserve castration, and he returned the boys to Ryukyu and instructed them not to send eunuchs again.[38]

An anti pig slaughter edict led to speculation that the Zhengde emperor adopted Islam due to his use of Muslim eunuchs who commissioned the production of porcelain with Persian and Arabic inscriptions in white and blue color.[39][40][41][42][43][44][45][46][47] Muslim eunuchs contributed money in 1496 to repairing Niujie Mosque. Central Asian women were provided to the Zhengde Emperor by a Muslim guard and Sayyid Hussein from Hami.[48] The guard was Yu Yung and the women were Uighur.[49] It is unknown who really was behind the anti-pig slaughter edict.[50] The speculation of him becoming a Muslim is remembered alongside his excessive and debauched behavior along with his concubines of foreign origin.[51] Muslim Central Asian girls were favored by Zhengde like how Korean girls were favored by Xuande.[52] A Uighur concubine was kept by Zhengde.[53] Foreign origin Uighur and Mongol women were favored by the Zhengde emperor.[54]

There was much speculation that the Yongle Emperor's real mother was a Korean[55][56][57][58][59][60][61][62][63] or Mongolian[64] concubine.[65][66][67] Relations between Ming China and Joseon Korea improved dramatically and became much more amicable and mutually profitable during Yongle's reign, who also had a strong penchant for Korean cuisine and women,[59] as did his grandson, the Xuande Emperor.[68][69]

There were 100,000 eunuchs at the height of their numbers during the Ming.[70][71][72][73]

Qing[edit]

The Qing dynasty's system was among one of the simpler systems in Chinese history. Officially, there were eight classes:

  • Empress (皇后; huáng hòu), only one in the imperial harem.
  • Imperial Noble Consort (皇贵妃; 皇貴妃; huáng guì fēi), only one in the imperial harem.
  • Noble Consorts (贵妃; 貴妃; guì fēi), only two in the imperial harem.
  • Consorts (; fēi), only four in the imperial harem.
  • Concubines (; ; pín), only six in the imperial harem.
  • Noble Ladies (贵人; 貴人; guì rén), unlimited number in the imperial harem.
  • First Class Female Attendant (常在; cháng zài), unlimited number in the imperial harem.
  • Choice Lady or Second Class Female Attendant (答应; 答應; dā yìng), unlimited number in the imperial harem.
  • Female Attendant (官女子; guān nǘ zǐ), unlimited number in the imperial harem, typically granted to female servants whom the emperor has taken to a liking and to accompany him without any official recognition. This rank was also not part of the official concubine ranking.

For an Empress who lived well into the reigns of at least two subsequent Emperors, she would be referred to as Huang Taihou (皇太后; huáng tài hòu; "Empress Dowager") if her husband's son was the Emperor, or Taihuang Taihou (太皇太后; tài huáng tài hòu; "Grand Empress Dowager") 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 Shengmu Huang Taihou (圣母皇太后; 聖母皇太后; shèng mǔ huáng tài hòu; "Holy Mother, Empress Dowager") 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 Muhou Huang Taihou (母后皇太后; mǔ hòu huáng tài hòu; "Mother Empress, Empress Dowager") and is officially honoured as an Empress.

The prefixes Huangkao (皇考; huáng kǎo; "Dowager") or Huangzu (皇祖; huáng zǔ; "Grand Dowager") are sometimes added to a consort's rank (for Imperial Noble Consort and below) if she was a consort of the reigning Emperor's father or grandfather respectively.

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 least 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 Madame 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.[74][75][76][77] In 1650, Dorgon married the Korean princess Uisun, a daughter of the prince Yi Kaeyoon (Kumrimgoon).[78][79] Dorgon married two Korean princesses at Lianshan.[80]

There was a significant decline in the number of eunuchs working in the imperial palace during the Qing dynasty as compared to during the Ming dynasty.[81] There were about 2,000 eunuchs by the end of the Qing dynasty.[82]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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