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6 Facts About Chinese Imperial Concubines

If you’ve been watching historical C-dramas or even K-drama over this quarantine, it’s completely obvious by now that every emperor had more than one wife. This group of beautiful women you’d see hanging by the emperor’s side is known none other than the imperial concubines. 


What are concubines? 

Concubines, in general, are mistresses, but they hold a lower rank as opposed to a wife. On the other hand, imperial concubines were selected and tasked to procreate the emperor’s children. 

1) An emperor could have a lot of Imperial Chinese concubines.


Long ago, men were allowed to acquire as many concubines as he pleased, but this all changed during the Eastern Han dynasty, where they began to limit the number. 

Men with higher ranks could gain more concubines than those who were lower. Therefore, the emperor, being the highest rank, could acquire the most concubines, ranging from hundreds to thousands. 

2) In their teen years, they went through a selection system.


The selection for imperial concubines varied depending on the ruling emperor. For instance, the Ming dynasty required all young unmarried females (13 to 16) to participate, except those who were married, had physical disabilities, or any deformities. 

On the other hand, the Qing dynasty selected females belonging to the Eight Banners families, who were mostly Manchurians and Mongolians. 

As for the criteria of choosing, women were chosen based on their looks, physical health, skills, and how they served the emperor’s mother during the Qing dynasty. 

3) They had a hierarchical system as well.


The emperor’s women were arranged by rank, with the empress being on top of the hierarchy. However, the number and position still varied depending on the ruling emperor at that time. 

One’s rank can be distinguished by the color of utensils or clothing she used, and benefits depended on the level in which she is situated. The higher the class, the better. 

4) They were guarded by Eunuchs.


Since concubines could only bear the emperor’s children, they were only served and monitored by Eunuchs, men who were castrated. 

5) Some imperial concubines lived a bitter life or were mistreated. 


As mentioned earlier, imperial concubines were a lot—some were treated better than the others, while some lived in loneliness. Consequently, jealousy was not inevitable and could even result in one’s death, such as Concubine Qi from the Han dynasty. 

However, this is not only the horrific fate imperial concubines could face, as they also suffered from abuse and torture. 

There was even a period when they were forced to die with the emperor, to the extent of being buried alive. 

6) Some rose up and gained influential power. 


The most well-known example would be Empress Wu Zetian. She became an imperial concubine at the age of 14 and later ruled China, at 66, for 15 years. 

She removed her rivalries or those who were a threat by killing them. Yet, at the same time, she brought widespread changes in the country that made the people support her.

She had done a lot of things during her reign, including preventing rebellions from occurring, reforming the educational system, and reopening the Silk Road.

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