An intriguing, well researched article with lots of beautiful, insightful infographics about the complex but organized inside workings of the Forbidden City.


All females living in the Forbidden City were carefully sequestered in the imperial quarters deep inside the palace. They were restricted to the inner court and forbidden from venturing out of the northern section. Most women in the Forbidden City were employed as maids and servants, but there was also a select group of concubines whose task was to bear children for the emperor – as many as he could father. Those who gave birth to male offspring were elevated to imperial consorts, with the empress at the top of the pecking order.

The inner court was composed of three major groups of women: concubines, palace servants, and the royal princesses.

Women were selected as xiunu (elegant females) for the court as early as the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD). Polygamy was common practice in feudal China, although only upper- and wealthy middle-class men could afford to take several wives.

The four principles of polygamy in feudal China:

1. The strict distinction between main wife and concubines.
2. Women must not be jealous.
3. Attachment could radically destabilise polygamy.
4. Polygamy could only survive by observing a strict hierarchy.

It was believed that organising the emperor’s sex life was essential to maintaining the well-being of the entire Chinese empire. The Chinese calendars of the 10th century were not used to keep track of time but rather to keep the emperor’s sex schedule in check. The rotation of concubines sleeping with the emperor was kept to a regimented order. 

In China, and some other Asian countries, age is determined from the moment of conception, not the moment of birth. The Imperial Chinese believed that women were most likely to conceive during the full moon, when the Yin, or female influence, was strong enough to match the Yang, or male force, of the emperor. The empress and other wives slept with the emperor around the time of the full moon because it was believed children of strong virtue would be conceived on those nights. 

Whenever a baby was due in the palace, 40 wet nurses and 80 substitutes were employed. Imperial sons were breastfed by a wet nurse whose own child was a girl, and vice versa in the cases of imperial daughters. This way the yin and yang could be matched and the substitution of babies, accidental or otherwise, could be averted.

RATING:  #RobertReview (Forbidden City, China): 9.5 | 10
An intriguing, well researched article with lots of beautiful, insightful infographics about the complex but organized inside workings of the Forbidden City.


Source:  Life inside the Forbidden City: how women were selected for service

Published: 3rd January 2019.




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