Harems of the Middle Kingdom: hierarchy, recorded sex and other "Chinese ceremonies"
Turkish and Persian harems are well known to everyone, many poems and novels have been written about them, as well as historical dramas have been filmed. But few people have heard of Chinese harems, which are worthy of attention, if only because they outshone the best sultan series of the heyday of the Ottoman Empire.
Since ancient times, a woman in The Celestial Empire was considered property. And if so, the more women, the better for their master, if not for reasons of direct benefit, then at least from the point of view of status in society. In China, unlike in the Middle East, anyone could get a harem, even a small shopkeeper.
Moreover, even peasants and artisans acquired concubines. For example, a bricklayer or a blacksmith, going to work in another province, could unofficially take a temporary wife there, who, instead of a legitimate one, stayed at home, organized his simple life and pleasured him in bed.
Despite the fact that even the poor could keep a harem, this type of relationship was strictly regulated in China. Even with the ability to support a hundred women, the Chinese had to limit himself to the number assigned to him by status. All the inhabitants of the country, except for the godlike emperor, could have only one legal spouse. But the number of concubines already depended on the rank and circumstances.
The eldest son of jun-wang (prince) or jiangjun and zhongwei (classes of aristocrats), upon reaching the age of 30, could take one concubine into the house if his wife did not please him with an heir. If, at the age of 35, a descendant of a princely family did not have a son, either from his wife or from a concubine, then he was allowed to take three women, and the heirs of aristocratic families — two.
A commoner, whose wife did not give birth to a son until the age of 40, received permission to bring one concubine into the house for procreation and help with the household. It was easier for the nobility in this regard. Even with a limit on the number of concubines, representatives of the aristocracy had the opportunity to receive female attention and affection from many beauties.
High-ranking officials and princes of high rank had the right to maintain troupes of nyuyue-female artists trained in dancing, singing and playing musical instruments. Their official task is to entertain the host and his guests at holidays and other festive events. But along the way, the Nyuyue provided sexual services to everyone to whom their master's mercy would extend.
In addition to concubines and artists, dozens and sometimes hundreds of maids lived in the houses of the Chinese nobility, who could fulfill any whim of the master or his family members. Thus, having only one wife and 2-3 legally prescribed concubines, a prince, minister or military commander could enjoy a harem of a whole army of beauties, and sometimes even handsome men.
A loving parent rarely wished his bloodline to get into someone's harem, because a concubine could not only be beaten and maimed, but even killed for some misdemeanor or simply because of the bad mood of the master. They tried to marry off their daughters, although many women did not live much sweeter in the status of a wife.
Once in someone else's family, a woman automatically became the last member of it, whose duties included fulfilling the whims of a new relative, and also solving dozens of household tasks, often very difficult. The daughter-in-law received small indulgences only after giving birth to a son, but even in this case her rights were very modest.
In addition to hard work, the girls often fulfilled the strange and even unhealthy demands of their husband's family members. There are cases when after the birth of a child, a woman breastfed not only the baby, but also her father-in-law and mother-in-law. In the Middle Kingdom, they believed that breast milk returns youth and the elderly did not miss the opportunity to test this for themselves.
The guilty wife could be killed without further ado, and not only the husband, but also any senior member of the family — the husband's father or mother, his brother or sister. For such reprisals, it was necessary to answer according to the law, but the punishment was limited to a symbolic fine or several blows with a stick.
For poor families, the birth of a daughter was a real disaster. To provide the child with food and clothing, they tried to sell him as soon as possible to a harem to a rich merchant or nobleman. This is the case when, having become a concubine, a girl got a chance to survive, because in the hungry years in peasant families, first of all, girls who were considered useless were deprived of food.
The emperor, of course, had the largest and most diverse harem in China. Since the monarch was considered the Son of Heaven, many things were allowed to him. Moreover, the more wives and concubines the emperor had in his harem, the more powerful and courageous he was considered.
Like everything in The Celestial Empire, the imperial harem had its own strict order. At the head of the hierarchy was the empress, then there were ordinary wives, and then concubines. divided into several categories. In different eras, emperors could have a different number of official wives-from 4 to 40.
In recent centuries, the Sons of Heaven were limited to 4 spouses, symbolizing the 4 cardinal directions and 4 seasons. Together with the sun-loving spouse, they made up the blessed number 5 — there were so many elements, basic colors and taste sensations. But, in addition to wives, there were many other women around the emperor, whom he could completely dispose of: concubines, maids, dancers, singers.
In such an environment, it was possible to maintain sanity and strength only by obeying strict rules. Therefore, the emperor could visit the empress's bedchamber for a specific purpose only once a month, and the concubine — once every five days. Chinese science believed that concubines of the highest category have a more pronounced female nature and it is easier to conceive an heir with them.
But the lowest categories required multiple attempts. Therefore, the lower the rank of a concubine, the more often she had access to the body of the Son of Heaven. Because of this unusual system, it turned out that women from the lowest-ranking harem often had more influence on the emperor than senior concubines and even wives. It has also happened in the history of China that low-ranking concubines became empresses and mistresses of the Forbidden City.
The eunuchs also kept records of the visits of the concubines by the master, making sure that the intervals and all the important centuries-old ceremonial were observed. And there were enough ceremonies and customs in the relations between the master and his harem. The emperor was especially tightly entangled in conventions.
We will not retell the numerous rules and regulations and will limit ourselves to the fact that when the Son of Heaven had intercourse with his wife or concubine, his mother, aunt or older sister was present, who helped with advice. If the women were busy, the process was supervised by a senior eunuch, who was supposed to write everything that happened in red paint on a special scroll. Later, such "red records" formed the basis of traditional Chinese erotic literature.
Keywords: Harem | Palace | Notes | Emperor | China | Servants | Ceremony