Eunuchs have played an important historical role in cultures from Italy
to India, with societies placing a high value on their
trustworthiness around women and their high-pitched voices.
Many different courts used these emasculated males as
harem guards, spies, choral singers, and simple servants.
However, it was in Imperial China that the practice
of using eunuchs was perhaps the most predominant and long
lasting in the world. Eunuchs
were a part of the Chinese Imperial court for thousands of
years, with the practice of young boys being sold into
service, which was continued right up until the twentieth
Eunuchs in Imperial China were used for a variety of different roles.
Among these duties was acting as servants in and
around the women’s quarters of the Imperial Palace.
The eunuchs used for this role were almost always
young boys who had been purchased from their families and
undergone emasculation at a young age.
While all eunuchs were considered pure, these boys
were usually less than 10 years of age and considered
These boys were treated almost as girls and were
often given duties of bathing and dressing.
The next class of eunuchs was the older boys who had
"graduated" from service in the women's quarters
when they passed their 10th year.
The final class was men who had voluntarily undergone
eunuchs were seldom allowed inside the women's quarters for
fear that they may have retained some vestige of their
carnal urges. All
eunuchs working in the palace were considered the property
of a prince or Imperial official, although they did receive
a salary in compensation for their work.
There are records of eunuchs being used in the palaces of Imperial China
dating back to the time of Confucius, some 5,000 years
before the birth of Christ.
Historians have speculated that at least part of the
reason for the long history of using eunuchs in Imperial
China is because of China's veneration for the past and of
carrying on traditions.
Nonetheless, it is clear that Chinese rulers viewed
eunuchs as perhaps the best servants for queens, courtesans,
and concubines. When
it came to the paternity of children produced, there was
never question. In
fact, the eunuchs would carefully guard these women's
Eunuchs were also often employed as singers and actors in the theatres
within China's major cities.
Most of these eunuchs were those who had been
castrated at a young age to preserve their boyish voices.
These eunuchs earned a much lower salary than the
ones employed in the palace, but audiences often paid tips
for especially good performances.
Eunuchs in Imperial China served a wide variety of different roles,
working as servants, actors, and harem guards.
Many rituals and customs became a part of the use of
these eunuchs. Examining
these rituals can provide fascinating insights into Chinese
eunuchs were used in many different cultures, the abundance
of historical records in China is proof that scholars had
vast interest in eunuchs and therefore, learned a great deal
about their existence in Imperial China.