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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 century.   

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 "thoroughly pure."  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 castration.  These 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 virtue. 

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 history.  Although 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.


 

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