Eunuchs of Ancient China
Eunuch refers to a man who is castrated and impotent in ancient China. They held a position specially to serve emperors, kings and their families. In fact, Eunuch was not peculiar to ancient China, but there were eunuchs in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Turkey and even the whole Asia. Eunuch system in ancient China had great important influence on China history.
Development of Eunuch System
Eunuch system originated from Pre-Qin Dynasty (before 221 B.C.), and at that time, eunuchs were not all castrated. Castrated eunuchs began to Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 A.D.), because there were many females in imperial palace, if male servants were allowed in imperial palace, it was difficult to avoid prurience. Eunuchs developed greatly in Ming Dynasty, and it numbered ten thousand eunuchs. Eunuch organization was simplified in Qing Dynasty, and it was reduced to 9,000 eunuchs.
The Title of Eunuch
Eunuch had many names in ancient China, but it was so called from Tang Dynasty (618-907). It only meant to eunuch with a higher official status in imperial palace. After the mid period of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Eunuch had a great political power, since then, all eunuchs were so called.
Special Position in Political Power
As feudal emperor was hereditary, emperor was afraid that someone arrogated his throne. Generally, emperor did not trust civil and military officials but thought eunuch reliable, so eunuch took advantage of this special position to seize great power, and even controlled emperor.
Before feudal society died out, there were little dynasties without eunuch in China history. In a long history of feudal society in China, eunuchs not only dabbled the life of royal family, but they dabbled the complicated political struggle. In China history before the Revolution of 1911, most dynasties were waned related to rebellion of Eunuchs. Among these, the ruination of Eastern Han, Tang and Ming dynasties had direct relations with eunuch’s domineering manipulation.
Notorious eunuchs in China history are Zhao Gao in Qin Dynasty, Hou Lan and Zhang Rang in Eastern Han Dynasty, Qiu Shiliang and Tian Lingzi in Tang Dynasty, Wang Zhen, Wang Zhi, Liu Jin and Wei Zhongxian in Ming Dynasty, and Li Lianying and Zou Jie in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
There were some outstanding characters in history, such as Cai Lun, Zheng He and Cao Teng and so on.
Cai Lun is the founder of papermaking technology. As a eunuch in Eastern Han Dynasty, Cai Lun’s papermaking technology was one of the four ancient inventions in China, which made a great contribution to human civilization. Meanwhile, Cai Lun is titled as one of the 100 celebrities in the world.
Cao Teng, the grandfather of Cao Cao (a famous politician in the late period of Eastern Han Dynasty and the founder of Kingdom Wei 220-266 B.C.), was the only eunuch that was conferred as King in China history.
Zheng He (1371-1433) was a famous navigator and explorer in Ming Dynasty. He led the grand fleet set out from China, passed through Malacca and crossed over Indian Ocean. In the period from 1405 to 1433, Zheng He had seven voyages and visited 30 counties, which deepened the relationship between China and Southeast Asia and Eastern Africa and advanced China seafaring.?
Despite all that, most of eunuchs came from poor family, and they must bear physical suffering before as a eunuch for a living. Someone worked hard for a lifetime in imperial palace without meeting the emperor once, and someone died from mistreatment. Once eunuchs were casted out the imperial palace, most of eunuchs stayed in the temple to spend their later year in life. In the outskirt of Beijing City, there are 20 temples built by eunuchs in Ming and Qing Dynasties.
>>More about China history: Emperors of China, Chinese Imperial Gardens