Thus, I was interested to hear Maggie's report on the Imperial Harem System. It is a popular theme in TV entertainment today.
"As we all know, sexual discrimination had existed for a long time. And in ancient China, the system of imperial harem was just one of the reflections of the sexual discrimination.
"This system mainly describes the wives and concubines of the emperor. There was a Chinese idiom which describes this system quite well: 3,000 beauties live in the Inner Court. The Qing Dynasty's system was among one of the simpler systems in Chinese history. There were 8 classes:
1. Empress (Huang Hou), only one in the imperial harem. Of all these Harem concubines, the empress was on the highest status. In fact, this system was a system of monogamy with several concubines; and the empress was the principal wife of the emperor. She had more power than any other concubines because she could have 10 palace maids.
|Imperial Noble Consort|
6. Noble Ladies (Guiren), unlimited number in the imperial harem. They can have at most 4 palace maids.
|First Class Female Attendant|
8. Second Class Female Attendant (Daying), the number of it was unlimited in the imperial harem, too; and they can have 2 palace maids.
|Second Class Female Attendant|
"Above all, the center of the life in the imperial harem is the emperor. All of the consorts, which were the wives and concubines of the emperor, all tried their best to entertain the emperor. Every day they had nothing to do but strive for the emperor's love, which was really a Chinese tragedy.
"There were two ways of being a consort of the emperor. The first one is by showing herself in the palace (xuanxiu). That means the daughters of some insisters and officers have the chance to go into the palace to show themselves in front of the emperor to attract his attention. Besides, the maids in the palace also have the chance to get close to the emperor to attract tim, which was the second way. Once being selected, the maid could be promoted step by step from Second Class Female Attendant. The number of the palace maids is limited to 2000.
"The consorts above the Imperial Concubines can live in their own palace. And there are 12 Eastern Palaces. Consorts below the Noble Ladies all live together. The system was solid, but the number of consorts an emperor actually had during the Qing Dynasty was subject to wild variations. The Kangxi Emperor holds the record for having the most consorts with 79, while the Guangxu Emperor holds the record for having the least consorts, with one empress and two consorts, a total of just three consorts.
"The tradition of ranking concubines ended as the Qing Dynasty was overthrown. However, the practice of giving rank to people who 'unofficially' (lives with, but never marry) have more than one wife is still widespread. In addition, the term Madame is still used, albeit rarely and only in very formal setting, as an honorable title towards another person's wife in China.
"Finally, with the sexual discrimination being eliminated, this system was also abolished."