Why did Emperors of India and China have so many mistresses?

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,471
Sydney
I've read than a British embassy to the Imperial court was told than kow towing was absolutely compulsory when seeing the emperor
after years of subtil negotiation , with the Chinese forces having been utterly defeated
the arrangement was that the British ambassador would drop on one knee with a painting of Victoria behind a curtain , behind the imperial throne
thus face was saved , the white faces had bowed and the British lord kneel to his queen
 
Mar 2019
20
Toronto
That's unbelievable. What if she refused to bent her knees?
In ancient Chinese society, once a woman becomes a wife or a concubine, her social status is determined by the status of her husband. An Imperial Consort is regarded as "Emperor's woman". Refusing to bend your knees to her will be regarded as disrespecting the Emperor. Disrespecting the Emperor was a serious crime. The Emperor, in his discretion, my regard this as an act of high treason and have your whole family executed.
Once an Emperor learned that his minister's wife offended one of his beloved concubines, he ordered that woman to be arrested and put into dungeon. The minister came to the Emperor to plead for his family's lives, saying that she just spoke out of turn and he never instructed her to say so. The Emperor finally decided to spare the whole family's lives, but insisted that woman must be punished. He sentenced her to caning, a form a corporal punishment. She was striped of her clothes in the dungeon and beaten with sticks by the royal servants. And then her husband, the minister, had to divorce her to distance his family from her. She ended up being downgraded from wife to a servant in her husband's family, a position much lower than her husband's concubines.
 
Mar 2019
20
Toronto
And surprisingly, a lot of these mistresses were from wealthy and noble families.
Even if you are the daughter of a top-ranking minister, one of the wealthiest and most powerful persons in the Empire, an Emperor's concubine is still way above your station. So it is not surprising that many of these girls aspired to become the Emperor's concubine. Let's image that you are just one of the 5-10 daughters of your father (that's common for a high-ranking minister) and your mother is a concubine, you are probably constantly ignored by your father. You are under the authority of your father, his wife, your mother, and your elder brothers and sisters. Once you are selected into the Palace, you immediately becomes the most important person of your entire family. Even your father and his wife will have to bow down to you and obey your command. You would become the head of your family and your concubine mother would be elevated to the status equal to your father's wife. If any of your family members has mistreated you before, now you have an opportunity to revenge.
 
Likes: betgo
Jan 2019
220
London, United Kingdom
In ancient Chinese society, once a woman becomes a wife or a concubine, her social status is determined by the status of her husband. An Imperial Consort is regarded as "Emperor's woman". Refusing to bend your knees to her will be regarded as disrespecting the Emperor. Disrespecting the Emperor was a serious crime. The Emperor, in his discretion, my regard this as an act of high treason and have your whole family executed.
Once an Emperor learned that his minister's wife offended one of his beloved concubines, he ordered that woman to be arrested and put into dungeon. The minister came to the Emperor to plead for his family's lives, saying that she just spoke out of turn and he never instructed her to say so. The Emperor finally decided to spare the whole family's lives, but insisted that woman must be punished. He sentenced her to caning, a form a corporal punishment. She was striped of her clothes in the dungeon and beaten with sticks by the royal servants. And then her husband, the minister, had to divorce her to distance his family from her. She ended up being downgraded from wife to a servant in her husband's family, a position much lower than her husband's concubines.
Using corporal punishment to a noble lady? That's unheard of. A noble lady would rather be executed rather than humiliated.
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
33,629
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Using corporal punishment to a noble lady? That's unheard of. A noble lady would rather be executed rather than humiliated.
You don't get it, do you? Eastern societies are NOTHING like the fantasy medieval world you see on TV. Women knew full well what their place was, and unless they wanted to risk having themselves and possibly their families punished, they wouldn't put themselves in this position in the first place. It doesn't matter how noble she is, she is still inferior to the Emperor and his wives and concubines/ And if a nobleman or minister had any inkling that his wife was going to commit a grevious insult like this, he would do his best to make sure she never got near the Emperor, for his own sake.
 
Mar 2019
20
Toronto
Using corporal punishment to a noble lady? That's unheard of. A noble lady would rather be executed rather than humiliated.
In ancient China, the noble class were not exempted from corporal punishment. I cannot find an English source to prove this. You can read the below Wikipedia page if you understand Chinese or use Google translate to understand the main points. The point is, Emperor of China used corporal punishment on his ministers who disrespected him. These ministers were beaten publicly with clubs by royal servants.
廷杖 - 维基百科,自由的百科全书
Only the Emperor himself, his mother the Empress Dowager, and his wife the Empress were exempted from corporal punishment. Theoretically even Imperial Consorts and Princes were not exempted from corporal punishment, though it was rarely used on them. It was not uncommon for other nobles and elites, both men and women, to be sentenced to corporal punishment for insulting members of the royal family. Men were often beaten in public, while women were beaten in dungeon.
 
Mar 2019
20
Toronto
A lot of people comment about lost personal dignity. I think that projection of 21 century emotions on the past. I suspect being concubine for Emperor of China might have been dream for many girls. So, no dignity was lost, just increase in status and quality of life. Cleaning toilets today might be much harder hit on dignity and quite a few people do it, sometimes for minimum wage.
In ancient China, a noble woman lost no dignity if she became the concubine of a higher noble. Even being a concubine of a man of equal social status was acceptable. She only lost dignity when she became the wife or concubine of a man below her station.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,100
You don't get it, do you? Eastern societies are NOTHING like the fantasy medieval world you see on TV. .
Oh, that is where OP gets these ideas and is so insistent on them. I haven't seen these shows, but they must depict women in situations like romance novels. Also, every British show I have seen shows a British class system in any foreign society. They show it in the US, when anyone who lives here knows that there is less emphasis on that sort of thing.
 
Mar 2019
20
Toronto
Oh, that is where OP gets these ideas and is so insistent on them. I haven't seen these shows, but they must depict women in situations like romance novels. Also, every British show I have seen shows a British class system in any foreign society. They show it in the US, when anyone who lives here knows that there is less emphasis on that sort of thing.
OP seems to be projecting Western concept of nobility on Eastern society and equating the status of mistress in European culture to that of a concubine in Chinese culture. She just has no idea how powerful the Emperor of China was in relation to other elite bureaucrats. She totally underestimated the prestige of being one of the Emperor's women, thinking they were like European Kings' mistresses. I dare to say given an opportunity to choose, 95% of women in ancient China would prefer to be a concubine of the Emperor than the wife of any other elite. Being a Emperor's woman, no matter wife or concubine, was the highest honor a woman could have in ancient China. Her whole family would be proud of her and her name would be worshiped and and remembered for generations.
 
Likes: Aupmanyav
Jan 2019
220
London, United Kingdom
OP seems to be projecting Western concept of nobility on Eastern society and equating the status of mistress in European culture to that of a concubine in Chinese culture. She just has no idea how powerful the Emperor of China was in relation to other elite bureaucrats. She totally underestimated the prestige of being one of the Emperor's women, thinking they were like European Kings' mistresses. I dare to say given an opportunity to choose, 95% of women in ancient China would prefer to be a concubine of the Emperor than the wife of any other elite. Being a Emperor's woman, no matter wife or concubine, was the highest honor a woman could have in ancient China. Her whole family would be proud of her and her name would be worshiped and and remembered for generations.
However powerful he might be, his power only served to make his women fear him rather than love him. Love could not stem from an unequal relationship.