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

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
33,736
T'Republic of Yorkshire
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.
What's love got to do with it? Nobles in the medieval world, whether in the East or West, did not get married for love. In the East, marriage was arranged by families, by matchmakers, for political purposes ir familial alliances.

Marriage for love is only a recent concept.
 
Mar 2019
20
Toronto
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.
There was no equal relationship in ancient China. Even a wife was not equal to her husband, not to mention a concubine. It was considered appropriate for a concubine to fear their husband so that she would not dare to challenge his authority. Men were expected to be dominant and women submissive.
A princess of Tang Dynasty was arranged by her father the Emperor to marry a military general's third son. She did not show proper respect to her husband and her in-laws (refusing to courtesy them as most wives and daughter-in-laws were obliged to), and was beaten severely by her husband. She complained to her father the Emperor and demanded punishment for her husband. The Emperor refused to do so, saying that it was a family matter that he could not intervene. Later her brother, who succeeded her father to become the new Emperor, issued a verdict saying that even a royal princess must courtesy her husband and in-laws as all other wives do. These two emperors were praised by the public and historians of their time for not breaking social norm and not indulging their daughter/sister.
You see? This is a royal princess who married to a man below her station as a wife, and even she was not equal to her husband. How can a concubine expect any equality in a relationship?
 
Mar 2019
20
Toronto
What's love got to do with it? Nobles in the medieval world, whether in the East or West, did not get married for love. In the East, marriage was arranged by families, by matchmakers, for political purposes ir familial alliances.

Marriage for love is only a recent concept.
Exactly. Marriage for love or affection was considered shameful and dangerous in ancient China. The rationale is that affection doesn't last long and a child is supposed to obey his/her parents who gave him/her life and brought him/her up. A marriage for affection which is not approved by both the man's and the women's parents was considered invalid. The couple would be forced to break up. If it has been consummated, the woman would be considered unvirtuous and unmarriageable. It won't be easy for her even to be a concubine for a man of her station, because most men demand virginity from their concubines.
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,107
Women in a harem did not marry for love. In many cases, the marriage was arranged by their parents or they were slaves or prisoners. If it was voluntary, they were looking for status, etc.

In Europe, the illegitimate child of a king was not considered a prince or princess. That person might marry into the nobility or gentry, but was not considered royalty. I assume a child of a royal concubine was considered a prince, even if he didn't have much chance of becoming emperor.

I also infer that status in China was based on position sometimes more than on family. This is a difference now between Britain and the US. In Britain family background is more important, whereas in the US work and money and so on can give you more status.
 
Mar 2019
20
Toronto
@LilyLi What is the name of the Tang princess from your post #152? Thanks in advance!
There is no record of the name of that princess. She is known by her formal title "Princess Shengping". I can't find any article about her in English online. There is a Wikipedia page about her daughter. Her daughter later became a concubine of Emperor Xianzong and her daughter's son (i.e. her grandson) became Emperor Muzong.
 
Mar 2019
20
Toronto
I assume a child of a royal concubine was considered a prince, even if he didn't have much chance of becoming emperor.
Yes, a concubine's son was regarded as a prince. In Chinese history, the majority of emperors were born by concubines. There was no law of succession in ancient China. An emperor decides which son would succeed him. During certain dynasties (such as Han and Ming), emperors tended to consider his sons by his Empress first (if any). During other dynasties (such as Qing), emperors chose their favorite son or the son who he thought is most fit to rule to succeed him. During Qing Dynasty, princes wouldn't know who would be the next emperor before their father died. When an emperor had chose his successor, he would write it in a sealed scroll and place it at a location where no one was allowed to access. He would not tell his successor that he was chosen. After an emperor died, the scroll would be retrieved and read in the court. Only then would people know who the new emperor was.
 
Sep 2012
3,783
Bulgaria
There is no record of the name of that princess. She is known by her formal title "Princess Shengping". I can't find any article about her in English online. There is a Wikipedia page about her daughter. Her daughter later became a concubine of Emperor Xianzong and her daughter's son (i.e. her grandson) became Emperor Muzong.
Thanks again LilyLi, I will try to research the subject. These Tang princesses, consorts are extraordinary women it seems. I found a peculiar case of defiance I believe TillyCaine is going to like, a romance between Tang princess Gao Yang and a buddhist monk called Bianji, which ended badly for the monk. The Princess rebelled against the emperor, her brother, and was executed.

Chinese historical television series about Princess Gao Yang
Love Legend of the Tang Dynasty - Wikipedia
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,107
I don't know much about Chinese history, but maybe there is a misunderstanding due to the translation to "concubine". If sons of concubines became empires over sons of wives, they weren't concubines in the western sense.