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

May 2009
1,295
#31
I think the Palace provided an opportunity for low born girls to climb the social ladder. They were willing to sacrifice some personal dignity to please the emperor in exchange for a better life.
Also the professional ladder (to a much lesser degree). The Palace Women's Service Organization wasnt just staffed by women but run by them too. I believe these were the only women in the official bureaucracy. So a woman could work her way up from a serving girl or cook to a managerial role and then maybe to concubine. Not as many options as the men had obviously but something to strive for.
 
Mar 2014
1,915
Lithuania
#32
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.
 
Likes: Belgarion

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,101
#33
OP has a point that being an imperial concubine might be difficult in that she wouldn't have much of a relationship with a man and wouldn't have frequent sex. However, there were benefits as discussed. It is a difference in culture from the west to have official concubines.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,806
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
#34
I doubt even the emperor gets that much of a choice. Here's a picture comparing Qing concubines and the modern actresses who played them:



Even judging by the standards of beauty for the time, they're not exactly the type of faces that men would crawl through a mile of broken glass for. The emperor couldn't just sleep with anyone he feels like at any given day, there's a regimented rotation system in place for that. This leads me to suspect that the rigorous concubine election process had a lot of backroom dealings that the emperor either wasn't aware of, or was aware of but had no power to change.
I do not know the identities of the particular concubines in the photos, or the dates the photos were taken. I suspect that they couldn't afford to have photos taken until they had become rather successful at the concubine business, and thus were not as beautiful as they were at the beginning of their careers as concubine.
 
May 2009
1,295
#35
Being chosen by the emperor was actually the best case scenario. Those women at least had the opportunity to bear imperial children and gain a lot of power. The women who never got chosen had it the worst because they lived in quasi-captivity. They werent with the emperor and they couldn't marry another man and have a normal life so they just sat around and wasted away.
 
Jan 2019
220
London, United Kingdom
#36
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.
A Girl from humble beginnings might dream of it and feel excited about being selected into the imperial palace. A highborn girl, such as the daughter of a minister, would not like the idea of being the concubine or lesser wife of a man, even that man is the emperor. I think most of the highborn girls in the palace were forced into it by their parents to please the emperor.
A Turkish TV show "Magnificent Century" available on Netflix tells the story about Ottoman Sultan and his women. Ottoman Sultan also had a lot of women serving him. However, those were female slaves who didn't have a choice. No noble woman in Ottoman Turkey wanted to enter the Sultan's harem.
 
Last edited:
Jan 2019
220
London, United Kingdom
#37
OP has a point that being an imperial concubine might be difficult in that she wouldn't have much of a relationship with a man and wouldn't have frequent sex. However, there were benefits as discussed. It is a difference in culture from the west to have official concubines.
I doubt how "official" these concubines were, because the word "concubine" doesn't sound official at all. I guess it is more like an "open secret". It is supposed to be a "secret" though everyone knows about it and turn a blind eye. Some of the emperor's concubines (especially those highborn ladies) might be secretly enjoying the benefits from sleeping with the emperor, but they would not want everyone to know who she really was and wanted to keep a low profile. Because being a concubine or a lesser wife is like acknowledging the man is your master and you are totally subordinate to him, that's quite embarrassing for a highborn lady.
 
Last edited:
Jan 2019
220
London, United Kingdom
#38
Being chosen by the emperor was actually the best case scenario. Those women at least had the opportunity to bear imperial children and gain a lot of power. The women who never got chosen had it the worst because they lived in quasi-captivity. They werent with the emperor and they couldn't marry another man and have a normal life so they just sat around and wasted away.
I think for a girl from humble beginnings, it was good to be selected as a concubine and bear the emperor's children. For a highborn girl however, the best scenario would be to marry a man slightly below her station so that she could control him and forbid the man to have any other women. Unfortunately, a lot of highborn girls were forced into the imperial palace by their parents to please the emperor.
 
Mar 2014
1,915
Lithuania
#39
A Girl from humble beginnings might dream of it and feel excited about being selected into the imperial palace. A highborn girl, such as the daughter of a minister, would not like the idea of being the concubine or lesser wife of a man, even that man is the emperor. I think most of the highborn girls in the palace were forced into it by their parents to please the emperor.
A Turkish TV show "Magnificent Century" available on Netflix tells the story about Ottoman Sultan and his women. Ottoman Sultan also had a lot of women serving him. However, those were female slaves who didn't have a choice. No noble woman in Ottoman Turkey wanted to enter the Sultan's harem.
You probably right and these girls were told to become Emperors concubines by their relatives, but how this is different fro all other girls in China? Parents would select husbands for them as well. Girl with humble beginnings probably had better chance to get husband that shy fancy (neighbor, someone from same village). Important people always had arraigned marriages. I am not very good at Turkish history, but as far as I understand in the beginning harem consisted from noble Turkish women. That led to different nobles supporting different sons of Sultan and heavy infighting. Slave women was answer to that problem, they had no outside support. But if Sultan would have been stupid enough to take noble women again my guess crowd of them immediately would become available.