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Palace maids and eunuchs recruitement


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#1 liuxing

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 12:57 AM

From the dialogue of one palace maid character in the series War and Beauty, I get the impression that there were fix groups of people that must send their daughters to work as palace maids until they are 25 years old. How true was that? How did this system work?

I've also read in a short bio of Empress Cixi that all daughters from Manchu's families must be registered as potential palace maids/concubines candidates. Is that true? Even little misses from well-to-do Manchu family must go to become palace maids in the imperial palace? How about Han girls? Can they become palace maids too?

What about eunuchs? How were they recruited?

#2 Ashura

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Posted 17 November 2006 - 02:22 AM

The maids and the eunuchs were bascially slaves to the royal family. Many childern were sold to the court to be maids and eunuchs. The Palace usually won't take teenagers for eunuchs but occasionally they got accepted.

The story for concubines was different. The Manchu families were more than willing to send their daughters in the palace as concubines, no maids. There were fixed exams for Xiou Nu, pretty ladies, in the palace. The exams were opened for the daughters of the aristocrat class.
人間五十年、下天のうちをくらぶれば、夢幻の如くなり。

#3 liuxing

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Posted 21 November 2006 - 05:41 AM

Thanks for the info. :)

I read up more about this issue. The maid I mentioned in the War and Beauty was actually a 'bao yi' (包衣). I learnt now that 'bao yi' were bondservants of Manchu bannermen.

The Manchu girls who registered when they came of age were eligible to become palace maiden not palace maid. Guess I made a mistake liao.

Many childern were sold to the court to be maids and eunuchs. The Palace usually won't take teenagers for eunuchs but occasionally they got accepted.

So, many parents willing to sell their sons to become eunuchs. :icon15:

#4 Ashura

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Posted 21 November 2006 - 04:25 PM

So, many parents willing to sell their sons to become eunuchs. :icon15:

They had no choice because they were too poor. At least the child would have a chance to live being an eunuch.
人間五十年、下天のうちをくらぶれば、夢幻の如くなり。

#5 shawn

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Posted 22 November 2006 - 07:25 AM

Actually why were eunuchs needed in the palace to serve the emporesses, imperial consorts, emperors? 100% palace maids were needed to serve everyone. There's no need for eunuchs.
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#6 wlee15

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Posted 22 November 2006 - 10:33 PM

Actually why were eunuchs needed in the palace to serve the emporesses, imperial consorts, emperors? 100% palace maids were needed to serve everyone. There's no need for eunuchs.


They provided most of the menial labour within the inner palace and also formed the guard of the Empress and the inner palace. Palace maids were also permited to leave the palace after they reached a certain age (this was unique to the Qing dynasty).

#7 Rong Qin Wang

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Posted 01 December 2006 - 04:05 PM

Thanks for the info. :)

I read up more about this issue. The maid I mentioned in the War and Beauty was actually a 'bao yi' (包衣). I learnt now that 'bao yi' were bondservants of Manchu bannermen.

The Manchu girls who registered when they came of age were eligible to become palace maiden not palace maid. Guess I made a mistake liao.
So, many parents willing to sell their sons to become eunuchs. :icon15:


Zunjing de Liuxing,

It is really nice of you to start a thread about it! I have purchased “War and Beauty” for several months now, but I am still contemplating over whether to watch it or not.

I am really interested in the Imperial harem structure of the Qing Dynasty! May I ask who were the “Bao Yi?” I know you have stated that “Bao Yi” were bondservants of the Manchu bannermen, but what does it mean to be a “bondservant?” I have tried looking up that word in some dictionaries and searching for the definitions online, but to no avails.

Can you please explain the difference(s) between a palace maiden and a palace maid? By the way, is the term “lady-in-waiting” the English equivalency for “palace maid?” Some of these terms are rather confusing!

Xie Xie,

#8 Guest_royba_*

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Posted 16 March 2007 - 07:29 PM

Zunjing de Liuxing,

It is really nice of you to start a thread about it! I have purchased “War and Beauty” for several months now, but I am still contemplating over whether to watch it or not.

I am really interested in the Imperial harem structure of the Qing Dynasty! May I ask who were the “Bao Yi?” I know you have stated that “Bao Yi” were bondservants of the Manchu bannermen, but what does it mean to be a “bondservant?” I have tried looking up that word in some dictionaries and searching for the definitions online, but to no avails.

Can you please explain the difference(s) between a palace maiden and a palace maid? By the way, is the term “lady-in-waiting” the English equivalency for “palace maid?” Some of these terms are rather confusing!

Xie Xie,


In English the word “maiden” refers to a girl who is still a virgin. It is unlikely that there would be any reference to “palace maidens” in any books in English on the Forbidden City – it is not a usual term. But “maids” in the palace were servants to concubines, or empresses.

The term “lady-in-waiting” when used in connection with the emperor is usually a euphemism by somebody who is reluctant to use the word concubine. However, the term is also used in connection with senior-rank female attendants on an empress or empress-dowager. There is no term in Chinese for such a person – it is only something used by English-speaking writers to explain the duties of such an attendant.

#9 Rong Qin Wang

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Posted 23 March 2007 - 12:48 AM

In English the word “maiden” refers to a girl who is still a virgin. It is unlikely that there would be any reference to “palace maidens” in any books in English on the Forbidden City – it is not a usual term. But “maids” in the palace were servants to concubines, or empresses.

The term “lady-in-waiting” when used in connection with the emperor is usually a euphemism by somebody who is reluctant to use the word concubine. However, the term is also used in connection with senior-rank female attendants on an empress or empress-dowager. There is no term in Chinese for such a person – it is only something used by English-speaking writers to explain the duties of such an attendant.


Zunjing de Royba,

Yes, I know the word “maiden” means “virgin girl(s)” in English. Yes, I also know it is not a usual term; that is why I was not too sure of the meaning. Yeah, I also know palace maids were female servants to Emperors, Empresses and concubines with various different ranks in the palace. I just was not aware of the difference between a palace maiden and a palace maid.

Oh I see, the term “lady-in-waiting” is usually just a euphemism for low ranking concubines. I don’t know why there is a taboo when referring to low ranking concubines. I surmise this can have a different meaning when it is referring to senior-rank female attendants of an Empress or an Empress Dowager. Who were senior-rank female attendants? Were they just palace maids, who had been serving an Empress or an Empress Dowager very well for several decades?

Thanks for answering my question regarding the Chinese equivalence for “lady-in-waiting!” Since there is no Chinese term for it, I am not going to worry about it anymore.

By the way, is there also no Chinese term for palace maiden as it was used by English writers to explain the function of the person?

Would the Chinese transliteration of palace maids be Gong Nu?

Xie Xie,

#10 bejean

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Posted 23 March 2007 - 01:19 AM

Zunjing de Liuxing,

It is really nice of you to start a thread about it! I have purchased “War and Beauty” for several months now, but I am still contemplating over whether to watch it or not.

I am really interested in the Imperial harem structure of the Qing Dynasty! May I ask who were the “Bao Yi?” I know you have stated that “Bao Yi” were bondservants of the Manchu bannermen, but what does it mean to be a “bondservant?” I have tried looking up that word in some dictionaries and searching for the definitions online, but to no avails.

Can you please explain the difference(s) between a palace maiden and a palace maid? By the way, is the term “lady-in-waiting” the English equivalency for “palace maid?” Some of these terms are rather confusing!

Xie Xie,


War and Beauty is a amazing TVB drama full of intrigue and juicy bits about Qing Dynasty life, the Jiaqing Emperor Era i believe. Please watch it when you have the time.

It is quite relevant to this topic as well, the drama focuses on the tribulations of a group of Xiu Nu (秀女),girls of good upbringing from backgrounds of officials and well to do families. I am not too sure about Bao Yi but i believe they are related to members of the same clan/tribe?

With regards to palace maiden, i believe it could be Xiu Nu as mentioned earlier. They are the lowest rank of girls ready for selection at Emperor's whim. Not so easy to be a Xiu Nu, they have to undertake numerous trainings and a long wait to serve the Emperor, if ever at all. If they had served the Emperor even once, they will live in the Palace forever. They are each assigned 2 palace maids each if memory serves. Palace maids are normally recuited or sold into the Imperial Household and they are from the general populace.
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#11 Rong Qin Wang

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 12:20 AM

War and Beauty is a amazing TVB drama full of intrigue and juicy bits about Qing Dynasty life, the Jiaqing Emperor Era i believe. Please watch it when you have the time.

It is quite relevant to this topic as well, the drama focuses on the tribulations of a group of Xiu Nu (秀女),girls of good upbringing from backgrounds of officials and well to do families. I am not too sure about Bao Yi but i believe they are related to members of the same clan/tribe?

With regards to palace maiden, i believe it could be Xiu Nu as mentioned earlier. They are the lowest rank of girls ready for selection at Emperor's whim. Not so easy to be a Xiu Nu, they have to undertake numerous trainings and a long wait to serve the Emperor, if ever at all. If they had served the Emperor even once, they will live in the Palace forever. They are each assigned 2 palace maids each if memory serves. Palace maids are normally recuited or sold into the Imperial Household and they are from the general populace.


Zunjing de Bejean,

Thanks for your response! After seeing so many recommendations from others, I have finished watching “War and Beauty” and must admit it is one of the best series I have ever seen. The only reason I was not sure whether I should watch it or not was because I have read some reviews about it not having much historical accuracies. I really did not insist on watching another series regarding historical aspects with fictional accounts. This will only make me more confused regarding what had actually happened in real history. I would also not want to sound like an idiot in CHF just because I have mistaken some fictional accounts in “War and Beauty” as actual historical events.

However, after seeing this series, I found out that I did not really have to pay attention to the exact details listed; instead, I should always look beyond the accounts for deeper meanings. Also, this series gave the audiences a better understanding for the lives of concubines in the Rear Palace, and other protocols of the Imperial family. It is actually very accurate in terms of portraying the palace life.

Even though I have seen the series, there are still some parts or terms I really don’t understand since I saw this series dubbed in Vietnamese. I love learning Chinese history in Vietnamese since that is the language I am most fluent with and the Chinese names/terms/translations are all very close and easy to understand when translated into Vietnamese! The point I am trying to make is that it is not always easy for me to generate what I have learned regarding Chinese history in Vietnamese into a discussion in English with other CHF members!

The selection of Xiu Nu every three years was unique to the Qing Dynasty. The groups of girls who entered the selection had to be descendants of nobilities (ie female members of the eight banners). A member in here told me that “Bao Yi” were enslaved Han Chinese who acted as servants to the Manchu aristocrats. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I will just take her word for it.

Yeah, I am now absolutely sure that palace maidens were not the same as palace maids since palace maidens could have a few palace maids. Heheheh! Of course, it was very difficult for Xiu Nu to pass strict exams, not to mention all the rigorous training they had to endure beforehand.

By the way, just to make sure I have understood everything, I have one more question. So, was Gong Nu the Chinese equivalence of palace maids, while Xiu Nu was the Chinese equivalence of palace maidens?

Xie Xie,

#12 liuxing

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Posted 15 November 2007 - 09:37 PM

By the way, just to make sure I have understood everything, I have one more question. So, was Gong Nu the Chinese equivalence of palace maids, while Xiu Nu was the Chinese equivalence of palace maidens?

Sorry for the late reply. I've been on hiatus from this forum for quite some time. Just came back not long ago and recheck my old topics.

Yes, I think Gong Nu the Chinese equivalence of palace maids, while Xiu Nv was the Chinese equivalence of palace maidens.

As for bondservants, here's what I found from 2 online dictionaries

From MSN Encarta
bondservant - a serf or enslaved person

From Bartleby.com
bondservant
1. A person obligated to service without wages. 2. A slave or serf.

#13 Kenshinng

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Posted 06 March 2008 - 11:09 PM

Actually why were eunuchs needed in the palace to serve the emporesses, imperial consorts, emperors? 100% palace maids were needed to serve everyone. There's no need for eunuchs.



I believe eunuchs were very needed because they needed people who could do work that men could do, and yet not be able to fornicate with the ladies inside the palace as normal men would be able to.

#14 kaiselin

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Posted 07 March 2008 - 01:05 AM

I believe eunuchs were very needed because they needed people who could do work that men could do, and yet not be able to fornicate with the ladies inside the palace as normal men would be able to.


I have read that no male except the Emperor and his young sons were allowed in the Forbidden City at night.

You can only go halfway into the darkest forest; then you are coming out the other side.


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