First Draft: Chinese Eunuchs in the Mid to Late Qing Dynasty

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While it may not be shocking that Western audiences had distaste for the practice of Eastern castration practices, it is a bit more surprising that, despite evidence of the use of eunuchs in China for over a period of 3,000 years, their reputation in China was no more positive. Throughout its history, Chinese historians have made eunuchs the objects of shame and disdain, all the while categorizing them as guilty of greed and female traits that made them susceptible to their weaknesses.27 Yet, while Chinese historians of late Qing often linked eunuchs to the decline of dynasties of the past, indulgence, and corruption, they more often than not seemed to regard eunuchs as necessary to the function of the palace and imperial court, no matter what their qualms with them may have been.28 Becoming a Eunuch in Qing China In his 1877 Royal Asiatic journal article entitled “Chinese Eunuchs,” George Carter Stent, an English recruit of the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service (CMC) wrote for the first time about the castration process in which Chinese males became eunuchs. In fact, as Melissa Dale writes in her journal article, “Understanding Emasculation: Western Medical Perspectives on Chinese Eunuchs,” western physicians and foreign observers wrote the only known historical accounts of the emasculation procedure during the Qing dynasty.29 During this time period, Western physicians of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were fascinated with the Chinese practice of emasculating young boys and men to serve as palace eunuchs. Most surprising to Western observers such as Stent was that Chinese knife experts known as daozijiang would not only cut off and remove a eunuch’s testicles, but would also remove the penis.30... ... middle of paper ... ...emoved. As eunuchs were entrusted around the emperor’s concubines, eunuchs who still had fleshly remnants of their genitals, no matter how small, were looked at with suspicion that they might still be sexually deviant. This particular man felt that if his scar was not removed and his pelvis made flat, he may lose his position within the palace.41 While it was not fully understood by western practitioners, it was apparent that the Chinese of the Qing dynasty preformed the ritual of emasculation on eunuchs to protect the ‘honor’ of women within the imperial palace. It was thought that by removing the male’s genitals, he would no longer have sexual longing, nor would his judgment be clouded with sexual desires and disillusions. This is turn would keep the eunuchs from lusting after the many wives and concubines of the emperor who sfilled the walls of the Forbidden City.

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