In China, castration included removal of the penis as well as the testicles. Both organs were cut off with a knife at the same time.

Men sentenced to castration were turned into eunuch slaves of the Qin dynasty state to perform forced labor for projects such as the Terracotta Army. The Qin government confiscated the property and enslaved the families of rapists who received castration as a punishment.

In Han dynasty China castration continued to be used as a punishment for various offences. Sima Qian, the famous Chinese historian, was castrated by order of the Han Emperor of China for dissent. In another incident multiple people, including a chief scribe and his underlings, were subjected to castration.

From ancient times until the Sui Dynasty, castration was both a traditional punishment (one of the Five Punishments) and a means of gaining employment in the Imperial service.

Eunuchs, concubines, falcons, ginseng, grain, cloth, silver, and gold were sent as tribute by the Goryeo dynasty of Korea to the Mongol Yuan dynasty.

In the Ming Dynasty, There were eunuchs from China’s various ethnic tribes, Mongolia, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Central Asia, Thailand, and Okinawa. During the Miao Rebellions, the Ming Governor castrated thousands of Miao boys when their tribes revolted, and then gave them as slaves to various officials.

On 30 January 1406, the Yongle Emperor expressed horror when the Ryukyuans castrated some of their own children to become eunuchs in order to give them to the emperor. The Yongle Emperor said that the boys who were castrated were innocent and did not deserve castration, and he returned the boys to Ryukyu and instructed them not to send eunuchs again.

At the end of the Ming dynasty, there were about 70,000 eunuchs employed by the emperor, with some serving inside the imperial palace. Certain eunuchs gained immense power that occasionally superseded that of even the Grand Secretaries. Zheng He is an example of such a eunuch.

The tension between eunuchs in the service of the emperor and virtuous Confucian officials is a familiar theme in Chinese history. There were instances of very capable eunuchs who were valuable advisers to their emperor, and the resistance of the “virtuous” officials often stemmed from jealousy on their part.

While eunuchs were employed in all Chinese dynasties, their number decreased significantly under the Qing, and the tasks they performed were largely replaced by the Imperial Household Department. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 2,000 eunuchs working in the Forbidden City.

The eunuchs at the Forbidden City during the later Qing period were infamous for their corruption, stealing as much as they could. The position of eunuch at the Forbidden City offered such opportunities for theft and corruption and China was such a poor country that countless men willingly become eunuchs in order to live a better life. However, eunuchs as the Emperor’s slaves had no rights and could be abused at the emperor’s whim. The emperor Puyi recalled in his memoirs that growing up in the Forbidden City that: “By the age of 11, flogging eunuchs was part of my daily routine. My cruelty and love of power were already too firmly set for persuasion to have any effect on me…Whenever I was in a bad temper the eunuchs would be in for trouble.”

Edited by staff


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