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Chinese concubine. Source: TK0920 / Adobe Stock.

Life and Death in the Harem: China's Imperial Concubines (Video)


Imperial China's history is full of tales of rich and powerful men who kept concubines in their lives, with the most famous system of concubinage existing within the Chinese imperial family. From the earliest times dating back to the Han Dynasty, concubines were often taken from families with an attractive daughter who needed money to survive. Although the word concubine has several definitions and many connotations, in China, a concubine was a mistress, and for many women, concubinage meant sexual slavery.

In Imperial China, a man could have only one wife, but as many concubines as he could afford to house, clothe, and feed, and frequently, a man's wealth and power were partly judged by the number of concubines he kept and how they lived. In this system of bondage, much depended on the personality of the man holding the concubine. This is everything you need to know about the nasty lives of concubines in Imperial China, including the rigorous process that a woman had to pass through to be accepted as a concubine, the power games within the community of concubines, and the primary purpose of the concubine, which was to have sons.

Top image: Chinese concubine. Source: TK0920 / Adobe Stock.

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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