Ancient China Simplified
by Edward Harper Parker
Public Domain Books
Chapter XXXIV - Eunuchs, Human Sacrifices, Food
Mention has been made of eunuchs, a class which seems to have originated with the law’s severity rather than from a callous desire of the rich to secure a craven and helpless medium and means for pandering to and enjoying the pleasures of the harem without fear of sexual intrigue. Criminals whose feet were cut off were usually employed as park-keepers simply because there could be no inclination on their part to gad about and chase the game. Those who lost their noses were employed as isolated frontier pickets, where no boys could jeer at them, and where they could better survive their misfortune in quiet resignation. Those branded in the face were made gate-keepers, so that their livelihood was perpetually marked out for them. It is sufficiently obvious why the castrated were specially charged with the duty of serving females in a menial capacity. One name for eunuch is “cleanse man,” and it is explained by a very old commentator that the duty of these functionaries was to sweep and cleanse the court; but it is perhaps as likely that the original idea was really “purified man,” or man deprived of incentive to certain evils. It is often said disparagingly of the Chou dynasty that they introduced the effeminate Persian custom of keeping eunuchs; but the Chou family, which was in full career before Zoroaster existed, is perhaps entitled to a much greater antiquity in civilization than Persia–Cyrus himself was a contemporary of Lao- tsz and Confucius–and probably the castrated were only utilized as menials because they already were eunuchs by law, and were not made eunuchs against the spirit of natural law simply in order that their services as menials should be conveniently rendered.
In 655 B.C. the Tsin ruler despatched a eunuch to try and assassinate his half-brother (the future Second Protector of China) when in Tartar exile. When the Second Protector in 636 at last came to his rights as ruler of Tsin, the same eunuch offered to commit an assassination in his interest; arguing, by way of justifying his previous attempt, that a servant’s duty was to serve his de facto master for the time being, and not to question de jure claims, which were a matter beyond the competence of a menial. In 548 the ruler of Ts’i was assassinated by a eunuch who would not even grant his master permission to commit suicide decently in the ancestral hall; (see p. 62). A year later, the succeeding ruler under urgent circumstances secured the services of a eunuch as coachman. In contrast to these traitors, in 481 a faithful eunuch tries to save the ruler of Ts’i from assassination by one of the supplanting great families: this was the case that so horrified Confucius that he died soon after, in despair of ever seeing “divine right” regain the upper hand in China. In 544 B.C. the ruler of Wei was assassinated by a eunuch door-keeper. In 537 the King of Ts’u conceived the idea of castrating and cutting the feet off the two Tsin envoys for use as a palace gate-keeper and for service in his harem; but he was prudently dissuaded by his chief counsellor from incurring the risks consequent upon such an international outrage; (see p. 46). Three centuries later, in the year 239, the First August Emperor’s (real) father, for his own spying purposes, got a sham eunuch appointed to a post in the service of the ex-concubine made over, as explained in the last Chapter, to the First Emperor’s father; by the dowager-queen, as she then was, the supposed eunuch had two sons. When subsequently this dangerous person revolted, the First August Emperor’s own real eunuchs took part in opposing his murderous designs.–It must be mentioned that this objectionable father of the Emperor was himself a very distinguished man notwithstanding, and has left a valuable historical and philosophical work of twenty-six Chapters behind him, put together under his direction by a number of clever writers. It is usually considered a Taoist work, because it savours in parts of Lao-tsz’s doctrine; but, like the works of Hwai-nan-tsz (an imperial prince of the Han dynasty 150 years later) it was classified in 50 B. C. as a “miscellany."–Finally, a eunuch played an important part as witness when the Second August Emperor was assassinated. Thus all the states–those around the original nucleus of Old China at least–employed eunuchs in the royal harems, even if the vassal princes of orthodox China as a general rule did not.
It is much the same thing with another disagreeable feature in the manners of those times–human sacrifices. Many instances have already been given of such practices in the state of Ts’in. The tomb of the King of Ts’u who died in 591–of that king whose death Confucius condescended to record, decently and in ritual terms, because of his many good qualities–which tomb appears to be still in existence near King-chou Fu, is surrounded by ten other smaller tombs, supposed so be those of the persons who “followed him to the grave.” At all events, when in the year 529 a later king of Ts’u hanged himself, a faithful follower buried two of his own daughters with the royal body. In A. D. 312 the tomb of the first Protector, who died in 643 B.C., was opened under circumstances so graphically described that there can scarcely be a doubt of the substantial truth: the stench was so great that dogs had to be sent in first to test the effects of the poisoned atmosphere; so many bones were found lying about that there can be little doubt many women and concubines were buried with him. It is often said by modern writers that it was a general custom to do so all over ancient China, and possibly the fact that in the second century B.C. a humane Chinese emperor (of Taoist principles) ordered the discontinuance of the practice may be thought to give colour to this supposition. But it must be remembered that the great house of Han had only then recently overthrown the dynasty of Ts’in, and had incorporated nearly the whole of China as we now view it: the Emperor would naturally therefore be referring to Ts’i, Ts’in, Ts’u, and possibly also to Wu and Yueeh, three of which states had, as we see, once practised this cruel custom.
Wine, or rather spirit, was known everywhere; in Confucian times the Far West had not yet been discovered, and there were neither grapes nor any names for grapes; no grape wine, nor any other fruit wine. Even now, though the Peking grapes are as good as English grapes, no one nearer than Shan Shi makes wine from them. Spirits seem to have been served from remote times at the imperial and princely feasts. Here, once more, as with the two vicious practices described, the drunkards appear to be found more among those peoples surrounding orthodox China than in the ancient nucleus. In 694 B.C., when the ruler of Lu was on a visit to his brother-in-law, the ruler of Ts’i, whose sister he had married, brother and sister had incestuous intercourse; which being detected, the ruler of Ts’i made his Lu brother-in-law drunk, and suborned a powerful ruffian to squeeze his ribs as he was assisted into his chariot. Thus the Duke Hwan of Lu perished. In 640 B.C., as we have seen, when the future Second Protector was dallying with his Ts’i wife, it was found by his henchman necessary to make him drunk in order to get him away. In 574 a Ts’u general was found drunk when sent for by his king to explain a defeat by Tsin troops. In 560 the Ts’i envoy–the philosopher Yen-tsz–was entertained by the Ts’u court at a wine. In 531 the ruler of Ts’u first made drunk, and then killed, one of the petty rulers of orthodox China. In 537 it had already been explained to the King of Ts’u that on the occasions of the triennial visits of vassals to the Emperor (probably only theoretical visits at that date) wine was served at long tables in full cups, but was only drunk at the proper ritualistic moment. Two years after that the King of Ts’u was described as being at his wine, and therefore in the proper frame of mind to listen to representations.
In 541 the Ts’u envoy was entertained at a punch d’honneur by the Tsin statesmen, one of whom seized the occasion to chant one of the Odes warning people against drunkenness. It is well known that Confucius enjoyed his dram; indeed, it is said of him: “As to wine, he had no measure, but he did not fuddle himself.” In the year 506 the ruler of Ts’in is described as being a heavy drinker. In 489 a Ts’i councillor is described as being drunk. A few years later the ruler of Ts’i and his wife are seen drinking together on the verandah, and some prisoners escape owing to the gaoler having been judiciously plied with drink.
Meat seems to have been much more generally consumed in old China (by those who could afford it) than in modern times; and, as we might expect, among the Tartar infected people, horse-flesh in particular. In the second century B.C. the question of eating horse-liver is compared by a witty Emperor with the danger of revolutionary talk. He said: “We may like it, but it is dangerous.” (Last year, when in Neu Brandenburg, I came across a man whose brother was a horse-butcher in Pomerania, and, remembering this imperial remark, I asked about horse-liver. The man said he always had a feast of horse-liver when he visited his brother, and that he much preferred it to cows’ liver, or to any other part of the horse; but, he added, “you must be careful about eating it in summer.”) In 645 Duke Muh of Ts’in was rescued from the Tsin troops by what was described to him as a body-guard of horse-flesh eaters. It appeared, when he sought for explanation, that the same Ts’in ruler had, some time before, been robbed of a horse by some “wild men,” who proceeded to cut it up and eat it. They were arrested; but the magnanimous duke said: “I am told horse-flesh needs spirits to make it digest well,” and, instead of punishing them, he gave them a keg of liquor, adding: “no sage would ever injure men on account of a mere beast.”, He had forgotten the circumstance, but it now transpired that these men had, out of gratitude, since then enlisted as soldiers. This story is the more interesting as it proves how incompletely civilized the neighbourhood of Ts’in then was.–Bears’ paws are often spoken of as a favourite dish. In 626 the King of Ts’u, about to be murdered by his son and successor, said: “At least, let me have a bear’s paw supper before I die.” But it takes many hours to cook this dish to a turn, and the son easily saw through the paternal manoeuvre, pleaded only to gain time. It may be here mentioned, too, that Ts’u made regular use of elephants in battle, which circumstance is another piece of testimony in favour of the Annamese connection of Ts’u. In the Rites of Chou, supposed to be the work of the Duke of Chou, mention is made of ivory as one of the products of the “Jungle province,” as then called. In modern times Annam has regularly supplied the Peking Government with elephants, the skin of which is eaten as a tonic. After the annihilation of Wu by Yiieh, the cunning Chinese adviser of Yiieh decided to retire with his fortune to Ts’i, on the ground that the “good sleuth-hound, when there is no more work for him, is apt to find his way to the cooking-pot.” Dogs (fed up for the purpose) are still eaten in some parts of China, and (as we shall soon see) they were eaten in ancient Yiieh.