ôô

Who Was the Last Eunuch of China?

Who was the last eunuch of China? Giles Milton explores on the Unknown History podcast.

By
Giles Milton,
August 4, 2016
Episode #016

He was just nine years of age when he took the decision that was to transform his life. Sun Yaoting had been chatting with an elderly eunuch who had become rich from serving the Chinese emperor. Soon afterwards, in the autumn of 1911, Sun decided to follow the same path. He asked his father to castrate him in order that he could serve Emperor Puyi, known to history as the ‘Last Emperor’.

It was a momentous decision. Unlike eunuchs in the Ottoman Empire, Chinese eunuchs had every bit of their genitals removed. It was an operation that caused not only excruciating pain, but led to a lifetime of sexual frustration, impotence and incontinence.

Sun remained undaunted. On the appointed day, he removed his clothes and lay completely still while his father bound up his hands and feet with rope. Then, with a single violent swoop of a razor, his father performed the operation. In a matter of seconds – and a torrent of blood – Sun had become a eunuch.

He was bandaged with oiled cloth to staunch the bleeding, but the pain was so agonizing that the young lad lay in a coma for three days. For eight weeks he was virtually paralyzed and for months afterwards he was unable to walk because of the excruciating pain. But he eventually recovered from the loss of blood and looked forward to joining the emperor’s royal household in the Forbidden City.

Emperor Puyi had more than a thousand eunuchs, many of whom wielded positions of great influence. The emperor rarely left the inner recesses of the palace, meaning that the eunuchs became crucial intermediaries between the outer bureaucratic world and the inner imperial one.

Puyi himself would later write of these ‘slaves’, who attended him day and night. "They waited on me when I ate, dressed and slept. They accompanied me on my walks and to my lessons; they told me stories and had rewards and beatings from me, but they never left my presence. They were my slaves and they were my earliest teachers."

This was the role to which Sun now aspired. He wanted to get the ear of the emperor in order that he might acquire power and influence.

But then came the news that was to leave him in a deep state of shock. The emperor had abdicated, the imperial court was being dismantled and Sun’s castration had been in vain.

Or was it? How did Sun carry on without an emperor to serve?

To find out the answer, listen to the full episode of our podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunesStitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook

This post is roughly excerpted from When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain. You can purchase the book on AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieboundBooks-a-Million, and Apple.

 

You May Also Like...

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest