Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Last Eunuch of China by Jia Yinghun, Translated by Sun Haichen

I'd been looking for this book for months before I finally put my hands on it through the Interlibrary Loans at my university library. It seems like a strange subject to read about, but the history is absolutely fascinating. Chinese history is one of the areas where my education is lacking.

For hundreds of years, China was ruled by an emperor. Traditionally, the imperial family was served by eunuchs. It was considered proper to have eunuchs, especially for the imperial wives and concubines because castration was seen as putting a stop to sexual desire. Eunuch-hood was seen as a possible way for peasant families to get rich, and would often castrate their young boys and send them to the palace for training as eunuchs.

Sun Yaoting was castrated at the age of 7! in the early 1900s shortly before the imperial family was dethroned. How horrible to have gone through that pain and suffering(two MONTHS of recovery time with a quill stuck in your urethra!) only to discover that it was for nothing! Sun Yaoting was sent to the palace by way of a nobleman anyway, when he was a teenager. He was able to serve the royal family for quite some time until the People's Liberation Army claimed China.

Yaoting's life was really interesting. He talked about the imperial family in what seemed to be a very frank light. He had plenty of negative things to say about them. At the same time, I had to wonder if there was more negative to say about them simply because of censorship in China.

Likewise, there was much to say about being a eunuch. There were some eunuchs that served the Imperial family who had families before they were castrated. Others adopted children. Yaoting talked often about eunuchs who would have affairs with maids. Obviously, castration does not remove physical desire.

The book was written in a rather formal style. For the most part, it was a very good translation. There were some times when I could tell that it was translated, but those were few. I was left with a desire to read more about the imperial family of China, especially that of the last emperor.

I would recommend this book for anyone interested in history, especially Chinese history.