A Day in the life of an Imperial Concubine , oil and 24 kt gold leaf on panel, 16 x 20 inches, framed
Concubines resembled wives Chinese: 妻 pinyin: qī in that they were recognized sexual partners of a male family member and were expected to bear children from him. Unofficial concubines Chinese: 婢妾 pinyin: bì qiè are of lower status, and children of her are considered illegitimate.
The Chinese Ming Dynasty lasted for 276 years 1368 – 1644 AD , and has been described as “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history.” This dynasty became a global superpower, undertaking major sea expeditions before Christopher Columbus, and producing books before the invention of the printing press in Britain. While this dynasty was praised for its stability and innovation there was a darker more gruesome underbelly.
The cruelty of the Ming emperors knew no bounds, and was specifically targeted towards the imperial concubines. Some Ming emperors had upwards of 9,000 concubines, many of whom had been kidnapped from their homes and were forbidden to leave their gilded prison except when they were called to the emperor’s bed. Since the barbaric practice of foot-binding was prominent at this time, the hobbled women could not run away or even walk into the emperor’s bed chambers, but instead had to be carried naked to the expectant man.