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There were different palace performers at different times. Under the Nanfu, there were three groups: eunuchs, Chinese recruited from Jiangnan, and bannermen from the three banners of the Neiwufu. During the Daoguang period there were no civilian recruits from outside, only palace eunuchs. By the late Qing, eunuchs in the Shengpingshu were the main performers, and commercial actors were summoned when needed. The Role of Eunuchs as Actors and Intermediaries Ministers of the Neiwufu were usually Manchu princes or other highly trusted Manchu officials.1 The Neiwufu was actually run by a small number of bondservants (boo-i) as supervisors or managers, and a large number of eunuchs.2 In criticizing the Ming dynasty’s extravagance, Kangxi claimed he only had four to five hundred eunuchs in his palace (not including those in the Imperial Retreat at Rehe or the Yuanmingyuan ).3 By the Qianlong period, the total number of eunuchs in the Forbidden City alone exceeded three thousand. In addition, there were over a thousand eunuchs serving in the Nanfu.4 Restrictions on the eunuchs The early Qing emperors held the view that the intervention of eunuchs in the military, intelligence, diplomacy, and economics was the main reason for the fall of the Ming. From the very beginning of the Qing, eunuchs were strictly banned from involving themselves in state affairs.5 In 1653 the emperor issued an edict ordering that no eunuch could be promoted higher than the fourth rank. “Unless on an official mission, eunuchs are forbidden to leave the Inner City. They are forbidden to intervene in any matter beyond their duties. They may not have any Chapter Three Performers in the Palace* 130 Ascendant Peace in the Four Seas contact with outsiders. They must not associate with non-palace officials. They must not collude with their brothers, nephews, or other relatives. They must not buy property in the name of their brothers, nephews, or others.” Two years later, an iron tablet was displayed in the palace with a list of restrictions on eunuchs. They also limited the number of eunuchs in the palace to about one thousand.6 As a matter of principle, unintelligent and uneducated eunuchs were preferred, especially for those who served the princes. Kangxi commented: “Liang Jiugong 梁九功 is very smart. I keep a close eye on him whenever I give him some task … Gao Sanbian 高三變 is not a smart talker, but he is honest in performing his duties. What is more, he can read Manchu. He can be promoted to a high rank.”7 Yongzheng’s comments were similar: “Smart eunuchs cannot be chosen. I am afraid they might mislead the a’ge 阿哥 (princes) into becoming involved in extraneous matters. It is better to choose stupid but honest eunuchs to serve the a’ge.”8 If young princes did not behave properly, their personal eunuchs would be blamed and punished. When Qianlong’s young brother, the two-yearold Prince Guo 果親王 (1733–1765), called Qianlong “Khan A’ge” 汗阿哥, Qianlong thought this was disrespectful and blamed Prince Guo’s eunuch, Wang Zili 王自立. On another occasion, the six-year-old Prince Guo was watching fireworks in the Yuanmingyuan. When Qianlong approached, the boy appeared very shy and wanted to hide. Qianlong was so angry he dismissed the young prince’s eunuchs, including Wang Zili. They received sixty strokes of the cane as punishment.9 The Qing court did not want eunuchs to have much education. Qianlong said: “Our court is respectful and proper. Eunuchs are never allowed to become involved in official matters. There is no harm if they are illiterate.” Prior to 1769, a Chinese teacher was employed to teach a dozen or so eunuchs to read and write Chinese. Qianlong disapproved: “Eunuchs are there to be ordered around. Even if they learn to read, they only need to know a few characters. Why send a graduate to teach them the classics?” These teachers were dismissed and replaced by members of the Neiwufu, who had only a rudimentary knowledge of written Chinese.10 As a result of this policy, very few eunuchs were literate, including those serving in the archives. In 1827, the minister of the Neiwufu submitted a memorial: “In obedience to the edict, I asked Luxi (the chief eunuch of the Shengpingshu). According to him, there are fourteen 3 | Performers in the Palace 131 eunuchs working in the archives. The following six (names omitted) can read. The other seven cannot read at all. The eunuch Li Dexi, who receives a salary of...


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