Norman Kutcher illuminates the domestic exercise of imperial power in the Qianlong reign by examining the management of eunuchs at Yuanming yuan, the emperor’s beloved palace complex in northwest Beijing. Correcting the portrayal of the Qianlong emperor as a harsh disciplinarian, he shows that a eunuch shortage and the court’s desire to retain young eunuchs prompted police and Imperial Household officials, with the emperor’s quiet approval, to treat these individuals with increasing lenience. These circumstances fostered the empowerment of eunuchs, increasing their ability to fade into the group, to move with considerable freedom between palaces and within Beijing, and to enrich themselves through connections with the non-eunuch world. The growing privilege of eunuchs survived the attempted crackdown on eunuch power that came during the Jiaqing reign. Kutcher thus corrects the essentialist view that eunuchs possessed a uniform personality throughout time.


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pp. 449-495
Launched on MUSE
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