CHAPTER XXXIV. EUNUCHS, HUMAN SACRIFICES, FOOD

Mention has been made of eunuchs, a class which seems to have originated with the law's severity rather than from a callous desire of the rich to secure a craven and helpless medium and means for pandering to and enjoying the pleasures of the harem without fear of sexual intrigue. Criminals whose feet were cut off were usually employed as park-keepers simply because there could be no inclination on their part to gad about and chase the game. Those who lost their noses were employed as isolated frontier pickets, where no boys could jeer at them, and where they could better survive their misfortune in quiet resignation. Those branded in the face were made gate-keepers, so that their livelihood was perpetually marked out for them. It is sufficiently obvious why the castrated were specially charged with the duty of serving females in a menial capacity. One name for eunuch is "cleanse man," and it is explained by a very old commentator that the duty of these functionaries was to sweep and cleanse the court; but it is perhaps as likely that the original idea was really "purified man," or man deprived of incentive to certain evils. It is often said disparagingly of the Chou dynasty that they introduced the effeminate Persian custom of keeping eunuchs; but the Chou family, which was in full career before Zoroaster existed, is perhaps entitled to a much greater antiquity in civilization than Persia - Cyrus himself was a contemporary of Lao- tsz and Confucius - and probably the castrated were only utilized as menials because they already were eunuchs by law, and were not made eunuchs against the spirit of natural law simply in order that their services as menials should be conveniently rendered.

In 655 B.C. the Tsin ruler despatched a eunuch to try and assassinate his half-brother (the future Second Protector of China) when in Tartar exile. When the Second Protector in 636 at last came to his rights as ruler of Tsin, the same eunuch offered to commit an assassination in his interest; arguing, by way of justifying his previous attempt, that a servant's duty was to serve his de facto master for the time being, and not to question de jure claims, which were a matter beyond the competence of a menial. In 548 the ruler of Ts'i was assassinated by a eunuch who would not even grant his master permission to commit suicide decently in the ancestral hall; (see p. 62). A year later, the succeeding ruler under urgent circumstances secured the services of a eunuch as coachman. In contrast to these traitors, in 481 a faithful eunuch tries to save the ruler of Ts'i from assassination by one of the supplanting great families: this was the case that so horrified Confucius that he died soon after, in despair of ever seeing "divine right" regain the upper hand in China. In 544 B.C. the ruler of Wei was assassinated by a eunuch door-keeper. In 537 the King of Ts'u conceived the idea of castrating and cutting the feet off the two Tsin envoys for use as a palace gate-keeper and for service in his harem; but he was prudently dissuaded by his chief counsellor from incurring the risks consequent upon such an international outrage; (see p. 46). Three centuries later, in the year 239, the First August Emperor's (real) father, for his own spying purposes, got a sham eunuch appointed to a post in the service of the ex-concubine made over, as explained in the last chapter, to the First Emperor's father; by the dowager-queen, as she then was, the supposed eunuch had two sons. When subsequently this dangerous person revolted, the First August Emperor's own real eunuchs took part in opposing his murderous designs. - It must be mentioned that this objectionable father of the Emperor was himself a very distinguished man notwithstanding, and has left a valuable historical and philosophical work of twenty-six chapters behind him, put together under his direction by a number of clever writers. It is usually considered a Taoist work, because it savours in parts of Lao-tsz's doctrine; but, like the works of Hwai-nan-tsz (an imperial prince of the Han dynasty 150 years later) it was classified in 50 B. C. as a "miscellany." - Finally, a eunuch played an important part as witness when the Second August Emperor was assassinated. Thus all the states - those around the original nucleus of Old China at least - employed eunuchs in the royal harems, even if the vassal princes of orthodox China as a general rule did not.