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Eunuchs' retired life
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When the Qing Dynasty was overthrown the bizarre eunuch system ended. But even today little is known about eunuchs after they retired from imperial service. Sa Su, a Chinese writer living in Japan, wrote some essays, recounting some first-hand information about their retired life. He disclosed that most eunuchs led a wretched life after leaving the palace.

He said that some eunuchs confined their whole lives inside the inner palace courtyards. Upon retiring most didn't return to their hometowns unless they had accumulated vast wealth that would bring pride to their families. Moreover, a pervasive social prejudice and phobia against them made the outer world hostile toward them.

Foresighted, many felt more fearful of than concerned about their afterlife since no offspring would hold commemorative activities after they died. Even the revered senior eunuchs were worried about their afterlife. Thus, a popular practice emerged: the young and minor eunuchs held memorial services for elder eunuchs who had patronized them.

From the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), some eunuchs began to buy land for burial plots in Zhangguanfen, now called Zhongguancun and also known as China's silicon valley. Afterwards, these burial plots evolved into a cemetery exclusively reserved for eunuchs. With financial grants from the emperor, some temples were built up amidst the crypts to accommodate a few retired eunuchs living in solitude.

"Conventionally eunuchs were viewed as venal and hypocritical but they were also quite devoted to memorial services in these cemeteries. They hoped that their piety would guarantee reincarnation as a 'full' man," said Sa Su.

After retirement, antique brokerage firms hired many of them because they had acquired artistic virtuosity by living in palaces replete with outstanding artworks and antique pieces.

Also some eunuchs returned to familiar ground -- serving as stewards. Their long service in the palace made them into seasoned servants.

( December 7, 2007)

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