Introduction (Women of the Imperial Palace)
Since the first dynasty in China, women have played a significant role in both politics and the social hierarchy of the Imperial Palace. Although they were viewed as inferior to their male counterparts, they were valued tremendously for their beauty and ability to bear children. Within the Imperial Palace, there lived a group of women who were recruited primarily to display the how powerful the emperor was. These women were his concubines.

The Shenyang Imperial Palace is one of two remaining imperial palace complexes in China; the other structure is the Forbidden City. For more information about Shenyang's architecture, please click on the image.
Emperors had a harem of young, pretty women to satisfy their sexual urges and to supply them with an endless supply of potential heirs. These women were labeled as concubines who were recruited through various means. They lived in the palace, awaiting their chance to meet with the emperor. Some even rose to the ranks of an Empress and became influential political figures. (Sieren 2007)

These women faced many hardships in the palace because sexism is prevalent and is embedded within Chinese tradition. Even in the twenty-first century, women are still subordinate to men. However, despite their inferiority, many women, including those of the Imperial Palace, have helped shape China into the country that it is today. The impact on China that women have made and are making is seemingly unknown and unappreciated.

The question I would like to address in this Wiki is if these women were so important in Chinese politics, why is there so little information about their lives? Why are there virtually no intensive archaeological excavations on concubines as there are for sites like the famous Terra-Cotta warriors of Qin Shihuangdi? Are we as anthropologists still struggling with gender inequalities and are we still overlooking the ancient lives of women?

This is an aerial view of the Forbidden City from Google Earth. It served as the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The inner court of the Forbidden City. It is the most well-preserved and largest palace in China. For more information, please click on the image.

Below is a chronology of Chinese dynasties from the 1995 book Imperial Tombs of China. Please refer back to this chart for clarification.