Throughout the history of China, eunuchs amassed power, destabilised dynasties, and commanded armies. They were a major cause in the decline of the Han, Tang and other dynasties.

What customs or beliefs or norms led to their gaining prominence?

When it was found they could wield power and challenge or undermine the authority of emperor, why were they not removed and distanced from their source of power? They weren't necessary in the same way as generals or empresses.

3 Answers 3


Chinese eunuchs were the personal servants of the emperor and his household; being close and having the ear of the emperor gives you power. An eunuch could help you by putting in a good word; eunuchs that are particularly well trusted could abuse that trust by manipulating what the emperor hears, withholding some information or twisting others. I think this alone is enough to explain why some eunuchs have had such a big effect in history.

I don't think eunuchs were an especially destabilising institution. If you did a comprehensive survey of all the power struggles throughout history, you will find many factions at play, including the usual suspects like princes (e.g. Li Shimin), generals (An Lushan), chancellors (Cao Cao), empresses (Wu Zetian), palace guards (Emperor Taizu of Song), ethnic/religious rebellions, and invasions. Eunuchs is just one of many factors.

I think it's important to be mindful of traditional Chinese historiography and its biases. Eunuchs were vilified due to their being considered subhuman, and much like women, their accomplishments were ignored until modern times. For example, Zheng He's expeditions were ignored in official history until the 20th century.

  • In light of your answer i have extended the question. please go through and include those points
    – Rohit
    Feb 5, 2017 at 8:57
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    @Rohit Questions are free. Please do not change/expand them after you get an answer; post a new one.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 5, 2017 at 23:19

The reason for the existence of Eunuchs was that they could serve the Emperor without risk of impregnating any of his Harem. Without Eunuchs, there is more doubt about whether the next heir to the throne is truly an offspring of the Emperor.

The rest, as Congusbongus says, relates to access. As they controlled access to the Emperor, and indeed were his primary "friends", they had power over the emperor.

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    Or perhaps rather they could be trusted since they could not produce their own offspring and thus was considered to be loyal.
    – liftarn
    Feb 6, 2017 at 8:22
  • Vicans, I have never seen a statement like this in the history books. Did you make it up? Feb 7, 2017 at 11:36
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    Read it at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eunuch#China "It is said that the justification for the employment of eunuchs as high-ranking civil servants was that, since they were incapable of having children, they would not be tempted to seize power and start a dynasty. In many cases, eunuchs were considered more reliable than the scholar officials."
    – liftarn
    Feb 7, 2017 at 15:46
  • Nice one. A bit of a different twist than what you wrote. Feb 7, 2017 at 17:01

I think eunuchs have been influential elsewhere, too. Besides being trustworthy around harems they were in a more general sense trustworthy: They had made a "commitment" I think in the sense that they as eunuchs had limited employment possibilities and were easily recognizable.

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