Background/ TLDR

Having at long last gained access to this source by a certain Mr. Woo and with the support of the answers to my previous question I can finally gather some statistics on successions in the different dynasties. But there are still some things left unclear.

The rule of succession expounded on page 629 (in my opinion he actually states two different rules, so the second, that he seems to focus on), says (to my understanding) the following:

  • If there are 嫡子 (sons of the Empress) pick the eldest
  • Else pick the eldest from among the sons of the 36 consorts (Woo uses “wives”) residing in the palaces gong(宫)。
  • Failing even that, pick a son of the remaining 72 consorts (Woo: “concubines”) from the subpalaces yuan (院)

Note that Woo believes this rule to have remained in function between the end of Zhou and the beginning of Qing with a small change (number of empresses) in the Yuan and Ming dynasties.


Even if the record of consorts’ promotions and demotions in the dynastic histories is not gapless, the information therein concerns promotions to particular ranks. Never have I seen consorts assigned to 宮 or 院。As a result, I must find the correspondence between ranks in the body of consorts and 宮 or 院。

I first hoped it might be enough to identify the 36 most high ranking court ladies below the empress. This can be done for example here. But the results are very doubtful.

Instead of 36+72 =108 ladies below rank of empress, the early Tang have 40 + 81 = 121 ladies (I have now confirmed this arrangement from 新唐書 here ) .If I take the first 36, the cut would fall within 5th rank. Later Tang has but 82 in total. On the Ming the information on the site is incomplete.

Another piece ostensibly from the Zhou Rites (周禮) (but actually, I think from a commentary thereof) that mentions 宮, but not 院 is cited here. It appears though, that ALL 121 consort are classified into 宮, the higher their rank, the fewer per 宮:



Can anyone provide clear information about which ranks of consort resided in the 宮 and 院 respectively?

In case Woo‘s Information is contradicted, additional pointers as to the role of these in succession would be appreciated, but can also be posted under the more specialised question.

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    后五宫指后一宫 For anyone hoping to use translator apps before the quote is translated by a person, don't; the quote is written in Simplified Chinese, which is going to confuse the hell out of an automatic translator, especially when talking about queens and palaces. – dROOOze Apr 11 at 1:45
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    I'm afraid there's been some misunderstanding. These are not actual rules, or exact numbers, or real places. Rather, they are abstractions meant to illustrate the size of the imperial harem. Take the Forbidden Palace: while the inner palace does indeed have "3 gong" in the center, it is actually flanked by the "east 6 gong" and the "west 6 gong". Which is also where Qing Empresses reside. In reality, the "6 yuan" is a mutation of the old "6 gong" adage referred to e.g. in the commentary you cited. It was changed to a near synonym to avoid repeating the "gong" character. – Semaphore Apr 11 at 7:24
  • @Semaphore thank you. This is extremely important. So, is there any source I can consult to find out whether actually (and at what rank) the different status of consorts, that Woo is talking about existed and where it started? Each site seems to cite a different rule, for example, while Woo wants the age of the children of the consorts to be considered, this article ( baike.baidu.com/item/嫡长子继承制/3632829 ) says, the rank of each mother was considered. – Ludi Apr 11 at 7:42
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    @Semaphore - Whoa. That's good info. Good enough that I'm wishing it was in an answer, so I could upvote it properly... – T.E.D. Apr 11 at 15:16
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    @Ludi I edited my comment while you were answering, but no, I'm saying there might be some confusion over how Chinese imperial succession works. Legally, there is only one rule: the emperor chooses. But the emperor can be persuaded, influenced, threatened. – Semaphore Apr 13 at 14:49

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