Why Harem Intrigue When You Can Just Raise a Dog Instead (FYI)

Background to the Translations

I believe in translating for meaning has a priority over translating for syntax – so please do be aware that these translations will not be word-for-word.  I find the translating process to be essentially a recreation process  and translate each line hoping to express and arouse the feelings of the original.

Some things you may notice in my translations:

  • I do not translate names… kinda
      • Or I just don’t want to be drooling on my own and want you all to drool with me.
  • … but I do translate titles… kinda
    • Ex. 碧霄宫 = Bi Xiao (Name, not translated), Palace (Title of the building type, translated)
  • As for the rest… you’ll see ☆~(>ω・)

The harem intrigue genre or the intrigue genre in general could be considered to have been popularized by one of the four classic Chinese novels: 《红楼梦》also known as Dream of the Red Chamber/Red Chamber Dream/A Dream of Red Mansions. The characters have developed in to famous archetypes and I would say it’s a great secret indulgence.  Actually this genre itself is a great secret indulgence. And the food in these stories are always amazing. That’s the most important part about it. Anyhow, Dream of the Red Chamber has been officially translated into numerous languages so it’s readily available – I greatly recommend it along with the other classics. Read it, love it, talk about it.

This genre of novels are considered romance novels. It typically has a female protagonist and gives a closer look into the lives of women in historical China, their struggle, voicelessness and pain.  It assumes a background culture of Confucian governance of society and interpersonal relationships, in which women receive no public agency.  If I were to sum it up, it’s a Confucian Chinese version of those embarrassing historical romances that I really wish I could lie and say I don’t enjoy reading.

Now it’s time for… (drumroll)… the Imperial Chinese Harem System 101!
… just kidding, I’m providing a wikipedia link to it.
(I provide an even briefer outline of the ranks at the bottom.)

I apologize for not going into the specifics myself, but I do not believe I am well-learned enough in Chinese history to give an adequate and accurate account of how the Chinese harem system works. The hierarchy of the harem is different in basically every dynasty and is heavily entangled with the state affairs at the time.  And heaven forbid I would not want to get into the court rankings which digresses even more by dynasty. It would be incredibly time consuming to explain in detail.

However, I would be happy to answer questions about historical Chinese government if it is within my abilities/knowledge/repertoire!

The harem position titles from Tang dynasty onward are usually the most popular in novels of this genre.  I would argue that this novel in particular seems to follow the Ming dynasty harem system.

If you don’t want to read a whole wikipedia page on it, please read on.

Harem of Later Ming Dynasty (16th Century, approx. 1531)

Some things to keep in mind:

  • There is a limit to the number of people that can hold these titles.
  • It’s questionable whether the author is aware of the hierarchies of different dynasties. It is without doubt that the author did not set historical accuracy as a priority, stating at some point in his comments that his story is not even historical fiction and rather just fiction.
Empress (x1) (皇后 Huang Hou)
Imperial Noble Consort (x1) (皇贵妃 Huang Gui Fei)
Noble Consort (x1) (贵妃 Gui Fei)
Consorts (x4) (妃 Fei)

Only one individual can hold one of the following titles at a time:

Ex. 淑妃,德妃,惠妃,康妃,宁妃,etc.

The character given usually depends on the emperor (well, the author in this case I guess.)

Imperial Concubines (嫔 Pin)

Others (Will not be translated)

Lady of Handsome Fairness (婕妤 Jie’yu)

Lady of Bright Deportment (昭仪 Zhao’yi)

Lady of Bright Countenance (昭容 Zhao’rong)

Noble Ladies (贵人 Gui’ren)

Beautiful Ladies (美人 Mei’ren)

Talented Ladies (才人 Cai’ren)

First Class Female Attendant (选侍 Xuan’shi)

Second Class Female Attendant (答应 Da’ying)

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