The Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty

By Shih-shan Henry Tsai

Subjects: Chinese Studies
Series: SUNY series in Chinese Local Studies
Paperback : 9780791426883, 290 pages, November 1995
Hardcover : 9780791426876, 290 pages, November 1995

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Table of contents

Maps and Figures


Successive Reigns of the Ming Emperors (1368-1644)

I. Introduction


The Scholar and the Eunuch
New Thematic Approaches


II. The Demand and Supply of Ming Eunuchs


Historic Origins
Foreign Supply of Eunuchs
Domestic Supply of Eunuchs
More Supply Than Demand
The Problem of Excessive Castrati


III. Institutionalization of the Eunuch Agencies


Early Eunuch Establishments
Eunuchs' New Haven
Eunuch Agencies Inside the Imperial City
Eunuch Agencies Outside the Capital City


IV. Eunuchs and the Ming Military System


Eunuchs as Military Commanders
The Eunuch Battalions
The Nanjing Grand Commandant
Eunuch Commanders and Ming Bureaucracy
Eunuchs and Teas-Horse Trade


V. Eunuchs and the Ming Intelligence-Gathering Apparatuses


The Eastern Depot
Succesive Directors of the Eastern Depot
The Western Depot


VI. Eunuchs and Ming Diplomacy


Ming Tributary System
The Mongols and the Tibetans
Eunuch Missions to Central Asia
Ming Eunuchs and Chinese-Korean Relations


VII. Eunuchs and Ming Maritime Activities


Eunuchs and the Ming Maritime Trade
Trade with Japan and the Ryukyu Islands
Trade with Southeast Asia
Zheng He's Seven Navigations


VIII. Eunuchs' Involvement in the Ming Economy


Managing the Imperial Plantations
Eunuchs as Tax Collectors
Eunuchs' Role in the Ming Salt Monopoly
Eunuchs and Ming Mining
Eunuchs as Purchasing Agents and Manufacturing Managers


IX. Miscellaneous Duties of the Ming Eunuchs


Eunuchs and Imperial Seals
Eunuchs and Ming Flood-Control Projects
Eunuchs and Ming Judiciary Reviews


X. Conclusion

Appendix 1: Eunuch Agencies and Their Duties in Ming Dynasty

Appendix 2: Glossary of Chinese Characters




This study of Chinese eunuchs illuminates the entire history of the Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644, and provides broad information on various aspects of pre-modern China.


This book is the first on Chinese eunuchs in English and presents a comprehensive picture of the role that they played in the Ming dynasty, 1368-1644. Extracted from a wide range of primary and secondary source material, the author provides significant and interesting information about court politics, espionage and internal security, military and foreign affairs, tax and tribute collection, the operation of imperial monopolies, judiciary review, the layout of the palace complex, the Grand Canal, and much more.

The eunuchs are shown to be not just a minor adjunct to a government of civil servants and military officers, but a fully developed third branch of the Ming administration that participated in all of the most essential matters of the dynasty. The veil of condemnation and jealousy imposed on eunuchs by the compilers of official history is pulled away to reveal a richly textured tapestry. Eunuchs are portrayed in a balanced manner that gives due consideration to able and faithful service along with the inept, the lurid, and the iniquitous.

Shih-shan Henry Tsai is Professor of History and Chairman of Asian Studies at the University of Arkansas.


"This book is a detailed and intellectually sophisticated study of Ming eunuchs that illuminates the entire history of the Ming. The author is aware of the systematic anti-eunuch prejudice of the sources (all composed by civil officials), and has adopted a critical stance throughout. This has permitted him to assess objectively the achievements of the eunuchs and to let them 'speak for themselves' to the extent that the sources permit." — Edward L. Dreyer, University of Miami