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Bao Yu: A Chinese Concubine Report (Assessment)

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Updated: Apr 22nd, 2022


For many years, men in different societies have been known to have secret affairs outside their marriages. Although there has never been concrete evidence about the reason this trend has continued over the years, a number of scholars attribute such behavior to the men’s eagerness to conquer and control women.

The women who are secretly involved in such kinds of relationships are referred to as concubines; they engage in such relationships being fully aware that they will not get married to their partners. However, they prefer these relationships because they presuppose fewer commitments compared to the official marriage.

Women in Chinese Society

According to Warner, the story of Bao Yu has been widely vilified in the Chinese society (124). He argues that the concubine has been described by many writers as sex-crazed and cunning, although it is believed that there were others whose behavior could be considered worse than her.

He highlights that her early life is not clearly understandable. Seagrave claims that the reason why her details are scanty is because Qing imperial policy forbade publication of personal details.

It turns out that those who gathered information about her are believed to have summoned it in order to fill in the information gaps (45). A woman in the Chinese society is have been depicted as people who understands the importance of education although they themselves have been deprived of it.

Wang (12) says that when one woman by the name of Mengzi’s mother realized her son performance was way below her expectations, she shaved her hair and cut her hair in disbelief. It is said that the boy performance improved from there on to become one of the well-known scholars in the world.

According to him, Mengzi’s mother considered a woman who neglected the work that provided food for her as a man who falls short in cultivating his virtue. According to him, women were supposed to be fully dressed without showing any of their private parts. He illustrates an example of Mengzi’s wife when Mengzi found her half naked. It is said that the relationship between the two came to an end from that time (151).

Her family background

It is said that although she later became one of the King’s concubines, her family background was not that good. Some people say that she was from a well up family but this has been disputed in later years. Her parents were actually farmers in a remote village in South East China. She had other sisters and two brothers who she did not get along well with. This explains why she left her home to go to the streets.

How she got married

In her time, the King had been allowed to choose a girl from those who would line up before him. As a result, Bao Yu was selected in one of those events and by so doing she became a wife of the King. According to Warner, when this girl was around the age of 17, she was selected for the position of an imperial concubine.

He also observed that the young girl was elated by this achievement since very few of her age had ever reached such a position (129). The girl though always looked back at the troubles she had to go through, and wished she had lived a different kind of life.

The author pointed out that it was only after two years since her first nomination that she was selected to be an imperial concubine. Trevor-Roper found out that she was supposed to serve the King of the Day in the fourth position as a concubine. It meant that there were three concubines ahead of her, whom she wanted to, overtake.

In order to maintain her identity, her name was changed to Lady Yehenara in order to signify the clan from which she originated (114). Her tender age made her get ranked fourth amongst the eleven concubines. This made her enjoy more privileges than the lowly ranked concubines, the situation that brought about a lot of animosity amongst the concubines.

When the King died, the kingdom collapsed due to the animosity that existed amongst his concubines and the fact that no one was left after him to take control of the palace.

The collapse happened when outsiders invaded the palace after having realized that no one bothered to take over what the King had left after his death. Therefore, one can obviously see that although she had literally escaped from the world struggles by becoming a concubine, she eventually went back to them after the fall of the Kingdom.

Tensions and difficulties she faced and how she dealt with them

Manel adds that ever since she was young, her relation with the members of her nuclear family had not been good, warm, and kind. It is well known that other members of her family ignored her in many of their family chores (140).

Therefore, in order to escape from such troubles she decided to run away from her home. When she became a concubine, there was a lot of animosity between her and other older concubines. To avoid getting into trouble with them and the King she maintained her temper and eventually she managed to cope with the situation.

Her role in natal and marital family and the things she enjoyed doing

Just like any other woman, this girl was supposed to bear children for the King besides performing other domestic chores. In addition, because of her tender age, she was supposed to accompany the King in most of his public gatherings. This was meant to show his subjects that he was still a married man.

Some of her favorite chore was cooking. It is said that ever since she was young, she cooked for her family and when she became the King’s Concubine, it is said that her food was admired by the King than those from other concubines.

Role and Position of Women in the Chinese Society

From the description given in the story, it is clear that women in the ancient Chinese community had no right to express their opinions in the society dominated by men. It has become clear that although the King had other concubines, he continued attracting even more to his palace.

According to Seagrave, women are solely responsible for domestic work and should not be found participating in such things as politics or any other things that may interfere with the affairs of the household (23).

He adds that in the Chinese society, if a woman was found to have some peculiar abilities, such as being knowledgeable in history, for example, she was supposed to use her abilities and knowledge in helping her man improve his weaker qualities and traits. In addition, this society has made it difficult for women to meet and socialize with other people in the society (Gerel, 23).

The significance of this Story

From the story, one has learnt that Bao Yu was a concubine from a very tender age of around 17 years. In many societies, a girl of such an age is to be at school doing her studies. However, due to the problems she encountered from her family members, she ended up on the streets, where she would sing out to people so that she could earn some money for her upkeep.

Throughout the history, Chinese women have always been stereotyped as being submissive. It is believed that since they lived in a male dominated country, many of them could not share their grievances, and hence they had to be submissive at all times.

According to Trevor-Roper, the situation has improved over the years; however, China is still regarded as one of those countries that have hindered the growth of women in the contemporary world. This tendency has worsened by the existence of communism in the modern world (102).


In the contemporary society, it must be underlined that women are as important as men for a society to progress, and, as such, move ahead. Denying women some privileges may be unfair to them because they can play the same or even better roles in the fulfillment of a society’s goals than men.

Every society should pull its resources together, and make education for women compulsory, so that they can catch up with men who have been favored by the society for many years. This will ensure that there is balance in the society, and the women are given equal chances with men without gender segregation.

Works Cited

Gerel, Micheal. Women Oppression in the World today, New York: Houghton Milfin Company, 2001. Print.

Manel, John. Chinese women, New York: Macmillan, 2004. Print.

Seagrave, Sterling. Dragon Lady: The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China, New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.

Trevor-Roper, Hugh. Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse, New York: Knopf, 1977. Print.

Warner, Marina. The Dragon Empress: The Life and Times of Tz’u-Hsi, Empress Dowager of China 1835-1908, New York: Macmillan, 1972. Print.

Wang, Robin. Images of Women in Chinese Thought and Culture, Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Company, Inc. Print.

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