"Of the 300 girls that were brought in, just five of us were selected."
About the concubines
They were brought to the palace for one reason: to produce a royal heir. All arrived as beautiful virgins, and those who finally passed the rigorous selection process had to uphold ideal virtues: be submissive, thrifty, able to hunt, and most of all, chaste. It was forbidden for any man to enter the court ladies' palaces, except for the eunuchs assigned to guard them, and the emperor himself.
Royal consorts and concubines were governed by a hierarchy that defined their privileges and the legitimacy of their children. The fastest way to climb the ranks was to give birth to the next emperor, and competition to produce an heir was fierce. Countless stories of drama and intrigue surround concubines within the palace, the most famous involving the Empress Dowager Cixi and a beautiful young concubine who met her untimely death at the bottom of a well…
Within the Forbidden City
The only time imperial women were allowed to leave the Inner Court was for grand celebrations in the Outer Court. The empress, consorts, and concubines lived in the Six Western and Six Eastern Palaces within the Inner Court. Concubines of a lower rank could not live in a palace designated for a higher rank.
Album of Twelve Months of Seasonal Activities
Court ladies stayed busy throughout the year with a number of pastimes in the restricted Inner Court, including dressing and putting on make up.
Imperial ladies enjoyed the ritual of dressing up, using beautiful sets of tools, such as this comb set.
Imperial woman's riding jacket (magua)
Women of the Qing court learned more than embroidery, painting, and music. They were also trained in horsemanship, and their informal clothes soon fashionably reflected this. Luxurious versions, such as this, were created from the most expensive fabrics and trims.
Woman's lined socks (manchu)
A woman of the royal court gave what covered her feet as much thought and attention as every other piece of her costume. Beautifully designed and crafted socks such as these kept her feet looking lovely while keeping her toes warm!
Prince Yinzhen's painting of Twelve Beauties
Before he became Emperor Yongzheng, Prince Yingzhen commissioned 12 paintings for a screen surrounding the couch in his private study. These "beauties" portrayed the ideal life of imperial women.