How Many Women Did the Chinese King Have?

The historical accounts surrounding the personal lives of ancient Chinese kings often enthrall with tales of opulent palaces and lavish harems. One can't help but wonder about the sheer number of women who graced the courts, captivating the hearts of these powerful rulers. Yet, the question of how many women the Chinese kings had is shrouded in both myth and reality, making it a captivating subject of intrigue and curiosity. To explore the depths of this captivating topic, we must delve into the annals of Chinese history, where tales of concubines, empresses, and political alliances intertwine to create a complex tapestry of life within the royal courts. Through meticulous research and analysis, we can hope to uncover glimpses of the truth behind the lives and relationships of these ancient Chinese kings as they navigated the delicate realms of love, power, and tradition.

Which Chinese Emperor Had the Least Wives?

He was known for his strategic abilities and political acumen rather than his romantic pursuits. His reign was marked by military conquests and the unification of China, making him one of the most revered emperors in Chinese history. Unlike his predecessors, Emperor Wu didn’t indulge in having multiple wives. Instead, he focused his attention on consolidating power and establishing a stable rule.

In a time when royal families were often divided by power struggles among different wives and factions, his choice offered stability and harmony within the imperial household. This approach fostered trust and loyalty among his subjects, as they witnessed his commitment to his singular partner and family.

Furthermore, Emperor Wus decision sent a powerful message to his court and the wider society. It conveyed his belief in the importance of discipline, order, and prioritizing the states affairs above personal desires. By embracing a more austere lifestyle, he set an example for future emperors, encouraging them to focus on the welfare and prosperity of their people over personal indulgences.

While most Chinese emperors were known for their numerous wives and concubines, the Hongzhi Emperor and Emperor Wu of Jin defied this trend. Their choice to have only one wife exemplified their commitment to stability, unity, and effective governance. Their legacies continue to inspire a different perspective on leadership, where the welfare of the nation takes precedence over personal pleasures.

In recent years, polygamy has been on the rise in mainland China, despite the explicit prohibition of such practices in modern Chinese law. This phenomenon gained momentum since the opening of China’s borders in the 1970s, as businessmen from Hong Kong and Taiwan established relationships with “secondary wives” (二奶, er nai) within the mainland.

Can Chinese Have Multiple Wives?

These “secondary wives” were often young women who were financially supported by the businessmen in exchange for their companionship and intimate relationships. This practice became widespread among wealthy individuals in China, leading to a resurgence of unofficial polygamous relationships.

However, it’s important to note that these relationships aren’t legally recognized and are considered extramarital affairs. The Chinese government has cracked down on such practices, recognizing that they go against the principles of gender equality and justice. As a result, there have been efforts to curtail the prevalence of polygamy and protect the rights of women.

Throughout history, powerful men, such as emperors and wealthy elites, often had multiple wives or concubines. This practice was seen as a symbol of status and power, as well as a way to establish political alliances and secure lineage.

However, with the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949, the government implemented strict regulations to discourage polygamy and promote monogamy. This was done in an effort to create a more egalitarian society and ensure gender equality.

In modern times, although polygamy is officially prohibited, there are still cases of individuals engaging in such relationships, particularly in rural areas. These cases often involve men who’re financially stable and can support multiple wives or mistresses. However, it’s important to recognize that these relationships aren’t the norm and aren’t supported or protected by law.

Source: Concubinage in China – Wikipedia

However, it’s important to note that polygamy was not exclusive to emperors in ancient China. In fact, having multiple wives was a relatively common practice among the wealthy and noble classes. This article will explore the historical context, societal dynamics, and cultural implications of having multiple wives in ancient China.

Could You Have Multiple Wives in Ancient China?

In ancient China, having multiple wives was a common practice among the Chinese emperors, such as Huangdi. This tradition was primarily rooted in the need to produce a suitable heir to the throne. The role of an emperor was seen as crucial, and the continuity of the imperial lineage relied on the birth of a male successor.

To ensure the possibility of having a male heir, emperors would often take multiple wives. These women, known as imperial consorts, held significant status within the palace and were carefully selected based on their family background, beauty, and virtue. Each wife had a specific rank and position, with the highest-ranking wife considered the empress.

Aside from having multiple wives, emperors also had numerous sexual partners within their palaces. These partners were often chosen from the noble families or selected through beauty contests held exclusively for the emperors pleasure. The purpose was to fulfill the emperors desires, as well as to maintain diplomatic ties with powerful families.

The exact number varied depending on the emperors personal preferences and the political climate of the time.

While having multiple wives and sexual partners was a privilege reserved for the emperor, such practices weren’t common among the general population. Polygamy was more prevalent among the nobility and higher social classes but not widely practiced by the common people.

The Social Hierarchy and Rank of Imperial Consorts

  • Empress
  • Consort Empress Dowager
  • Consort Queen
  • Consort Noble Queen
  • Consort Virtuous Queen
  • Consort Noble Consort
  • Consort Virtuous Consort
  • Consort Consort
  • Consort Consort Dowager
  • Consort Noble Lady
  • Consort Virtuous Lady
  • Consort Lady
  • Imperial Concubine
  • Silver or Golden Sachet
  • Sangzi

During the Tang Dynasty in China, Emperor Xuanzong stood out with an astonishing number of 40,000 concubines under his rule. This staggering figure reflects the extravagance and opulence of his reign, where the imperial harem reached unprecedented proportions. Exploring the grandeur and complexities of Xuanzong’s rule brings a deeper understanding of the historical and cultural aspects surrounding the lives of emperors and their concubines during this period.

Which Chinese Emperor Had the Most Concubines?

Emperor Xuanzong, who reigned from A.D. 713 to 756, holds the record for having the most concubines among all Chinese emperors. A staggering number of 40,000 concubines was reported to have resided in his palace during his reign. This figure, although astonishing, should be taken cautiously due to the challenges of verifying historical records from that era.

During Emperor Xuanzongs reign, the imperial harem flourished, with concubines occupying a significant role in the emperors life and the workings of the palace. They hailed from diverse backgrounds, with some being selected from noble families, while others were recruited from the general population. These concubines were often chosen based on their physical appearance, talents, or connections they possessed.

Emperor Xuanzongs reign was marked by artistic and cultural advancements, known as the “Golden Age of Tang Dynasty.”. Despite the controversy surrounding the actual number of concubines, his rule left a lasting impression on Chinese history. Beyond the excessive harem, Emperor Xuanzongs contributions to poetry, art, and governance continue to be explored and celebrated to this day.

The Role and Status of Concubines in Ancient China

  • Concubines played a significant role in ancient China.
  • They were secondary wives of wealthy and powerful men.
  • Concubines were chosen for their beauty, talent, or political connections.
  • They lived in separate quarters within the household.
  • Concubines provided companionship, entertainment, and offspring to the primary wife.
  • Their status varied based on the favor of the husband and primary wife.
  • Some concubines had more influence and power than others.
  • Concubines were expected to be obedient, respectful, and discreet.
  • Their children had certain rights but were considered inferior to those of the primary wife.
  • Throughout history, the perception and treatment of concubines evolved.
  • Social and ethical attitudes toward concubines continue to be a topic of debate.


In conclusion, the historical evidence surrounding the number of women the Chinese king had remains shrouded in uncertainty and speculation. While ancient Chinese texts and narratives often allude to a multitude of concubines and wives associated with the king, the exact figures and details are elusive. This ambiguity may be attributed to the inherent complexities of historical documentation and the cultural nuances surrounding the imperial court. Nevertheless, it’s evident that the Chinese king's royal harem played a significant role in the imperial system, representing both status and political alliances within the empire. Ultimately, the true extent of the Chinese king's female entourage may forever be subject to interpretation, leaving room for ongoing scholarly debate and exploration.

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