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December 17, 1996 – Sun Yaoting, China’s last known eunuch, died

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Sun Yaoting

Sun Yaoting died on December 17, 1996.

He was the last surviving imperial eunuch of Chinese history.

Generally, a eunuch is a man who has been castrated to serve a specific social function.

n China, castration included removal of the penis as well as the testicles. Both organs were cut off with a knife at the same time.

Eunuchs have existed in China since about 4,000 years ago, were imperial servants by 3,000 years ago, and were common as civil servants by the time of the Qin dynasty.

From those ancient times until the Sui dynasty, castration was both a traditional punishment (one of the Five Punishments) and a means of gaining employment in the Imperial service.

Certain eunuchs gained immense power that occasionally superseded that of even the Grand Secretaries such as the Ming dynasty official Zheng He.

Self-castration was a common practice, although it was not always performed completely, which led to it being made illegal.

Sun Yaoting was castrated at the age of eight by his father with a single razor cut, mere months before the last emperor Pu Yi was deposed.

He still became a palace eunuch and had become the attendant to the empress before the imperial family was expelled from the Forbidden City, following which he continued to serve in Manchukuo until the puppet state’s collapse.

The 1988 dramatic film Lai Shi, China’s Last Eunuch is based on Sun Yaoting’s life. His biography The Last Eunuch of China was published in 1998 and translated to English in 2008.

Tony Simon

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