Public Events

Emperor and Eunuch in Late Imperial China: A Complex Relationship

Thursday, March 3, 2016 at 6:00 pm at the National Humanities Center

"Qianlong Viewing a Peacock Spreading its Tail" (detail), 1758
“Qianlong Viewing a Peacock Spreading its Tail” (detail), 1758

In imperial China, eunuchs were household servants of the emperor, their duties generally limited to cooking, cleaning, and other mundane chores. At times, however, they became influential members of the government, their power even eclipsing that of officials and the emperor himself.

In this lecture, Norman Kutcher will examine and reflect on specific emperors’ relationships with their chief eunuchs, using these case studies to explain the complex dynamic that could sometimes arise between emperor and eunuch.


Norman Kutcher is associate professor of history and Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence at Syracuse University, where he specializes in the cultural, social, and intellectual history of late imperial China. His writings have appeared in the American Historical Review, the Journal of Asian Studies, and The Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, among other venues. He is also author of Mourning in Late Imperial China: Filial Piety and the State (Cambridge, 1999) which examines the complex interplay between the personal and political in Qing efforts to reassert Confucian mourning practices. Kutcher has received fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton NJ. This year, as the Henry Luce Senior Fellow at the National Humanities Center, he is completing a book entitled Eunuchs in the Age of China’s Last Great Emperors.