The Unkindest Cut of All? Beijing’s Eunuch Musuem
One of the greatest pleasures in discovering China’s capital is the fact that Beijing these days boasts well over 130 museums, ranging from the well-known and much-crowded (such as the Forbidden City) to the much less well-known and all-but-empty (such as its Watermelon or Goldfish museums).
One such museum that surely deserves to be better known is situated in the far west of the city, not far from the last stop on Line 1 at Pinguoyuan. What makes it particularly interesting is the fact that it is the only one of its kind in the world. But I gather from the web that visitors are so rare here that with its 8 yuan entrance fee, the museum doesn’t even make enough to cover its electricity bill. I’m talking of nothing less than a museum devoted to the history and achievements of eunuchs.
Eunuchs have existed in civilizations across the world, but it is China where they held the greatest significance. In ancient China, castration was used both as a punishment as well as a way to work for the emperor. Because eunuchs were unable to have children it was thought they would not be tempted to seize power. Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) there were some 70,000 of them employed by the emperor. China’s last eunuch, Sun Yaoting, served China’s Last Emperor Pu Yi and was aged 93 when he died in 1996 at his home in Beijing.
The Eunuch Culture Museum is located in the premises of the tomb of Tian Yi, a famous eunuch who lived from 1534 to 1605 during the Ming dynasty. During the era of the Republic of China, Tian Yi’s tomb was ransacked by warlords who stole the treasures to raise funds, although his remains still lie here. But the overall structure of the tomb was well preserved and in the 1950s the mausoleum was turned into a kindergarten. To protect the children's safety, the back entrance of the mausoleum was sealed off and no one was allowed to enter, thereby protecting it from further rampages. Items now on display mainly consist of articles left behind by Sun Yaoting, including a yellow jacket given to him by Pu Yi.
The cemetery occupies 6,000 square meters and contains five tombs of Tian Yi and four other eunuchs standing to the left and right of Tian Yi’s tomb. On either side of the entrance is a 3m tall statue of Tian Yi – one dressed as a warrior and the other a scholar.
Moving in to the middle section, there are three pavilions, each of which has a stone tablet on which is recorded Tian Yi’s achievements. The pavilion in the middle stands out from the other two, having a round shaped dome and motifs of lions, reflecting a mix of east and west.
Behind the pavilions is the "Shouyu Gate“, once believed to be the dividing line between this world and the netherworld. It is in this area that one finds the carved marble tomb mounds of Tian Yi and his four fellow eunuchs.
You can even go down some steps to visit the actual crypt of Tian Yi.
It’s pretty dark down here, and you feel pretty thankful for a banister rail to hang onto for dear life as you descend the steps, though even with the very low wattage light bulbs they have installed you find yourself stumbling forward with your hands stretched out feeling for a wall that may or may not be there. There’s also another tomb which is even darker and murkier than the first.
Close to the entrance of the cemetery, hidden away down a side passage, is the actual museum – five rooms, all bristling with every possible piece of information you might care to learn about the life and times of eunuchs, including a display illustrating the castration process, a preserved mummy, ancient sex toys, and even a photo of a castrated boy.
In one glass case is a chair and walking stick of Sun Yaoting. Another glass case displays a wooden model of a ship captained by Zheng He - China’s famous 15th century explorer who was castrated at the age of 11.
Cai Lun, the 1st century inventor of paper, was also a eunuch, as was Li Lianying who persuaded Empress Cixi to divert funds meant for modernizing China’s navy to build the Summer Palace. No doubt today’s tourists are pretty thankful that he did. But when they dug up Li Lianying’s grave, his head was missing. Whether he was buried without his head or whether it was removed by those who hated him, we’ll probably never know.
To get to Tian Yi’s tomb and Eunuch Culture Museum, take subway line 1 to Pinguoyuan and walk in a north westerly direction to Moshikou Avenue. Opening Time is 09:00-16:00 and entrance cost is RMB8.