Vietnam 100 years ago: numerous wives of the Emperor

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The numerous wives of the Emperor of Annam employ their time in much the same way. These all-powerful monarchs have always liked to surround themselves with a Court in which the feminine element predominates.

Men writing on Annam have attributed hundreds of wives to the king. As a monarch has only right to three wives of the first-class rank, princesses of the second rank are numerous, for all the powerful mandarins wish to have one of their daughters in the royal harem.

But it would be an error to count among the Imperial favourites the dancers, actresses, singers, and mimics who frequent the Court. The monarch is served by his wives on their knees.

An Annamese proverb says, “Where is the pimento that is not peppered? Where is the woman who is not jealous?” The competition and rivalry among
the women of the harem is sometimes unbelievable.

Many are the plots formed, the deceits and tricks practised within the Court. In this bevy of young women reputed to be the most beautiful in Annam, all the resources of intelligence and craft, all the artifices of attire, come into play.

A certain woman is confident of her beauty and charm, for she has been chosen out from among her companions for months. Efforts, however, are not relaxed, the aim of every woman being to please the royal master, to please at any price.

In order to appear in Court ceremonies, costume is by no means left to chance. Ancient edicts regulate the colour of the silks and the richness of the brocades. There is room, all the same, for personal ingenuity.

When the toilet is finished, cards are brought out, or the more intelligent among them ask for the palace readers and listen enraptured to tales of adventure or love-stories.

Cigarettes are smoked continually, while at the same time they drink tea and feast on cakes and sweetened ginger. The wives of the king arrange
the flowers in the royal apartments and replenish the betel-box. The Imperial favourites are hardly ever seen outside the palace gates, or in public.

Read more:
Vietnam 100 years ago: table manners
Vietnam 100 years ago: chewing the betel-nut
Vietnam 100 years ago: how to become a mandarin
Vietnam 100 years ago: religion and superstitions
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Vietnam 100 years ago: practice of polygamy
Vietnam 100 years ago: chief wives of the mandarins
Vietnam 100 years ago: numerous wives of the Emperor
Vietnam 100 years ago: beauty standards
Vietnam 100 years ago: emperor and aristocracy

Text: Gabrielle Vassal
On & off duty in Annam, London 1910
Photo: old photo from internet

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