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Held in the Lonely Castle (Chp 1 Part 2)

TL: There is A LOT of exposition in this chapter explaining how the palace is organized. Please refer to the list of characters and place names for Held in the Lonely Castle for a summarized breakdown. I took the liberty of separating paragraphs into different sections for clarity. Naturally, there are a lot of TL Notes in this chapter. I tried my best with all the department names and ranks (> . <);;

If anyone has read the raws, I’d really appreciate any feedback you have about the accuracy of my translation <3

Thank you!

Chapter 1: Autumn Riverside, Esteemed Guests, A Pair of Geese Fly Overhead

Part 2 – Eunuch (内侍)

Translator: Nyamachi
English proofreader: JimmyfromIT

After six months, once we were familiar with palace etiquette and regulations, we were separated into two departments to learn new content.

Great Song’s eunuchs were split between two departments: The Interior Department of Service and the [Exterior] Department of Service. [1]The actual text says “The Interior Department of Service” and just “The Department of Service.” That could be confusing so I added [Exterior] for clarification. See why in the next section~ The Interior Department of Service served within the Forbidden City. They were responsible for all affairs relating to the Imperial Harem and were also known as the ‘Interior Department, the Northern Office’; The [Exterior] Department of Service was responsible for the Imperial Court as well as the Ancestral Shrine, palace maintenance (i.e. cleaning) along with all manner of odd jobs. It was also known as the ‘Exterior Department, the Southern Office.’

I was assigned to the Exterior Department of Service’s Hanlin Classical Institute [2]翰林书艺局 (hànlín shūyìjú): 翰林 (hànlín) Refers to academics employed as imperial secretaries from the Tang Dynasty onwards who comprise the Hanlin Imperial Academy (翰林院 hànlínyuàn); 书艺 (shūyì) refers to calligraphy, literature (Confucian classics), and poetry. It’s one of the Six Confucian Arts (六艺 liùyì) that formed the basis of ancient Chinese education. that was responsible for the Imperial Secretaries’ calligraphy supplies. Since we would be carrying calligraphy supplies in the future, experienced eunuchs who were proficient in the brush arts [3]翰墨 (hànmò) literally means ‘brush and ink’ but refers to writing, painting or calligraphy – all of which require these tools. came to give lessons. Besides the maintenance work and odd jobs that all eunuchs must perform, the rest of my time was spent reading Confucian classics and studying the difference between seal characters, official script, running script, cursive script, memorial script, and flying white style. [4]These are all different styles of Chinese calligraphy. Specifically: 篆 (zhuàn) Seal characters; 隶书 (lìshū) Clerical script; 行草 (xíngcǎo) Running script – semi-cursive; 草 (cǎo) Cursive script; 章草 (zhāngcǎo) Memorial script – a type of cursive script bearing some characteristics of clerical script; 飞白 (fēibái) Flying white or hollow script – a style of calligraphy characterized by hollow strokes as if done with a half-dry brush.

I enjoyed the peaceful and quiet environment of the Classical Institute and this tranquil lifestyle. However, Zhang Chengzhao did not feel the same. He often had many complaints.

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Zhang Chengzhao was my peer in the Hanlin Classical Institute. He was two months younger than me but had entered the palace a year before. He enjoyed calling himself ‘senior’ in front of newbies who had just entered the palace and often took the initiative to speak to us in detail about everything in the palace. The others greatly disliked his behaviour but only I stayed quiet. Every time, I would listen respectfully. Hence, after many times, we became close friends.

He fervently wanted to switch departments to the Interior Department of Service and it was through him that I discovered that the two Departments’ statuses were not equal from the start.

One day the two of us were assigned to bring documents transcribed by the Classical Institute to the Central Secretariat. Since the Chancellor needed them urgently, we jogged en route. Turning a corner, we accidentally collided with two other eunuchs coming from the other direction. Those two were taller than us and only staggered backwards a few steps but we fell down from the impact. The documents scattered as they fell.

“You brats, look where you’re going!” cursed the two furiously.

I ignored them and rushed to collect the documents, verifying whether they had suffered any damage from the fall. Known for his temper, Zhang Chengzhao got up and prepared to curse back at them, but who would have thought that one look at their clothes would cause him to lose heart? Instead, he said smiling: “It was our fault for not being careful and blocking you two elder brothers’ [5]哥哥 (gēge) Lit. older brother; A respectful form of address for an older male in the same generation as you, though not necessarily related. The female equivalent would be 姐姐 (jiějie). path. We beg for elder brothers’ forgiveness. We deserve to be punished!”

After saying so, he gave himself a slap and continued smiling, bowing in apology. The two eunuchs glared at us some more before excusing us and leaving.

I didn’t understand and asked: “Why did you act so humbly in front of them?”

Zhang Chengzhao pulled a few punches and even spat darkly at the two distant forms before answering: “First of all, they are ranked Junior Eunuchs; Second, they are Junior Eunuchs from the Interior Department of Service.”

I was aware that right now we were only unranked Apprentice Eunuchs. Junior Eunuchs were one rank above us. However, I didn’t understand why the eunuchs from the Interior Department of Service merited such respect.

“They are the ones who wait upon His Majesty, Her Majesty, and the Princess(es)! They can easily make a suggestion to their master and we’ll be the ones to strike gold.” Zhang Chengzhao gloomily continued, “That year I was lazy and wasn’t diligent in studying etiquette and protocol so I didn’t get assigned to the Interior Department of Service.”

Once we returned from the Central Secretariat, Zhang Chengzhao explained all the important points on the Interior Department of Service: “There’s no need to mention those who are directly assigned to wait upon the Emperor, Empress, Concubines, or Princesses. Everything is decided upon by the Interior Department. Furthermore, all the offices under the Interior Department’s jurisdiction are not simple either:

“The Imperial Medicine Institute is in charge of verifying medical prescriptions and concocting medicine to serve Their Majesties and everyone else in the Forbidden City. It’s the most respected department within the Forbidden City. Only eunuchs who have achieved meritorious service can be appointed to the ‘Leading Imperial Medical Institute.’

“The Office of the Inner East Gate is responsible for monitoring people and things entering and exiting the Inner Palace. Not only can they restrict one from coming and going but if they discover that someone is carrying suspicious articles, they can immediately submit a report to the Imperial Palace Department or even the Central Secretariat to handle it. With them in charge of regulation, even His Majesty doesn’t dare to grant others money and goods at random.

“The Auditing Office [6]合同凭由司 (hétong píng yóu sī) Full name: Inner Palace Requisition Verification and Auditing Office. is responsible for all declared items in the Forbidden City. They document every ordinary and special item granted by Imperial decree and draw up a list of every bestowed item’s name and quantity. The list is then handed to the Imperial Treasury. Items awarded by the Emperor must pass through their inspection. Who would dare to offend them?

“The Dragon Diagram Hall, the Hall of Heavenly Manifestation, and the Pavillion of Treasured Classics [7]龙图阁 (lóngtú gé) The Dragon Diagram Hall of the Imperial Archives; 于昌阁 (yúchāng gé) = 天章阁 (tiānzhāng gé) Hall of Heavenly Manifestation; 宝文阁 (bǎowén gé) Pavillion of Treasured Classics of the Hanlin Institute. Source: this book. are all responsible for storing ancient texts, maps and census records, as well as inscribed auspicious jewellery and antiques. [8]符瑞宝玩 (fú ruì bǎowán) 符 refers to magic figures drawn by Taoist priests to expel spirits and bring good fortune (in this case! – It can also do the opposite); 瑞 describes something auspicious; 宝玩 Jewellery and antiques/treasures. They are all priceless items. The status of the eunuchs assigned there is naturally different from the rest.”

“Doesn’t the External Department also work in the service of His Majesty? Why must the two departments be divided by rank?” I asked him.

“Because they’re not the same! One is superior to the other!” Zhang Chengzhao changed his tone and said: “Look at what the bureaus related to the External Department are responsible for:

“Regarding foreign relations, the State Credentials Verification Bureau [9]管勾往来国信所 (guǎn gōu wǎnglái guóxìn suǒ) The office that controls anyone coming and going and you need an imperial seal/some form of verification to prove that you’re allowed to enter/exit the country/capital/palace. is in charge of interactions with the Khitan ambassador. [10]契丹 (Qìdān) Aka ‘Khitan’ is an ancient ethnic group in northern China. They are a branch of the Hu people inhabiting the valley of the Xar Murun River in the upper reaches of the Liao River. Read more about them. Even though they’re idle most days, since they’re not affiliated with people from the palace, no one tries to curry favour with them.

“The officials assigned to the Imperial Grounds Division are responsible for the Palace’s animal farms, ponds, all things related to horticulture in the terraced pavilions, and making the preparations for when His Majesty and Her Majesty go on tour. The ones holding this office are actually just a group of craftsmen and gardeners.

“The Imperial Workshop is in charge of creating objects for use within the palace and imperial marriages. It’s all rough work.

“The Military Reception Division is responsible for the appointment of imperial guards within the palace and facilitating audiences with the Emperor to finalize the promotions. [11]军头引见司 (jūntóu yǐnjiàn sī) Based on my research, this was an office unique to the Song Dynasty. Originally two departments, it was responsible for the military roster and facilitating audiences with the Emperor to finalize promotions. Since officials in this department had the opportunity to contact the Emperor on a daily basis, it assumed political, military, and judicial functions. Sources: this research abstract and this book. This thesis paper gives a much more detailed explanation. It’s equivalent to being guides who lead the way.

“The four institutes under the jurisdiction of the Hanlin Imperial Academy which we belong to, namely the Astronomy, Classical, [12]See previous footnote. Fine Arts, [13]图画 (túhuà) | 绘画 (huìhuà) Drawing and painting. and Medical Institutes, are responsible for observing celestial phenomena, the brush arts, the fine arts, and medicine, respectively. Although it’s a bit better [than the other departments], no matter how good we become at calligraphy, at most, we’ll be waiting to be called upon to do some transcription work under the Classical Institute. We won’t even be able to touch the walls of the Inner Palace……”

I remained silent and continued to listen to him heavily sigh: “Furthermore, the two department officials’ salaries are also not the same. Let’s take the palace servitors [14]供奉官 (gòngfèng guān) Imperial servitors were the lowest echelon within the Song military bureaucracy. Even though they were military officials in name, this rank (and subsequent career track) had both military and civil duties. Source: this thesis paper (Eng). from both departments for example. Our External Department’s servitor’s monthly salary is ten qian [or ten copper coins] [15]千 (qiān) A nominal unit of weight in the Song Dynasty ~4g. 1 qian is about the weight of 1 bronze coin.; five bolts of strong silk in the spring and winter; and twenty liang [16]两 (liáng) A traditional unit of weight equal to 0.1 jin (another unit of measurement) or 50g / 1.763 oz. of cotton in the winter. On the other hand, the Interior Department’s [servitor’s monthly salary] is twenty qian; five bolts of strong silk in the spring and seven bolts of strong silk plus thirty liang of cotton in the winter……If the Interior Department has a vacancy and someone from the Exterior Department is called to fill it, that’s considered a promotion. The one chosen to fill the position will normally be grinning from ear to ear…… Just look at the clothes of those from the Interior Department. Each one dresses brighter and neater than the last……”

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“That’s not true,” I thought of someone: “Teacher Zhang assigned to the Inner East Gate dresses very plainly.”

Zhang Chengzhao was quiet for a moment. He scratched his head in thought and answered, “Perhaps he wants to save up money so he’s living frugally.”

Since I brought it up, he suddenly became curious, asking me: “What do you know? I heard you came to Hanlin Imperial Academy on Teacher Zhang’s recommendation. It’s so strange. Hasn’t he treated you well? He even gave you a name. Why didn’t he let you go to the Interior Department?”

I smiled slightly and said: “Probably because he felt that this place suited me better. I also thought so.”

He shook his head in disdain. The look in his eyes clearly said ‘This child cannot be taught.’ [17]A reference to the idiom 孺子可教 (rúzǐ kějiào) meaning ‘The child is worth teaching.’

After another year passed, both of us accepted promotions to became Junior Eunuchs at the same time. Insofar as eunuchs go, Zhang Chengzhao efforts to be promoted were quite sincere. Every day while he was on duty, he counted the official ranks between our present rank to the highest rank on his fingers: [18]I did my best @_@ The titles in Chinese: 内侍黄门,内侍高班,内侍高品,内侍殿头,内西头供奉官,内东头供奉官,押班,副都知,都知,都都知,两省都都知.

Junior Eunuch, Senior Eunuch, First-Class Eunuch, Building Manager, Head Servitor of the Western Interior, Head Servitor of the Eastern Interior, Custodial Team Member, Assistant Omniscient Chamberlain, Omniscient Chamberlain, Superior Omniscient Chamberlain…… Dual Department Head Chamberlain……”

Whenever he brought up ‘Dual Department Head Chamberlain,’ he couldn’t help but smile. It was as if this high-ranked position was already within his grasp. Seeing this familiar scene, I smiled too.

One time I asked him: “Why do you want to become the Dual Department Head Chamberlain so much?”

“Because of an enormous amount of money!” he blurted out. “The Dual Department Head Chamberlain’s monthly salary is at least fifty qian. That’s fifty times our salary.”

I didn’t understand why he was this fixated on money: “What are we going to do with so much money? Since we can’t purchase land nor can we take a bride. Furthermore, we won’t have any descendants to pass it to.”

This line of thinking stumped him. After a long time, he finally replied: “Leaving aside money, reaching the rank of Dual Department Head Chamberlain means that other than His Majesty or Her Majesty, no one else would dare hit me or scold me. Only I’ll be able to beat and scold others. We go through so much hardship working in the palace. We should at least seek something for ourselves, right? If you aren’t seeking promotion, what are you aiming for?”

It was my turn to keep silent. The me at that time lived indifferently each day without goals nor desires.


TL Thoughts:

My eyes swam translating this chapter @_@. Lots of content to add to my ancient setting glossary.

I hope you enjoyed it! Please let me know if there’s anywhere I can improve! (^ ^)


A huge thank you to kind Nuffians,
Tofu Cat and especially Nonononononono,
for your help in translating these fancy building names and positions! 


In case you’d like to see pictures of the various calligraphy styles: seal characters, clerical script, running script, cursive script, memorial script, and flying white style/hollow script.

Until next time,


<< Previous Chapter | Index | Next Chapter >>
List of Characters, Place Names and Ranks


  • I just came to give you some encouragement. What a commitment to excellence! What research work! I have to bow to the sheer amount of energy you put into your translation. I am shamed for my own laisser-faire attitude. Your choice of words is perfect. You convey this strange feeling of companionship that subsisted between the eunuchs while also reminding the reader of the rigid hierarchy that reigned among the serving class of the Imperial Household. Zhang Chengzhao appears so lonely, though he loves to address himself as “senior”, though he dreams of being close to the Emperor. In the end, he just need someone to talk to, someone to share his feelings with.

    Knowing how tragic this story is, the indifference of the ML just makes everything all the more painful. His logical, cold outlook on the situation of eunuchs, his lack of ambition, his appreciation of the calm situation in life he gained from being in the Exterior Department serving the imperial secretaries … all this so perfectly sets the tone for the tragedy that is to come. I was made so sad by this chapter, which just goes to show how great of a translation you made!!!

    Thank you so much for your hard work and for bringing this jewel to us. You are such a breath of fresh air in our community of translators. I would never have the energy to read papers for the pleasure of bringing the best translation to the readers as you do.

    • Whaa <3 > o < Thank you so much for your high praise! *bows in gratitude!!* I'm glad I was able to convey the feeling of the chapter well! A lot of the credit for the ambiance has to go to the author though. I'm just translating their words ^^; Also for the papers, I was was struggling to find the right words and Nonononononono sent me the links for them ^^~ Finders credit definitely goes to them! I'll definitely look back on this comment whenever I need encouragement <3 Thanks for making me smile!

  • Translating this novel is no small feat. Thank you so much for your excellent work!

    Quick note on the translation of this line: “They are the ones who wait upon His Majesty, Their Ladyships, and the Princesses!” I am not sure about the timeline so I do not know if it is princesses or princess (if Huirou is the only daughter or if other princesses have been born), but I believe 娘娘 refers to 皇后娘娘, the empress, and the other ladies of the harem are called 娘子.

    • Thank you so much for your praise! Ah, I didn’t notice that! Also, I really appreciate the feedback! Thank you <3 I'll take a look at Song dynasty harem ranks as well~

      Edit: Fixed~ Each time the raws said ‘官家娘娘’ it made sense that it was referring to the Empress and not the other ladies. Thank you again!! ^ ^

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