Structure of entries: Chinese term (the pinyin): definition(chapter the term first appears in).

Note: the pinyin (without the tones) is how most of the term appear in the text with the exception of a rare few which are translated.


大(): eldest

二(èr): two, second

三(sān): three, thrid

四(): four, fourth

哥哥 (gē ge): older brother

弟弟(dì di): younger brother

姐姐 (jiě jie): older sister

妹妹(mèi mei): younger sister

嫂嫂(săo sao): sister in law

叔(shū): younger brother in law

堂(táng): relatives with the same surname

表(biăo): relatives with different surname



本宫(běn gong): illeism for imperial consorts. “this palace” (14)

本王妃 (běn wàng fēi): this(本) wangfei(王妃). Ben (本) is used by a speaker to refer to themselves in the third person (illeism). This form of speaking is used for more formal occasions, usually when the speaker is part of a conversation among equals or as the highest ranking person in the room. (1)

步摇(bù yáo):dangling hair ornament or literally step shake. (1)


昌德公府 (Chāng Dé Gōng Fŭ): Chang De(昌德) is the name associated with the title, meaning flourishing/prosperous (昌) virtue(德). Gong(公) means that it is a dukedom. 公府 is therefore the ducal compound. (1)

侧妃 (cè fei): ce(侧) means side. Ce fei refers to a “secondary wife”. (1)

诚王(chéng wáng): the Prince of Cheng (诚). Cheng means honest, sincere, true. (4)

宠爱(favour/chŏng ài): chong(宠) is to pamper/spoil/love. Ai(爱) is love. Chongai is a very different concept than love. It usually refers to the amount often a man has sexual congress with one of his concubines. The more nights they have, the more chong the concubines is said to have. Favor and affection are terms that are very similar to the concept of chongai. (1)

太子(Crown Prince/tài zĭ): Crown Prince. (13)

翠幽苑(cui yōu yuàn): cui(翠) green jade, you(幽) is serene, secluded or hidden away, yuan(苑) is park or yard. (4)


大哥(dà gē): da(大) for big or eldest, ge(哥) is older brother. (3)

大人(dà ren): adult, general term used to refer to those of status. (12)

石(dàn): one dan is 103.55 liters, it is a volume measurement. (16)

殿中省 (Department of Household Affairs): department under the Chancellery, responsible for all aspects of the Emperor’s life. (1)

嫡(): first and “legitimately” married to. (3)

端亲王(Duān Qīn Wáng): before, he had always been referred to as Duan Wang (端王) but Duan Qin Wang is his proper rank. This is the highest level of prince. The only rank higher would be the Emperor. (2)

端王(duᾰn wáng): Duan (端) means straight, upright; proper if it is used as an adjective. As a noun, it primarily means the beginning, end, or the limit. 王 can mean both a prince or a king. However, the highest power belongs to the emperor, not a 王. (1)

端王府 (duăn wᾴng fῠ) is the household and the mansion that was bestowed to Prince Duan when he received his title. (1)


儿臣(ér chén): son-servant(or subject), used when speaking to empress, mother or emperor. It means that when the person is an imperial child, they are still a subject of the emperor. (15)

儿媳妇(ér xí fu): wife of a son, daughter-in-law. (13)


飞仙髻(fēi xiān jì): flying(飞)immortal(仙) knot/braid(髻) (1)

府(fῠ): is a compound, house or mansion. Fu (府) can only be labelled and called as such if it is bestowed as part of a position or inherited in the aristocracy. Families can be referred to using their actual surname or the name of their fu so it becomes the House of —–, similar to Western royalty. (1)

父皇(fù huáng): father-emperor. (15)

夫人(fū ren): the mistress/wife, also a general term to refer to an official’s wife. (3)


贤内助 (good wife): also means virtuous inner assistant.(14)

公公(gong gong): how to refer to a taijian. (3)

公子(gong zĭ): son of an official or nobility, also a title of respect for young men. (13) 姑老爷(gū lăo ye): husband of a daughter when referred to by a servant. The servant is from the wife’s side with gu being the in-law. (13)

姑母(gū mŭ): sister of father. (11)

姑娘 (gū niang): young lady, or young girl. (1)


贺珩(Hè Héng): He is the surname, héng means the top gem that decorates a pendant, usually made of jade. (3)

红帐子 (hόng zhàng zi): the red canopy refers to both the decorations for the wedding, and also the bedroom canopy that covers the bed. (1)

后宫(hòu gong): back of palace or inner palace. Refers to the harem of the Emperor. In common usage, it also includes the Empress and the children that live in the palace. (15)

后院(hòu yuàn): back(后) courtyard(院). Another way of referring to the neiyuan, the main difference is that houyuan is more commonly used to refer specifically to the women who were concubines of assorted rank and social status. (1)

花魁(huā kui): the word oiran, courtesans in Japan, comes from the word 花魁. It refers to the top or best entertainer of a pleasure house. (4)



鸡血玉镯: the literal translation would be chicken blood (鸡血) jade bracelet/bangle(玉镯)but phoenix blood is another name for the type of stone. (1)

继(ji): means to continue. It also refers to the new wife after the old, original, one died. (4)

夹袄(jiá ᾰo): lined jacket. Wide sleeves and a length to the waist. This style was common during the Ming and especially the Qing dynasties. (1)

舅舅(jiù jiu): maternal uncle. (3)

舅母(jiù mŭ): maternal uncle’s wife. (3)



老爷(lăo ye): the lord, master. (10)

络子(lào zi): it’s an ornament that’s usually made through knotting, such as the classic Chinese knot, to create various shapes. (1)

两(liăng/tael): a tael. Approximately 50 grams. The conversion of silver to gold and to copper ratio would have varied across time. (2)

罗裙(luό qún):silk dress. (1)

洛神赋(Luò Shén Poems): Luo Shen Fu(poem). It is a collection of poems by Cao Zi when he passed by the river Luo. In mythical history, Luo Shen was originally the daughter of Fu Xi, a Chinese Emperor and the mythical creator of fishing. She drowned in the Luo River and became the spirit (神) of the Luo River, hence the name of the collection. (6)

鸾鸟 (luàn niăo):mythical bird related to the phoenix). (1)


嬷嬷(mā mā): while it is pronounced mama, it refers to old female servants, and is used similarly to pozi. (1)

妹妹(mèi mei): younger sister. All the women are “sisters” and the “age” is determined by first rank, and then seniority. (3)

母妃(mŭ fēi): mother-consort or mother-concubine. Mother who is also an imperial consort. They cannot be simply referred to as mother because socially, the mother of the imperial sons is the Empress. (3)

母后(mŭ hòu): mother-empress. All children of the emperor has a di mother, the empress, who they refer to as muhou and for those born of concubines, who is their shu mother, they will call them mufei. (15)


内院(nèi yuàn): The “inner courtyard” where the women reside. It also refers to the interactions and social spaces of women. See more in the glossary on the fu. (1)

娘娘(niáng niang) : suffix which should only be applied to the empress or imperial concubines. (4)

奴(): way of referring to oneself as a servant, like “this servant”. (2)

奴婢(nú bì): how a servant refers to herself. With bi(婢), the phrase is slave-servant, rather than just nu or servant. (3)

奴才(nú cai): literally meaning slave. It’s the illeism used by servants to refer to themselves when talking to those in rank above them. (1)



请安 (pay respects): literally ask/request (请) safety/comfort(安). It is performed in the morning by all females of the family in the household to the eldest female, the mother of the highest ranking male member of the family, or in the absence of that, his wife. This includes daughters, concubines, sisters and if the family has not separated and the brothers live together, their wives would also go. (1)

婆婆(pó po): mother-in-law, husband’s mother. (13)

婆子(pό zi): literally old woman. There are three primary meanings: baggage – a despicable/pitiful woman, a wife, or an old female servant. Only the last meaning is relevant in this case. Po zi are usually lower ranked servants, used for common-labor or other tasks. (1)


妾(qiè): Shortened and very general name for concubine. (1) Used also as an appellation by women to refer to themselves, usually in front of their husbands. (3)

妾侍 (qiè shì): general term referring to all concubines. Literally concubines (qie) and attendants (shi). (1)

秋意斋(Qiū Yì Zhāi): Autumn building. Zhai (斋) also means to a vegetarian diet or the diet of a monk. (8)


如意(rù yi) is a carved talisman, usually in an S-shape. (4)


三弟(sān dì): san(三) three or third, di(弟) younger brother. (3)

氏(shì): shi means clan name. Women, upon marriage, are identified by their surname and it is very rare that their personal name is recorded. This is the case even for princesses. They would then be referred to as ––shi, to identify the family they came from. (1)

侍妾(shì qiè): . Lower in rank than ce fei but not the lowest in terms of rank among concubines. (1)

荠菜(shepherd’s purse): Capsella bursa-pastoris. It is related to the mustard family and usually considered a weed. (2)

庶(shù): children born of a concubine, as opposed to those born from the wife as di. (9)

蜀绣(shŭ xiù/brocade ): the style of embroidery originated from Sichuan so it is also called chuan-style. It is one of the four primary styles of embroidery in China. (1)

大理寺少卿(Supreme Justice): shaoqing(少卿) is the highest position in the Department of Justice (大理寺). Similar to the Chief Supreme Justice. (3)


太监(tài jiàn): eunuchs, who were men that were castrated, are not the same as taijian as taijian refers to specific positions in the Imperial palace and government which were occupied by men that were castrated. (1)

太太(tài tai): Mrs, madam, wife, married woman. (8)

太医(taiyi): imperial physician. It is an official position. (1)

通房(tōng fáng): lowest rank in concubine. (2)




万福(wàn fú): literal meaning is ten thousand good fortune. This is the proper greeting between women, the right hand covering the left in a loose fist and performing a movement from the right side of the chest moving downwards and at the same time, bowing with the legs bent as though trying to sit down. (2)

王妃(wàng fēi): the wife of a 王or prince. 妃, on its own, is one of the highest ranks of imperial concubine under the Empress. (1)

王爷(wáng ye): the pronoun to refer to a wang in normal conversation. (1)

文(wén): denomination of money. 1000 wen is one tael of silver. (16)


西园(Xī Yuán): literally the Western Park. It would be a set of rooms on the western side of the compound. (1)

秀才(xiù cai): person that passed the county-level imperial exams. (9)

小白菜(Little White Cabbage): There is a song lyric where it is “little cabbage, from childhood, there was no dad or mom.” It is also the nickname of a woman in one of the major murder cases in 1872, nicknamed so as she wore a white shirt and green pants. She was childhood friends with a man who grew up to participate in the government exams and became a government official. However, she was a childhood bride and therefore had to marry into another family. When the two grew up, the man was accused of adultery with Little Cabbage and murdering her husband due to machinations of another official in revenge. After various ordeals and torture, the truth was revealed. However, the man’s body was ruined by the torture and couldn’t return to his position. He quickly died after and Little Cabbage became a nun. (1)


丫鬟(yā huan): servant girl, can also be called yatou (丫头). Equivalent to maids. (1)

丫头(yā tou): girl, servant girl. Can be used deprecatingly or as a term of endearment. (8)

姨娘(yí niáng): title used to refer to normal concubines/qieshi. (4)

玉冠(jade coronet): the historical Chinese coronet, unlike European coronets that encircle the head, sit at the very top of the head and is secured by forming a bun of hair and pin. (3)

云锦 (Yun brocade): brocade made in Jiangsu. In history, it was once exclusive to the Imperial Family and the common saying was one inch of gold, one inch of brocade (both brocade and gold have the same pronunciation in Chinese) (14)


正妃 (zhēng fēi): proper, “legitimate” wife. (6)

正院 (zhēng yuàn): The main building or the primary building. The residence of the wife. See more in the historical section on the fu. (1)

8 thoughts on “Glossary

  1. Hi! Thank you for novel translation.This information is very interesting. I have a question. Now I am watching Nirvana in Fire and in sixth episode I found something confusing. There is prince Yu, who is fostered-son of the Empress. When he talked about one of the concubines, he referred to her as a mufei (she doesn’t have any blood relation to him). Is that right? I thought only born children of concubines use mufei, when they talk with their mothers or about them. Maybe you can clarify that?


    • Technically, the son can call a concubine “mufei” because she is considered a “shu” mother of the Emperor’s children. Is the concubine of high rank or very close to him? I’m not sure that an Imperial son would call someone of low rank “mufei” otherwise.
      It’s a bit different in the palace because concubines have ranks and their birth is usually noble as well. For normal families with concubines, that doesn’t usually happen.


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