22 September 2010

Concubines, Courtesans, and Mistresses

A concubine is generally a woman in an ongoing, matrimonial-like relationship with a man, whom she cannot marry for a specific reason. The reason may be because she is of lower social rank than the man or because the man is already married. Generally, only men of high economic and social status have concubines. Many historical rulers maintained concubines as well as wives.

Historically, concubinage was frequently voluntary (by the woman and/or her family's arrangement), as it provided a measure of economic security for the woman involved.

Under ancient Rome, Roman culture under the Empire came to tolerate concubinage so long as the relation was durable and exclusive; for the jurists concubinage was an honourable de facto situation. When having no legal status but being recognized, or defined in law, as in ancient China, concubinage is akin, although inferior, to marriage. The children of a concubine are recognized as legal offspring; their inheritance rights may be inferior to even younger children of a marriage, or they may receive a smaller inheritance, but concubines have been frequently used to produce heirs when a wife could not bear them.

In opposition to those laws, traditional Western laws do not acknowledge the legal status of concubines, rather only admitting monogamous marriages. Any other relationship does not enjoy legal protection, making the woman essentially a mistress.

Among the Israelites, it was common for men to acknowledge their concubines, and such women enjoyed the same rights in the house as legitimate wives. The principal difference in the Bible between a wife and a concubine is that wives had dowries, while concubines did not.

The concubine commanded the same respect and inviolability as the wife, and it was regarded as the deepest dishonour, for the man to whom she belonged, if other hands were laid upon her[2]; David is portrayed as having become greatly dishonoured when his concubines had a sexual relationship with his son Absalom.

Since it was regarded as the highest blessing to have many children, while the greatest curse was childlessness, legitimate wives often gave their maids to their husbands to atone, at least in part, for their own barrenness, as in the cases of Sarah and Hagar, Leah and Zilpah, Rachel and Bilhah. The children of the concubine had equal rights with those of the legitimate wife; for example, King Abimelech was the son of Gideon and his concubine. Later biblical figures such as Gideon, David, and Solomon had concubines in addition to many childbearing wives. For example, the Book of Kings claims that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

In Judaism, concubines are referred to by the Hebrew term pilegesh. This is etymologically related to the Aramaic phrase palga isha, meaning half-wife. A cognate term later appeared in Greek as the loan word pallax/pallakis.

According to the Babylonian Talmud, the difference between a concubine and a full wife was that the latter received a marriage contract (Hebrew:ketubah) and her marriage (nissu'in) was preceded by a formal betrothal (erusin), neither being the case for a concubine. However, one opinion in the Jerusalem Talmud argues that the concubine should also receive a marriage contract, but without including a clause specifying a divorce settlement.

Certain Jewish thinkers, such as Maimonides, believe that concubines are strictly reserved for kings, and thus that a commoner may not have a concubine; indeed, such thinkers argue that commoners may not engage in any type of sexual relations outside of a marriage. Shortly before Maimonides had reached this view, Sunni Muslims officially prohibited mutah relationships (which are similar to concubinage relationships); some therefore suggest that Maimonides view was in response to this, in a similar way to Gershom ben Judah's ban on polygamy only being made after Christians had prohibited it.

Maimonides was not the first Jewish thinker to criticise concubinage; for example, it is severely condemned in Leviticus Rabbah. Other Jewish thinkers, such as Nahmanides, Samuel ben Uri, Shraga Phoebus, and Jacob Emden, strongly object to the idea that concubines should be forbidden.

In the Hebrew of the contemporary State of Israel, the word pilegesh is often used as the equivalent of the English word mistress - i.e. the female partner in extramarital relations, even when these relations have no legal recognition. There are attempts there to popularise pilegesh as a form of premarital, non-marital and extramarital relationships which (in their view) would be permitted by Jewish religious law.

A courtesan was originally a woman courtier, which means a person who attends the court of a monarch or other powerful person. In feudal society, the court was the centre of government as well as the residence of the monarch, and social and political life were often completely mixed together. In Renaissance Europe, courtiers played an extremely important role in upper-class society. As it was customary during this time for royal couples to lead separate lives — commonly marrying simply to preserve bloodlines and to secure political alliances — men and women would often seek gratification and companionship from people living at court. In fact, the verb "to court" originally meant "to be or reside at court", and later came to mean "to behave as a courtier" and then "to pay amorous attention to somebody". The most intimate companion of a ruler was called the favourite.

A Yiji (Chinese: 艺妓) was a high-class Courtesan in ancient China. Yiji were rarely involved in direct sex trade but rather performed music and arts such as poetry to please dignitaries and intellectuals.

Before the Ming Dynasty, Yiji were performers who also offered spiritual interaction to their clients. Sexual activity between them and their clients was rare and when it existed, it was usually based on affectionate affairs rather than money.

After the Ming Dynasty, merchants started to patronize Yiji and compensated sex became more common. Many lived in houses called flower houses and men went there to have company. Although sexual activity was not always expected, they often engaged in it to earn more money.

Prior to the founding of modern China in 1911, concubinage was legal. Since the males always carry on the family name (and the family's heritage) after marriage in Chinese custom. To ensure male heirs are produced, it was a common practice that an upper class married male to have one or more concubines provided they could afford to support them.

The custom could be invoked without the wife's consent: the husband's actions were protected by law. Basically it was not considered adultery as long as it was for the purpose of perpetuating the family name. Essentially both wives would co-exist in the same family. A man might choose a courtesan to be his concubine. Many of these courtesans would sing songs to attract potential husbands, hoping to become secondary wives.

Many of the Westerners in China at the time saw these girls sing, but had no idea of what to call them since they were not classified as prostitutes. Thus the term "Sing-Song Girls" came about.

There is another version of the source of the term. According to the 1892 fictional masterpiece by Han Bangqing called Sing-song girls of Shanghai, also known as Flowers of Shanghai, people in Shanghai called the girls who performed in sing-song houses as "xi sang" (Chinese: 喜丧) in Wu language. It was pronounced like "sing-song" and the girls always sang to entertain the customers, thus the Westerners called them Sing-Song girls. The word xi sang in this case is a polite term used to refer to an entertainer.

Sing-song girls were trained from childhood to entertain wealthy male clients through companionship, singing and dancing in special sing-song houses. They might or might not provide sexual services, but many did. They generally saw themselves as lovers and not prostitutes. Sing-song girls did not have distinctive costumes or make-up. Often they wore Shanghai cheongsam as upper-class Chinese women did.Small "cheongsam" asian purse with long shoulder strap, assorted colors - sest of 4 Sing-song girls often did amateur Chinese opera performance for clients. They sometimes wore the traditional Chinese opera costume for small group performance. Sing-song girls had one or several male sponsors who might or might not be married, and relied on these sponsors to pay off family or personal debts. Sometimes, even to sustain their high standard of living. Many sing-song girls ended up marrying their sponsors to start a free life.

The concept has been around for 2000 years as recorded by emperors of the Han Dynasty who needed to provide female entertainment for troop amusement.In ancient China, many different terms given to these female entertainers, such as "gē jì" (Chinese:歌妓, literally "singing female entertainer" or "singing courtesan"), "gē jī" (Chinese:歌姬, literally "singing beauty"), "ōu zhě" (Chinese:謳者, literally "singing person"), etc. The Japanese Geisha concept came from these entertainers.

During the 1930s, Li Jinhui started the Chinese popular music industry with a number of musical troupes. The groups were mostly girls performing and singing. The term Sing-Song-Girls stuck with the singers, since the Communist Party of China associated pop music as Yellow Music or pornography in the 1940s.

A mistress is a man's long-term female lover and companion who is not married to him, especially used when the man is married to another woman. The relationship generally is stable and at least semi-permanent; however, the couple does not live together openly. Also the relationship is usually, but not always, secret. And there is the implication that a mistress may be "kept"—i.e., that the man is paying for some of the woman's living expenses.

Historically, the term has denoted a kept woman, who was maintained in a comfortable (or even lavish) lifestyle by a wealthy man so that she will be available for his sexual pleasure. Such a woman could move between the roles of a mistress and a courtesan depending on her situation and environment. Today, however, the word mistress is used primarily to refer to the female lover of a man who is married to another woman; in the case of an unmarried man it is usual to speak of a "girlfriend" or "partner." Historically a man "kept" a mistress. As the term implies, he was responsible for her debts and provided for her in much the same way as he did his wife, although not legally bound to do so. In more recent and emancipated times, it is more likely that the mistress has a job of her own, and is less, if at all, financially dependent on the man.

A mistress is not a prostitute. While a mistress, if "kept", may essentially be exchanging sex for money, the principal difference is that a mistress keeps herself exclusively reserved for one man, in much the same way as a wife, and there is not so much of a direct quid pro quo between the money and the sex act. There is also usually an emotional and possibly social relationship between a man and his mistress, whereas the relationship to a prostitute is predominantly sexual. It is also important that the "kept" status follows the establishment of a relationship of indefinite term as opposed to the agreement on price and terms established prior to any activity with a prostitute.
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