His story, as the story of every one of us, started long before we were born. For dynasties, our town provided the imperial families their most reliable servants. Eunuchs they are called, though out of reverence we call them Great Papas. None of us is a direct descendant of a Great Papa, but traveling upstream in the river of our blood, we find uncles, brothers, and cousins who gave up their maleness so that our names would not vanish in history. Generations of boys, at the age of seven or eight, were chosen and castrated—cleaned as it was called—and sent into the palace as apprentices, learning to perform domestic tasks for the emperor and his family. At the age of thirteen or fourteen, they started to earn their allowances, silver coins that they saved and sent home to their parents. The coins were kept in a trunk, along with a small silk sack in which the severed male root was preserved with herbs. When the brothers of Great Papas reached the marriage age, their parents unlocked the…