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The Arabic term harem means the private part of a household. In traditional Arab culture, this part of the household was forbidden to male strangers.

In English, this term refers collectively to the wives in a polygamous household.

Harem is also the usual English translation of the Chinese language term hougong, 後宮—literally meaning "the palaces behind." Hougong are large Chinese royal palaces for the emperor's consorts and female attendants. The women who lived in an emperor's hougong sometimes numbered in the thousands.

See also: Seraglio, Odalisque

this is a stub article—we need more on ordinary Arab households vs. the polygamous households of the rich and powerful, children and child-rearing, the views of "the harem" as an exotic "other" concept in Orientalism