Rank badges were insignia badges worn by court officials to signify their status in the civil or military sphere. Two badges were attached to the costume, one on the back the other on the front which was split to allow the garment to be buttoned up at the front.
The badges were first introduced during the Ming period in 1391. From the Ming (1368-1644) to the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) the styles of the badges changed dependent on the tastes of the times - not necessarily only when the court dress regulations were published in 1652 and revised by Qianlong emperor in 1759. The best indicator of the time period of a badge are background elements such as water and cloud designs, as these could indicate what was fashionable at the time.
Civil rankings were based on the passing of demanding official examinations. Civil badges consisted of nine ranks each represented by a different bird, with only a couple of changes of bird types over the two dynasties. Military examinations were based on physical feats rather than literary and the rank badges are rarer. For example, towards the overturn of the Qing, military rank badges in particular were burnt to conceal identification. Military badges consisted of animals representing rank. During the Qing rank badges were generally worn by an official, his wife or wives and unmarried sons and daughters (Garrett 37).
Children could wear the costume of the father but not the rank badge as a rule. However this was often ignored as can be seen in the fact that these 2 rank badges have the insignia of a goose for the children of 4th rank civil servants.
Schuyler Cammann, ‘The development of the Mandarin square’, 'Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies', vol.8, no.2 (Aug. 1944), pp. 71-130
Valery M. Garrett, 'Mandarin Squares', Oxford University Press, 1990.
Valery Garrett, 'Chinese dress from the Qing dynasty to the present', Tuttle Publishing, Singapore, 2007.
Place where the work was made
embroidered silk on black satin background
a - split badge; 15.5 x 16.5 cm
b - badge; 15.5 x 16.4 cm
Gift of Dr David Ling 2011. Donated through the Australian Government Cultural Gifts Program.
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 1 exhibition
Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–06 Jan 2019
Referenced in 1 publication
Chinese Dress: from the Qing dynasty to the present, Singapore, 2007, 83 (colour illus.). fig.no. 155 (on boy's coat); fig.no.156 (one of the pair)