Chinese rank badges, also known as mandarin squares, were large embroidered badges sewn onto the uniform of an official in the Chinese Empire. They were heavily decorated with animal or bird insignia, symbolizing the rank of a person wearing them.
The History of Chinese Rank Badges
Mandarin squares appeared for the first time in 1391 during the Ming Dynasty. The artists used similar embroidery on the clothes of Empire’s officials when Yuan Dynasty was in power. However, it was purely aesthetic and had no real meaning. Important people wore rank badges even after the Ming dynasty ended. The Qing dynasty eagerly embraced them. The fall of the imperial system in 1912 marked the end of Mandarin squares. The new government no longer needed them.
The Dynasties and Their Badges
During the Ming Dynasty badges had trapezoidal shapes that stretched throughout the chest and back. Qing-style badges were different. They were smaller and more decorative than Ming ones. While the meaning of specific animals did not change, their designs evolved. In both dynasties animals such as tigers, lions, bears and leopards stood for military ranks. However, the Qing Dynasty swapped the rhinoceros for a sea horse. Scholars bore birds on their badges. They ranged from cranes and peacocks to ducks and wild goose. Musicians also had their own rank badges. The maker usually embroidered them with orioles. Rank badges also appeared in Korea during the Choson Dynasty. Like Ming style, they were small and heavily decorated. Big cats such as leopards and tigers were used for military officials. Civilians usually bore cranes.
Chinese rank badges usually had toned-down dark backgrounds. They served as a great canvas for colorful threads used to decorate them. The most popular hues to use where red, green and yellow. They symbolized good fortune, but blue was just as popular.