Sunday, 13 August 2017

Sewing for Scholars and Soldiers - Chinese Rank Badges


During the Ming and Qing dynasties the adding of embroidered patches to the jackets or outer robes of scholars, mandarins, aristocrats, courtiers and military officials and officers became a formal system. Imperial Princes and the Highest ranking Aristocrats worn dragons. Lower civil ranks had birds and the Military Animals like Lions, Tigers, Leopards, Bears and Rhinos.

This silver pheasant would have marked its wearer as being of the 5th rank in nine rank system with the highest ranks wearing Cranes and the very lowest Quails or Orioles.

Thee are many articles online about this ranking system and the pricing of antique robes. 
You will also modern replicas used for cushion covers advertised but what I want you to consider is this: the women who did the embroidery.

Chiang Yee in his autobiography describes his father painting embroidery patterns for the women of his household but I wonder how many of these women would have rather had lessons in how to paint for themselves, would have preferred a brush and inks and pigments to a needle and dyed silk threads?

I wonder how many women in military households would have rather been studying martial arts or books of strategy?

These patches and other Chinese embroidery are very beautiful but I wonder how many women did embroidery because it was the only outlet they had.

Thankfully in this century many women get more choice but spare a thought for textile workers be they embroiders, silk spinners and weavers, or garment finishers. Check you're buying those handicrafts from a genuine co-op or a workshop thats signed on to an ethical manufacture agreement.