About the Artist
This silk rank badge was worn by an official during China’s Qing (CHING) dynasty. The style of the badge indicates that its wearer was a civil official of the seventh rank (the smaller the number, the higher the rank), someone responsible for the day-to-day affairs of government.
Badges were usually made by men and young boys in commercial establishments, although some were stitched by upper-class women in the households of the officials. Studios that produced badges typically specialized in one or only a few designs and used stencils and templates to produce large quantities of badges more efficiently.
This square primarily uses the satin stitch. To create the desired smooth appearance, the embroiderer has to lay the stitches down next to each other without twisting the thread.
What Inspired It
Every official wore two badges: one on the front and one on the back of a plain overcoat. Civil officials wore badges with birds (like this mandarin duck), while military officials wore badges with animals. Since birds could fly into the heavens, they were considered superior to animals, and Qing society valued the erudition of scholars over the bravery of the military. The imperial government published books of rules about what officials should wear and how badges should be decorated.
By becoming an official a man could rise to the upper ranks of society. To be awarded a badge by the emperor men qualified by passing a series of rigorous examinations. In theory even the poorest man could become an illustrious official, although most who passed the exams had the benefits of wealth and the education that could buy.
Roses stood for eternal youth because the rose has a long blooming season.
Peaches are symbols of longevity. Including them in a badge brings wishes for a long life to the wearer.
The Chinese consider bats auspicious because their name, fu, sounds just like the Chinese word for “blessings.” Similarly, the Chinese words for “clouds” and “fortune” are both pronounced yun, so clouds are lucky, too. Bats and clouds together stand for “May you have good fortune!” Red is the color of happiness, so red bats signify double happiness.
The narcissus stands for purity and cleanliness since this plant needs only water and pebbles to grow.
The embroiderer used a technique called long-and-short satin stitch for the duck’s wings. The first row of stitches contains alternating long and short stitches. Although flat, the stitches create the illusion of texture through subtle changes in thread color.