Antique Chinese Rank Badges

Step Into History: View Our Collection Of Antique Chinese Rank Badges

View our current antique Chinese Rank Badge selection below:

Learn More About Antique Chinese Rank Badges

Antique Chinese Rank Badges, also know as Mandarin squares, have been in use in China since the fourteenth century, and owe their genesis to an even older Chinese tradition of wearing embroidered materials embellished with birds, tigers, and other auspicious symbols. The development of the “Rank Badge” phenomenon is easy to trace, and consistent with contemporaneous developments during the Ming Dynasty, when widespread nation-wide regulations were first put into place. Rank Badges remained in use until the dissolution of the Chinese Empire, in the early years of the twentieth century.

Traditionally, the antique Chinese Rank Badges were worn by the nobility and by officials in the government of the Ming Dynasty. The rank badge would completely cover the chest as well as the back. The arrangement of birds and other auspicious symbols of the Chinese Rank Badges evolved over the centuries, initially determined by regulation, and subsequently by aesthetic preference.

The antique Chinese Rank Badges remain popular with collectors and admirers of antique rugs, who prize them for their uniqueness and for their cultural significance.

Ming Dynasty Rank and Status

Important men and dignitaries of the Ming and Qing Dynasties only achieved their position through many years of intense study and grueling examinations, more intensive than getting a Ph.D. today. The Great Ming Dynasty ruled China from 1368 to 1644. Civil Officials not only played an important role in society, but they also held positions that commanded respect from those under them.

When a male child was born, it was the dream of the parents to provide educational opportunities to eventually pass the examinations. Training for these roles began at an early age and was reserved for those select few who were fortunate enough to be born into a family who could afford it. Rank badges were symbols of their achievements and status. They were worn on their clothing, official accouterments, and horse trappings. In many cases, they were required to do so by law.

Crane Rank Badge Portrait Nazmiyal

A portrait of Jiang Shunfu, from the Nanjing Museum. The cranes on his rank badge indicate his status as civil official of the first rank.

Qing Dynasty Badge Etiquette

The period from 1618 to 1683 is considered the transition period from the Ming to the Qing Dynasty. Families of wealth and status continued to display insignias to signify their rank. Certain artists and craftsmen who belonged to professional guilds also wore rank badges. Rank badges were made in special workshops by highly trained guild artisans.

The practice of using rank badges for military rank, civil servants, and other government officials continued throughout the Qing Dynasty, which lasted until 1912. Beginning in 1911, many military men and civil servants destroyed their badges to save themselves and make themselves less easy to recognize during the revolution. This makes the ones that we do have precious gems.

Rank badges are typically 11 or 12 inches square, but you will occasionally find small pairs of badges. These were often worn by the eldest son of the father. Although they could not achieve rank themselves, wives could also wear badges with their husband’s insignias for official state functions. Her badge was a mirror image of her husband’s with a sun in the opposite corner. This way, hers was always respectfully facing that of her husband’s.

Rank Badge Qing Dynasty Nazmiyal

A portrait of merchant Puankhequa, wearing his rank badge.

From the early beginnings of rank badges through the end of their use, the symbols changed. However, we were able to find a few examples.

Civil Badges

Civil officials rank from the 1st rank, which is state officials or the royal cabinet down to local secretaries and treasury.

  • 1st rank: Crane with a red cap on its head
  • 2nd rank: Golden pheasant with two tail feathers
  • 3rd rank: Peacock with artistic tail feathers
  • 4th rank: Wild Goose with black comma marks
  • 5th rank: Silver Pheasant with five tail feathers
  • 6th rank: Egret with various color legs
  • 7th rank: Mandarin duck with a blue tail
  • 8th rank: Quail that is fat with scales
  • 9th rank: Paradise Flycatcher with two long tail feathers, each with a circle

Military Badges

  • 1st rank: Chin-lin, mythological animal
  • 2nd rank: Lion
  • 3rd rank: Leopard
  • 4th rank: Tiger
  • 5th rank: Bear
  • 6th rank: Panther
  • 7th rank: Rhinoceros
  • 8th rank: Rhinoceros
  • 9th rank: Sea Horse

Chinese rank badges make an excellent addition to a gallery collection or estate. They make an excellent piece of framed artwork. We enjoy the opportunity to bring you these rare specimens when we can find them. If you have any questions or would like to acquire one, feel free to contact Nazmiyal’s friendly and knowledgeable staff.

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