A COLLECTION OF CHINESE 19TH CENTURY CIVIL OFFICIAL’S RANK BADGES WILL BE OFFERED IN SEPT 22ND FINE ASIAN ART SIGNATURE AUCTION.
A mandarin square, also known as insignia badge or buzi, was a large embroidered badge sewn onto the robes of a civil official in 19th century Imperial China. Specific birds were used to represent the different ranks of civil officials. There were nine civil ranks, listed below with each representative bird, with minor variations between the Ming and Qing dynasties. Birds were selected because they were featured frequently in literary works and literati paintings.
Here are some examples to be featured in the Heritage September 22 Fine Asian Art Signature Auction.
PEACOCK – CIVIL OFFICIAL RANK OF THIRD
An embroidered badge of third rank with a peacock facing the sun and alighted on a rock above turbulent waves and a lishui stripe, surrounded by ruyi-shaped clouds and the Eight Buddhist Emblems (bajixiang), all reserved on a dark blue ground within a border of golden foliate scroll. In China, the peacock is a symbol of beauty, prosperity, royalty purity and peace.
GOLDEN PHEASANT – CIVIL OFFICIAL RANK OF SECOND
This representation of a golden pheasant was for a child. Wives and sons of officials also wore the rank emblem of their husbands or fathers, with a slightly different design.
SILVER PHEASANT – CIVIL OFFICIAL RANK OF FIFTH
A silver pheasant facing the sun, and surrounded with bats, peony and the Eight Emblems (bajixiang), all on a gold thread ground with a blue border. The silver pheasant is most commonly seen as the symbol of peace and tranquility in Buddhism, but also has been associated with power, authority and immortality.
EGRET – CIVIL OFFICIAL RANK OF SIXTH
A lesser egret emerging from water and facing the sun, the clean white feathers of the egret made it a symbol of the honest and incorruptible official. The five surrounding bats symbolize the Five Blessings (wufu): longevity, health, virtue, wealth, and a peaceful death, while flanked by peony, narcissus and peaches, all on a golden metallic thread background within a key-fret border.
MANDARIN DUCK – CIVIL OFFICIAL RANK OF SEVENTH
The bird is vividly depicted in shades of blue, green, coral and white, reserved on a light brown ground within a key-fret border. The mandarin ducks are regarded as an auspicious, powerful symbol of love, romance and devotion.
And for the curious type, the other ranks and birds not shown here were:
- First Rank – Manchurian Crane;
- Fourth Rank – Wild Goose;
- Eighth Rank – Quail; and
- Ninth Rank – Paradise Flycatcher.
This article appears in the August 2021 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Subscribe to the digital magazine here.