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Symbolic Motifs

An array of auspicious symbols adorned the garments worn by Chinese people in the Ming and Qing dynasties. These symbols were a part of traditional culture. The greatest number of symbolic motifs came from the natural world of flora and fauna, as these were most easily understood by the largely agrarian population. Other symbols were taken from mythology, cosmology, and Buddhist imagery. Certain Chinese words had symbolic meaning, such as the shou character, which represented a long life. Motifs frequently represented status and wealth or social attitudes such as filial piety, success, marital fidelity, and loyalty.

Section of Purple Brocade Textile, Date Unknown

This portion of a textile depicts dragon in coin size roundel surrounded by cloud motifs

Blue Glasses Case, Date Unknown

This blue glasses case comes from an unknown time; however, it shows many symbols that have been present throughout this exhibition. We see embroidered trees, flowers, a butterfly, a crane, and plant designs.

Dragon Brocade Panel, 18th Century

This panel perhaps comes from the lower part of a Qing Jifu, or a dragon robe. The dragon motif near the top of the panel and the water motif bordering the bottom indicate that the textile may have been made and worn in the later half of the 18th century.

A Pair of Embroidered Bird Patches, Late Qing Dynasty (1840-1911)

The bird patches shown here were a part of a rank badge known as a buzi. These bird patches would be sewn in the center of the rank badge. The birds or other animals and the square background that made up the buzi were usually made separately. This pair of bird patches represents a Seventh Rank Civil Official.

Floral Brocade Panel, Date Unknown

This wall hanging panel has a knotted multi-colored fringe bottom. Olive, peach, and green silk are combined with metallic gold threads to create the woven panel. The border is an olive velvet and the center has an intricate floral design. Peonies, treasure flowers, and kui (a one-legged monster from a fable) are arranged int he center of the panel.

Tapestry Panel, 19th Century (Qing Dynasty)

This is a very fine example of Chinese tapestry art. It has hand painted details on top of the woven imagery. The golden thread weave depicts a picture related to the classical Chinese novel "A Dream of Red Mansions". The garments of the male figures show that it is a nineteenth-century work. It was given to Mr. E. R. Embree, the donor's father who was a Rockefeller Foundation official, as a token of gratitude from the pre-communist Chinese government.

Embroidered Purse, Date Unknown

This embroidered purse, although the time is not identified, features traditional Chinese symbolism that has been seen throughout this exhibition. The crane, the peach, and the chrysanthemum together signify longevity. The winter plum, the evergreen pine, and the Chinese character shou all mean longevity, as well. The embroidered bat represents happiness, as the Chinese word for happiness has similar pronunciation to that of bat.

Green Brocade Silk Pillowcase, Date Unknown

This small rectangular pillowcase features a complex Chinese silk brocade. The motif is composed of birds in roundels and treasure flowers on a green background. The background features six different intricate geometric patterns flawlessly joined together.

Embroidered Black Pocket, Late Qing Dynasty (1840-1911)

This pocket features an abstract yellow floral pattern and a small mouse on the bottom right. The mouse represents good vitality.

Embroidered Piece, Date Unknown

This embroidered panel depicts flowers, fruits, and butterflies. The flowers represent every season: the lotus in summer, the chrysanthemum in autumn, the plum in winter, and the peony in spring. The gourd, fingered citron, pomegranate, and multi-seeded melon commonly represented fertility. The butterfly was known as the Chinese Cupid. It often is shown with flowers. This embroidery shows a type of phoenix-tail butterfly.

Pair of Seventh Rank Badges for a Civilian Officer of the Qing dynasty, Late Qing dynasty (1840-1911)

Rank badges (bu zi), also known as mandarin squares, were an important part of Qing symbolic language and an ultimate status symbol. The badges, magnificently embroidered or woven in pairs, depicted a bird or a beast signifying the rank of the wearer. These were sewn to the center front and back of a dark outer garment like a vest or a bu-fu, a garment required to be worn over formal attire at court ceremonial functions. The backgrounds of the squares were all similar depicting clouds, rocks, and waves, representing the cosmological universe. This bu zi represents the seventh grade of civilian officer.