Chinese Court Embroidery – Part 2, Dragon Robes

Dragon robes fascinate me. Not only from an embroidery standpoint, though they are gorgeous, but also from a symbolic standpoint. Think about it: all that time, effort, and sumptuousness, and:

they were never meant to be seen!

They were usually worn under a plain robe with the rank badge of the courtier on it. Rank badges are also gorgeous pieces of embroidery, but they are more reasonably sized! The idea was that you kept a humble appearance and the glory of your soul and talents was truly a personal and interior achievement: the clothing was meant to remind you of that.

Dragon robes consist of a standard format: mountains and waves at the hem keep you grounded. There is a large central dragon at each center front and back, smaller ones on each shoulder, and two at the base of the central dragons. The ninth dragon is embroidered also on the center front, but on the underlap of the robe, so it is hidden under yet another layer of fabric.

The dragons play with flaming spheres – the “sphere of wisdom” that we all look for in life. Flying among the coulds around the dragons are often bats, a symbol of happiness, and if you are the emperor, the symbols of your power as well. The color of the ground fabric is determined by the birth rank of the noble in question.

Wonderful things indeed, dragon robes! You can see some in the following links, and explore a bit further.

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