On this dragon robe, or jifu, the three elements – oceans, mountains and the heavens – symbolize the physical order and harmony of the universe. A dragon represents the power of the emperor. The five-clawed “lung dragon” suggests it was worn by a member of the imperial family or high-ranking official. Fine slit-tapestry weaving and metal-thread embroidery further emphasize the wearer’s status.

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What was the meaning of silk and gold in 19th century China and how has it changed over time?

responded: Jul 27, 2012

Posted by VIC224Y - Intro to Material Culture Uoft

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Dragon robe and crown is a sort of costume worn by emperors on the most important occasions in ancient China. It bore numerous woven patterns including dragons, fish, bats, peonies, ocean, dragon pearls etc, making the dragon robes look so decorative to embody the Chinese emperors' high status. However, the patterns were not intentional to captivate viewers' sight; rather they were intentional to imply symbolism in relation to the emperor and his realm. What is more, dragon robes have undergone a very long history since Song dynasty, they have also passed through many innovations and evolution due to the fact that emperors brought new elements for them not long after the Ming dynasty had come to an end. Distinctive skills were revealed regarding the sewing patterns in Ming dynasty. First of all, workers attached the large silk panels to a wooden frame, and then they would weave silk along with valuable metal threads like gold and silver. Afterwards, workers would carefully combine the silk panels of the front and back followed by a procedure of sewing the dragons and dragon pearls. It was their intention to make some patterns crossing over the middle seam, in order to provide more unity to its appearance. After all the procedures have completed, the robe would be cut off from the silk panels and approved by the superiors before sending it to the emperor. Dragon robes in Ming dynasty were not sewed by female sewers, but by merely two male sewers working on a tall loom called Hua Lou. However, the two male sewers must take extreme care of accuracy when processing the dragon robe in the Hua Lou. If they made a mistake for more than few inches, they had to restart that spot once again. Also, there were some other workers who provided different colors of threads for the two male sewers. The colours that were prepared for dyeing the robe were the by-products of seeds, plants and trees. Yet, the methods of making and blending colours were all kept as a secret because it enabled the emperors to maintain their own monopoly.

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