Brightly colored textiles were used in China as imperial badges of rank during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties. They were worn in pairs—on the front and back of robes—to identify the rank of civil and military officials. Birds were symbols of the civil administration, and animals (both real and mythical) meant the wearer was a military official. There were nine ranks in each. Dragons were used by the emperor and his court.
Several Chinese rank badges from the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropological Archaeology (UMMAA) collections are currently on display in the Shirley Chang Gallery of Chinese Art at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). This exhibit was curated by Susan Dine, Mellon curatorial fellow, 2017–2018, and Natsu Oyobe, curator of Asian art at the UMMA. The display showcases badges of different ranks, reigns, and styles in vibrant colors, featuring weaving and embroidery techniques. They offer a glimpse of the social structure of the last imperial era.
The badges are on display at UMMA through June 2019. See the UMMA's online exhibit of Chinese rank badges, which includes several from the UMMAA, here.