Rank and Style: Power Dressing in Imperial China

October 12, 2007 – January 27, 2008

“In the past Chinese silk was so valuable that the Roman Empire was nearly bankrupted by the cost of importing it, while Columbus discovered America by accident in his attempt to sail to China and buy Chinese silk at source. Unfortunately silk is fragile so very little has survived to show what our ancestors spent so much time and gold to acquire. It therefore gives me pleasure to show some of the few Ming badges that are still in good condition and enable people to appreciate the achievements of Chinese textile artists of the past.” – Chris Hall

For generations China’s rulers wore emblems on their robes that identified their place in a complex system of rank and privilege. This exhibition explores how this imperial hierarchy was maintained through the bestowing and wearing of exquisitely woven and embroidered ‘rank badges,’ as they have become known in the West. Identity and status, so carefully crafted and preserved among China’s elite, were expressed primarily through garments and their decoration, making them virtually a second skin – so intimately connected to one’s person that even in death wearing the appropriate badge assured a continuation of earthly status. The exhibition is rich in a wide variety of rank and festival badges worn by the emperor, members of the imperial household, and civil and military officials.

Rank and Style: Power Dressing in Imperial China presents for the first time in the United States selections from the Chris Hall Collection of Hong Kong. These rare and exquisite rank badges date from 1500 to the mid-19th century, with many from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Numerous badges feature woven or embroidered mythical creatures such as the dragon and phoenix, while others depict rabbits, cranes and tigers. Additional pieces in the exhibition are drawn from the collections of the USC Pacific Asia Museum and local collections.

Dale Gluckman
Guest Curator

This exhibition will be part of the fourth city-wide collaboration of Pasadena’s cultural institutions, “Art and Ideas.”

ONLINE EXHIBITION— Rank and Style: Power Dressing in Imperial China

(includes images, teacher resources, maps, and glossary)