Discussion Questions

Chinese rank badges can serve as a fruitful topic of exploration for middle and high school students studying Chinese history and culture.

1. If you were to design your own rank badge system using symbols from the world around you, what hierarchy would you use? That is, which would be the most powerful, which would be the least, and what would be in between? What would a contemporary rank badge look like?

2. How does the clothing you wear reflect your identity? Do people around you have ranks? What do they wear that suggests that they do – or don’t?

3. Rank badges use animals, plants, and other symbols to indicate rank. What animal symbols are used in your world? Sports teams, national symbols, video game icons and avatars.

4. The rank badges on this website were collected by people fascinated by differences between the badges and by their beauty. What do you collect? Why? What makes some of these objects more special or valuable than others?

5. What, in your opinion, are the advantages of the Chinese imperial system? Of the examination system? What are the disadvantages? Should the government be run by those who do the best on exams? By those who can purchase their positions? By people who inherit their rank? Advantages include central control the vast lands encompassed by the Chinese nation. Disadvantages include lack of innovation and creativity as well flexible responses to crises.

6. What would it be like to be the Son of Heaven? What would it be like to be the most powerful person in the nation? What would it be like to have every aspect of your life dictated by an elaborate set of rules? What would it be like to be lower in the hierarchy?

7. Topics for investigation:

  • The role of women in Chinese imperial society.
  • The life of peasants in dynastic China.
  • The cost of maintaining the imperial system.
  • China’s relations with the West during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
  • China’s relations with other Asian countries during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
  • The literature and arts of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
  • The state religion during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

California Social Science Standards for 7th Grade

8. Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the civilizations of China in the Middle Ages.

  1. Describe the reunification of China under the Tang Dynasty and reasons for the spread of Buddhism in Tang China, Korea, and Japan.
  2. Describe agricultural, technological, and commercial developments during the Tang and Sung periods.
  3. Analyze the influences of Confucianism and changes in Confucian thought during the Sung and Mongol periods.
  4. Understand the importance of both overland trade and maritime expeditions between China and other civilizations in the Mongol Ascendancy and Ming Dynasty.
  5. Trace the historic influence of such discoveries as tea, the manufacture of paper, wood-block printing, the compass, and gunpowder.
  6. Describe the development of the imperial state and the scholar-official class.