Chinese Tabard from the Qing Dynasty

Symbol of romance or subservience?

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

This incredibly finely embroidered silk tabard tells us about the structures of power in Chinese Mandarin Society, during the Qing Dynasty. The tabard belonged to the wife of a Chinese government official. We can tell this not only by the rank depicted in the square in the middle of the tabard (a crane, representing a civil servant of the first rank) but also by the way the crane is facing. The wife would always have sat to the left of her husband: her crane is shown looking right. Her husbandís crane would have faced left. As such, both husband and wifeís insignia would have faced each other!

This tabard is a very visual symbol of status and rank within this society. Is it demeaning to women, whose identity only came from the rank of their husbands? Or is the fact that the cranes are facing each other a romantic and endearing feature of this uniform?

Mandarin Square, another Yorkshire World Collections resource, explains more about the symbolism of the crane.


Dynasty - Period in time, sometimes about one ruling family
Tabard - Outer garment, like a cloak
Qing Dynasty - A rule by one family from 1614 until 1912
Insignia - Badge
Demeaning - Thinking of someone as less important
Civil Servant - Someone who works for a government

Discussion Ideas:

  • What do you think about the idea of a wife being associated so much by her husband's work, that she had to wear special clothes?
  • Do you think versions of this still happen today in Britain? If so think of examples, and if not, talk about what has changed and at what period in our history.
  • What different signs and symbols do we use today to show that two people are married?
  • What other examples can you think of where the position that a woman stands next to a man is important or traditional?
  • What are the equivalent of symbols today in what people wear? Talk about how important these are to 'market' or sell the clothes. 
  • Look at other discussion points about similar clothing in the Mandarin Square resource.  

Document icon Learning article provided by: Doncaster Museum Education Service | 
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