Elaborate robes give a glimpse of life in the Imperial court

The dragon was considered the king of animals in Chinese culture and the symbol was often incorporated into lavish costumes brocaded and embroidered with silk and gold-metallic yarns. The jifu, or dragon robe as it became known in the West, was the most common type of dress worn by Chinese court members and officials during the Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911).

The dragon robe was only one element in an elaborate clothing system that identified the place of an individual within society. Court costume was based on the Confucian ideal that proper clothing identified persons of virtue; at the same time, court costume helped to maintain the strict order so valued in Chinese society. The color of a robe, the number of dragon claws, the emblem depicted on an insignia badge, and the type of stone used to embellish a court hat or belt buckle all conveyed information about the wearer’s rank and position.

This exhibition, primarily drawn from the Museum’s collection and supplemented with key loans from local collectors, used examples of court dress, furniture, portraits, accessories, and historic photos to explore the role and evolution of costume within China’s court and society, providing a fascinating portrait of Imperial court life.


Support for this exhibition was provided, in part, by Paul and Moying Marcus; Joseph and Julie Phelan; Karen, Alison, Hilary and Peter Falb; Marilyn and Robert Hamburger; Camille and Joyce Sarrouf; and an anonymous donor.