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Patches of Embroidery on Official Robes (Buzi)

Buzi is a term referring to animal patterns embroidered with silk thread in yellow and other colours on the front and back of robes worn by officials during the Ming and Qing. In Chinese feudal hierarchy such animal patterns were status symbols for government officials.

In 1393, or the 26th year of the Hongwu reign of the Ming, the imperial court set strict rules on the robes the officials wore: Civil officials and army officers alike should have buzi embroidered on either the front or the back of the robes they wore. The buzi for civil officials features a flying bird to symbolize literary grace; and that for army officers was a beast to symbolize valour. The crane was for a top-rank civil official; yellow pheasant, second rank; peacock, third rank; mail wild goose, fourth rank; white silver pheasant, fifth rank; egret, sixth rank; mandarin duck, seventh rank; quail, eighth rank; and long-tailed fly-catcher, ninth rank. For army officers, kylin (or unicorn, an auspicious legendary animal with a horn and scales all over its body) was for the first rank; lion for second rank; leopard for third rank; tiger for fourth rank; bear for fifth rank; young tiger for sixth and seventh rank; rhinoceros for eighth rank; and sea horse for ninth rank. The Censor-in-chef and the Surveillance Com-missioner were required to wear robes with the pattern of a xiezhi (legendary animal credited with the ability to distinguish between right and wrong).

The Qing Dynasty inherited the buzi system of the Ming, but there were some differences between the two dynasties. Firstly, the patch of embroidery was made for robes during the Ming but it was for mandarin jackets during the Qing; secondly, during the Ming the buzi on the front of an official robe was a whole patch of embroidery, whereas during the Qing, the patch on the front of a mandarin jacket was cut in two because the jacket was buttoned down the middle; third, during the Ming buzi appeared either on the front or the back of a robe, while during the Qing it also appeared on the shoulders. Moreover, during the Qing, buzi was round in shape for members of the imperial clan and square for officials in various ranks.

Historical documents indicate that prior to the Tang (618-907), the rank of the official robes in China was marked by colour and the quantity of ornaments an official was supposed to wear. It was not until Empress Wu of the Tang that animal and bird patterns were adopted to distinguish the ranks of court officials and generals. This innovation rendered graphic images to a hierarchical system whose complicated symbolism made it mind-boggling to tell the rank of a court official. The patterns of embroidery on the costumes of I the Chinese opera are mostly derived from the buzi ornamentation. 

- Shenyi
- Cheongsam (Qipao)
- Dragon Robe (Longpao)
- Tibetan Robe (Zangpao)
- Patches of Embroidery on Offical Robes (Buzi)

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