Life of the Emperors and Empresses in the Forbidden City (1644-1911)-VI.

Life of the Emperors and Empresses in the Forbidden City (1644-1911)-VI.


The headdresses and robes of the Qing emperors and empresses were both their attire and marks of the highest rank in the feudal hierarchy. They were made of the most valuable materials such as silk, satin, gauze, furs, gold, pearls, and precious stones, by the best tailors and embroiderers of the day. In make and design they combined the ancient Chinese traditions and the characteristic features of the Manchu culture in the field of imperial costume and decoration.

The emperor’s attire was divided into four categories: ceremonial dress, formal dress, everyday dress and travelling dress. The ceremonial dress worn at solemn occasions such as the holding of court and sacrificial rites, included the crown, the winter overcoat, the royal robes, rosary and belt, all made strictly according to rules. The crown worn in winter was made of marten or black fox fur, with upturned brim tagged with red tassels. It was topped by one large pearl sitting on three layers of strings of pearls, produce of the Huntong River, supported by four little golden dragons. The crown worn in summer was woven with jade straws or rattan or bamboo threads, in the shape of a funnel. At its front were a small gold-plated Buddha and a large pearl. The tassel on top ornament were similar to those on the winter crown.

The winter overcoat was made of purple marten or black fox fur, with the hair on the outside. The traditional ceremonial robe, of a material in deep blue color, was embroidered with four golden dragons, in front, at the back and on both shoulders, as well as the pictures of the sun and the moon, the seal characters of „longevity” and coloured cloud designs. The court robe was in bright yellow colour, trimmed with deep blue at the collar and the cuffs. It was embroidered with many dragons in different forms, in front, at the back, on the shoulders, at the waist, on the collar and sleeves and with the „twelve designs”, the sun, the moon, stars, mountains, flames, algae, etc. The royal rosary was a string of 108 pearls, with additional precious stones. The royal belt was yellow, ornamented with four round gold plates and red, blue and green gems and pearls. Other accoutrements included an embroidered purse, a knife and a flint.

The formal dress was worn for occasions of less importance, for instance, honouring army units with military exploits, reviewing P. O. Ws, giving banquets or celebrating birthdays. The everyday dress was worn on ordinary occasions. The travelling dress was the least formal and was worn by the Emperor while making inspection tours or on expeditions when he used a hat with only a red woolen knot on top and no strict rules were to be observed in regard to the colour of the garments and the decorations.

The empress also had different dresses for different occasions. Her crown was topped by a large pearl sitting on three small golden phoenixes. There were another seven golden phoenixes around the red tasseled brim and a golden pheasant at the back, all with cat’s eyes and pearls on them. On the tail of the pheasant were five strings of pearls, 302 in all, decked with corals and other precious stones, which would swing with walking. The crown had a cape hanging down at the back.

The empress’s ceremonial dress consisted of a sleeveless gown, a robe and a skirt. The gown was made of deep blue material. It was trimmed with golden lace and embroidered with a couple of vertical dragons in front and at the back. Its lower part had four different patterns with golden dragons alternating with seal characters of „happiness” and „longevity”. In some cases the gown had only the dragons and patterns of clouds and ripples.

The robe was bright while its collar and sleeves were in dark blue. It was embroidered with golden dragons in front, at the back and on the collar and the sleeves, with patterns of coloured clouds in between. Its lower part was embroidered with wave patterns. In some cases the robe had folds in the middle, and there were four dragons round the waist and eight more down below and only one dragon in front and at the back and one dragon on each shoulder.

The skirt was pleated. Its upper part was made from red brocade with golden characters of „longevity” and its lower part from dark blue satin embroidered with dragons. In summer, the skirt was made of gauze. The other dresses were not so formal, but no less lavish in material and embroidery. In addition, the empress wore jewelery such as rosary and earrings made of gold and pearls.


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