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Hyungbae with two Silver Pheasants, 18th c Joseon. Gyeonggi Provincial Museum, Yongin, South Korea

Buzi with Two White Egrets, (15th/16thc) Ming dynasty. Cooper Hewitt Collection: Smithsonian Design Museum, New York City, United States.

Hyungbae with Three Silver Pheasants, 17th c Joseon. Gyeonggi Provincial Museum, Yongin, South Korea

What Are Rank Badges?

"Square badges with birds or animals can be found in Yuan period (1271-1368) court clothing, but it was not until the Ming dress regulations of 1391 that animals and birds were systematically corresponded to civil and military ranks, and the term “rank badge” [補子] appeared." says the curators at Cooper Hewitt.   Rank badges are written with the character  補, or 子, which would be pronounced buzi in Mandarin Chinese, and in Korean was written with the characters 胸背, and in phonetic hangul: 흉배, pronounced hyungbae. 

Origins for the badges is summed up in a writing from James C.Y. Watt, of the MET - The Khitan (who established the Liao Dynasty in 907CE ) "required officials who accompanied the emperor on the Spring and Autumn Hunts [... (state occasions)] to wear uniforms ornamented with pictures of wild geese in the spring and deer in the autumn. This custom was continued by the Jurchen of the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234)." Early versions of this uniform were made of a woven repeating motif across the fabric.  Sometime in Mongol-led Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), the hunting scene patch became a single small square, front and back.  When the Ming dynasty institutionalized the badges and "rank badges," birds were for civil officials, and four-legged beasts were for military officials, and originally the Qilin was for nobility. Later, the Qilin was designated as a military rank.  This information was all taken from the above source, so if there is new interpretations or more accurate information, please contact me.

[Christies Rank Badge Info] 

Terminology Across Languages

Dallyeong (Also spelled Dalryeong and Danyeong or similar) (Hangul: ) 

Round Buzi with Two Peacocks, 16th c Ming.  The MET, New York, United States

Buzi with Lion, 15th c Ming. The MET, New York, United States

Government Rank Systems

"The king’s official robe was red with a circular patch bearing the five-clawed dragon on the chest and the back as well as on both shoulders. The robe of the crown prince was black with four-clawed dragon patches. As for court officials, those from first to senior third rank wore red, those from junior third to sixth rank wore blue, and those from seventh to ninth rank wore green. Officials were classified into military and civil officials and bore different patches on their chest and back according to their rank." [Source] 

"Square badges with birds or animals can be found in Yuan period (1271-1368) court clothing, but it was not until the Ming dress regulations of 1391 that animals and birds were systematically corresponded to civil and military ranks, and the term “rank badge” (buzi) appeared." [Source]

Buzi with Xiezhi, Late 16th–early 17th c Ming. The MET, New York, United States

Hyungbae with Haechi, 1600s Joseon. Seok Juseon Memorial Museum, Dankook University, South Korea

Portrait of a Court Censor, Ming. Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum, Seoul, South Korea

Poomdae made of rhino horn, worn by 1st rank officials.  Late 17th c Joseon, Gyeonggi Provincial Museum, Yongin, South Korea

Robes as Awards

It would be remiss to not also mention a practice that happened in China but not apparently elsewhere in East Asia, of whole robes being awarded to certain people by the emperor, and also for the symbols on other similar robes to represent certain military regiments.  Generally, rank badges are worn on a round collared robe by workers and officials in the palace and other places of government, performing civil duties. This enabled the robe to be long-sleeved, and almost to the ankles, and otherwise practical enough for walking. These other robes were made in the style of a shorter, gather skirt, meant for more physical activity.  For example, if you were awarded one by the emperor, you could wear it in his presence as a civilian, or on a hunting party. If you were wearing one as a member of a certain military unit, it was functional enough to wear in a procession and under armor. 

In West Asia, a similar practice did occur.  According to Mālik ibn Jinnī, the giving of "robes of honor" ([singular] khil‘a, [plural] khila‘) was well known in Islamdom, starting with the ‘Abbāsids in the late 8th century CE.  The "robe" included pants, shirt, turban-cloth, and two layers of robes.  Under the Mamluks this had developed to a complete system, with different types for the classes (military, civil service, and religious scholars) in various ranks.  More information can be found in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edition, volume 5, page 6, sn. Khil‘a.

Robe of (4-Toed) Dragon Patterned Silk Woven with Gold and Peacock Feather-wrapped Threads. 17th c Ming, Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum, Seoul, South Korea

Badges for Festivals and Civilians

A quick note: wives of officials were allowed to wear the rank of their husband as a rank badge on their own clothes. This appears on Chinese (Ming+) and Korean (Joseon) Officials' Wives' robes, at minimum.  Korean women seemed to have stopped wearing a dallyeong with rank patches by/during the Imjin War, wearing instead a wonsam for ceremonial situations, still with badges on them. Note that the robes they were on would have looked different based on the culture.  Qilin were not assigned to a particular rank in court (government), but instead where a creature anyone of noble class could wear as a badge.  There is a pair of Chinese Qilin badges that are designed in such a way that they are sitting, facing each other (mirrored), and they were made for a noble couple (the Chris Hall Collection, pictures in Chinese Rank Badges by David Hugus, page 63).  Because this is was a somewhat common trend, sometimes you can tell whether a rank patch is for the husband or the wife based on which way the creature is facing.  Again, this would likely be for Chinese badges, since the wife wearing a husband's rank might not have been trendy in other places that used rank badges. 

Wonsam with Peony Hyungabe. 17th c Joseon, Gyeonggi Provincial Museum, Yongin, South Korea

Qilin Buzi. 17th c Ming, Sold at Christie's 23 Sep, 2022, nearly identical to one sold in 2012, claiming to be 15th-16th c.

Wonsam with Double Peacock Hyungabe. 16th c Joseon, Gyeonggi Provincial Museum, Yongin, South Korea


David Hugus (Chinese Rank Badges, page 127) notes that Due to the Yuan and Qing dynasties being ruled by non-Han people, and therefore not caring much for frivolous spending/allowance for such non-government badges, festival badges appear to be a purely Ming-sanctioned phenomenon.  Festivals with badges: The Lantern Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, and The Folk Tale/Qixi Festival.  Examples can be seen in the Chris Hall Collection, pictured in the Dr. Hugus' book, Chinese Rank Badges. I'll try to describe them here, until I can upload a decent scan.  There's an Imperial family Lantern Festival badge, with two dragons on either side of a column of multiple lanterns, in a round badge shape.  The Dragon Boat Festival badge is depicting the Tiger of the West subduing the Five Poisons, this one is a square patch made in mirror, with both tigers facing each other.  A second Dragon Boat badge depicts the same, however not in mirror. The Tiger of the West is in the center, Body facing left and head facing right, still subduing the Five Poisons. For the Qixi Festival badge example, it is a set, with a split front patch and a single back patch. The front mostly mirrors each half, with a bridge joining the two lovers. The back shows the Queen of the West, which in one version of the tale is the villain.  All of these examples are from Ming Dyansty, and are in the Chris Hall Collection. 

Court Uniforms for Servants

Special Occasions

Birthdays, 60-Year Ceremonies.

How Were They Made?

Techniques for making rank badges varied slightly. In China, Ming Dynasty, many badges could be woven directly into the fabric that would be then made into a robe.  Many others were woven separately, then sewn on. Others, and this could indicate a trend towards later Ming, were embroidered separate silk patches, then sewn onto the garment.  At least in Korean technique, there would be carved stamps, so that the designs could be fairly uniform and regulated, and it would be stamped on the fabric, then a seamstress (sometimes the family of the official receiving the new rank?) would embroider it, following the stamped design. There would always be two patches, for the front and the back. Many museums now only have the patches, because they were cut out of the original garment, whether in a savory or unsavory provenance situation (such as tomb robbing but cutting apart garment pieces to sell separately). You can tell if a piece was originally woven into the fabric of the whole robe by whether there was a central chest seam down the middle. Patches woven separately would not have the central seam (David Hugus, Chinese Rank Badges, page 58).  The central seam, and that indicating it was woven into the garment directly, would indicate a Chinese rank badge, as Korea was not producing bolts of fabric made for specific full garments at this time (that seems to be an individual fashion/wealth-flaunting trend for Ming dynasty nobles).

Small Database of Rank Badges

Remember! Contact Jacquelyn Hansel (email link in the website footer) to inquire or suggest updates to any part of this website! Thank you!

Rank Badges in Asia 補子

Laws/Edicts Pertaining to Updating Rank Systems