Mandarin Badges Antique by Travis Neighbor Ward

Peking Order: Collecting Mandarin badges affords a rare glimpse into the obsessively hierarchical world of the Chinese imperial court.

Published in Departures magazine


 

Like other experts in his field, James B. Godfrey, senior vice president and director of the Chinese Works of Art Department at Sotheby’s New York, is surprised. “Considering that the Chinese culture has always fascinated the West, it’s amazing that Chinese textiles have gained international interest from museums and dealers only in the last twenty years,” he says.

But even more surprising, perhaps, are the extremely low prices of mandarin badges (puzi in Chinese), the rare, illustrated silk squares that graced the robes of Chinese civil and military officials from 1391 to 1911, and which indicated the officials’ professional rank. “Generally speaking, Chinese art is sensibly priced,” Godfrey says, “but this is especially true of rank badges. I mean, where else can you find a treasure for less than $10,000 that exhibits a high degree of technical achievement, rarity, astonishing beauty, and art-historical importance? To collect on the serious end in other fields you’d have to pay a lot more.”…

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