Bright yellow dragon robe with the twelve imperial symbols


This bright-yellow dragon robe has a round collar, overlapping lapel and horse-hoof cuffs. The robe is embroidered with three dragons on the chest and at the back – one front-facing, and two in profile. In addition, there are two front-facing dragons on either shoulder, and one on the inner facing which only becomes visible when the lapel is turned down. Therefore it makes a total of nine dragons on one robe, with five always in view from whatever angle. This is an indication of the Emperor's status as the "Son of Heaven". A dragon robe of this design is the emperor's formal attire for rituals and ceremonies. The Twelve Imperial Symbols are unique to dragon robes worn by the Qing emperors. They symbolize a ruler's power and embodiment of the highest virtues. The twelve symbols are: the Sun, representing the illumination of the myriad things; the Moon, representing yin-yang balance; a constellation of Stars, representing harmony with the heavenly laws; mountains, representing steadfastness; dragon patterns, representing deft adaptation to change; the huachong pheasant standing on one leg, representing impressive literary cultivation; a pair of yi libation cups meant for ancestral worship, representing loyalty and filial piety, wisdom and courage; water weed, representing purity and cleanness; flame, representing brightness; millet, representing material plenitude; a sacrificial axe, representing decisive and acute judgment; and a fu symbol, representing the ability to distinguish clearly between right and wrong. Since the Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), there had been multiple interpretations of the twelve symbols, but generally speaking they were thought to signify the worship of Heaven, glorification of ancestors, making-manifest of ritual propriety, and veneration of morality.

Object Information

Date Created:

Xianfeng Period (1851-1861), Qing Dynasty

Local ID:



Chinese Antiquities


H 144 cm W 204 cm


Silk (Embroidery)


Xianfeng Period (1851-1861), Qing Dynasty




Hong Kong Museum of Art