Chinese Mandarin Squares

Chinese mandarin squares, emblems made of woven and embroidered silk, were worn by civil and military officials as signs of rank and status during the Mongol, Ming, and Qing dynasties. Mandarin squares exhibit a range of textile techniques, demonstrating the craft and skill that make them so unique.

Introduced during the occupation of China by Khubilai Khan and the Mongol dynasty (1280–1368), mandarin squares were also worn during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties. By the 19th century, many new symbols had been introduced into the design of mandarin squares that their original meaning and purpose gradually began to fade.

At that time, China was also selling mandarin squares to foreign tourists, and no general efforts were taken to collect and preserve these cultural marvels. As a result, few collections of mandarin squares remain in our time.

illustrated landscape with a bird, building, and statue


Cammann, Schuyler. Chinese Mandarin Squares, Brief Catalogue of the Letcher Collection. University Museum Bulletin, (1953, June), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Vol. 17, No. 3. Pages 5-15, 29

Jansen, Eva R. The Book of Buddhas, Ritual Symbolism used on Buddhist Statuary and Ritual Objects. Diever, Holland: Binkey Kok, 1990. Pages 30–32

Auboyer Jeannine, Beurdeley M, boisselier J, Rousset H, Massonaud C. Oriental Art: A Handbook of Styles and Forms. Fribourg, Switzerland: Office du Livre, (1980). Translated by Elizabeth & Richard Bartlett, New York: Rizzoli, (1980). Pages 472–477

Prometheus Press. New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. Hong Kong: Toppan, 1959. Pages 393–394

closeup photo of a mandarin textile square with embroidered bird