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Gentleman's Military Interest Club

The Order of Rank and Merit: Its Origins, Classes and Recipients

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There were two categories of badges with sub-categories reflecting the complicated Qing peerage system.


The badge featured a centre medallion with four arms. The colours of the arms were red, black, white and green, with the centre in yellow. These colours represented the Five Cardinal Points - north, south, east, west and the centre in yellow for the Emperor. The medallion depicted a cogon grass which was used to filter wine for sacrifices and ritual and was associated with granting noble titles and land.


For the first category (Imperial family), the badge was transposed on a wreath of tung leaves. Tung leaves have a long tradition and were used by Emperor Cheng of the Zhou Dynasty (around 1000 BC) to "canonise" his brother.


For the second category (general nobility as well as the hereditary nobility from the outer region feudatory states like Mongolia), the badge was transposed on a wreath of peony flowers.


The Nobility Badge was NOT an order or decoration as we might understand those terms. It was issued as an emblem of existing noble rank to be worn with uniform, in the same way a policeman might wear a badge.


Here is an illustration of the Qinwang (Prince of the First Rank) badge from the original Decree. Source: www.zgsd.net.


​A small addition to this excellent topic, a picture of Prince Tsai-t'ao [Zaitao], 3rd Prince Chung, wearing the insignia of the Badge on his right breast ca 1909.


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Dear all,

Looking at the 1909 Nobility Badge decree, it is quite easy and fun to clip the various images pertaining to each grade. There are no less than 12 possible badges with tung leaves only, each with a different number of pearls, colours etc.... I suspect that a similar number of badges should come with tung leaves AND peony flowers. At the end of the day we should have close to 24 possible badges for the imperial period (yellow center).  This is a highly complex system of badges that required a sharpshooter's eye to tell the right position of its wearer ! ....

What puzzles everyone is the fact that these imperial area badges (almost) never turn up on the market while they were apparently structured to cover a fairly large population of noble people, ranging from first rank princes to marquis or viscounts. I do not know how many hundreds or thousands of peole this noble population included but we get absolutely nothing (or close to that) at the end of the pipe !

Can we be that sure that all of them were made and distributed ? The republican area Order of Rank and Merit is quite difficult to encounter indeed. The imperial area Nobility Badge is a collector's dream that is likely to never come true.




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It's been awhile since I looked at this but from memory what was fascinating was that for the Imperial badges, the plain tung leaves were for the higher ranks and the peony flowers for the lower ranks, yet when it came to the Republican badges, the order was reversed! So perhaps Yuan Shikai and his friends wanted the more showy peony flowers rather than the plainer tung flowers.

And you're right, the Republican Rank and Merit very rarely appear for sale which is peculiar since practically every minor regional warlord received one. Perhaps it's the opposite of the Double Dragons where almost all the awards were to foreigners who then expatriated these overseas where they might be preserved from war and revolution. Very few if any foreigners received the Rank and Merit. They do very occasionally appear in China.

The other fascinating thing was that for the Imperial badges, the actual and metaphorical "centre" of the badge was yellow for earth and the Emperor, whereas for the Republican badges, the centre became red for the Han Chinese!

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