Dragon Robe, early 20th century, Mandarin Chinese, silk, cotton, gift of Richard Bagwell, 1985.8.2.
This coat is in chi fu style, meaning formal court robe. It shows three large, writhing gray and blue, five-clawed dragons amid cloud scrolls, flaming pearls and chou medallions. In Chinese culture, the dragon symbolizes imperial authority, strength and good luck and has been associated with Chinese emperors from at least the first century B.C.E. Robes featuring five-clawed dragons were only worn by the emperor and his selected court members of high distinction. Dragons were thought to possess auspicious powers and the ability to control natural elements such as the sky and water. The bottom third of the robe depicts a deep band of diagonal blue and silver stripes surmounted by symbols of mountains and swirling waves.