WHM: Personal Exercise Question 5 - How do images function as symbols?



Be the Historian!

How does the form of the personal account influence content?

A historian looking at this portrait would probably want to know: What was this person’s social status and position? What is his ethnic background, or where did he come from? To what skills and traditions does his costume refer?


At first glance, these questions are difficult to answer. But, if you read the following background information and examine the symbols in this portrait, they become easier.


Important military campaigns from 1634 to 1643 helped the Manchus, an ethnic group from what is now northeastern China, defeat the ruling Han Chinese of the Ming dynasty and create the Qing dynasty. Clothing in the Qing dynasty court was a serious matter, and signified one’s rank and status. As such, dress was strictly regulated by official laws. Court dress codes during the Qing dynasty were finalized in 1759, and were largely aimed at preserving Manchu cultural traditions.


Now, click on the links below (or use your mouse to roll over the picture) and examine some of the symbols in this man’s clothing. Read the historian’s commentary on the symbols carefully, and think about how you might answers the questions above.


Court Robe | Court Hat | Peacock Feathers | Thumb-ring | Restore Image

Now answer some questions