"It was a little cold that day. Just before dawn I knelt with the other candidates on the ground in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony to wait for the results [of our imperial exam]..."
About the Officials
Throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties, the ebb and flow of power and corruption within the ranks of civilian officials was constant. Although the emperor ruled from the Forbidden City, it was his officials who governed throughout the empire. To become a civilian official, a man had to pass a grueling imperial examination in order to obtain office. There were many civilian officials of different ranks, and even though they governed throughout the empire, they were forbidden to enter the palace. Only the top four ranks could enter regularly, but only as far as the Outer Court, and they were the only officials who could speak to the emperor.
Within the Forbidden City
Top candidates would write and wait for the results of their examinations on the ground in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. It was only during large court audiences that all officials would be allowed through the gates. Even then, penalties were high for anyone who spoke, spat, of even coughed, within the presence of the emperor.
Official's rank badge, Civilian 1st degree (crane)
Government officials wore badges on their coats to identify their rank. Animals represented each of the nine grades of Civilian and Military officials. Civilian officials were represented by birds, and military officials by strong mammals, such as lions and bears.
When an official named Bai Huang had a pair of brush pens (one shown here) made as a birthday gift for Emperor Kangxi, he made sure an auspicious birthday message was inscribed on them. "Long live the Emperor" was written in gold, accenting the colours of the brushes.
Tally for the Imperial Gardens
Tallies were the keys to the gates of the Forbidden City. No one could pass through the gates at night unless they carried half of a special tally, such as this, received from the emperor. The holder would only be granted entry if their tally fit with the opposite part, held by officials at the gate. This tally was issued by Emperor Tongzhi and used by guards of the Firearm Battalion to pass through the gates of the summer palace.
Album of Seal Imprints (detail),
The official, Hu Jitang, an official, created two woven silk albums as a birthday gift for Emperor Qianlong. 120 seals were woven on pages, and the transcription of each one included a different symbol for the word shou (壽), meaning "longevity", or fu (福), meaning "luck".