Court ranks in China
The civil service examinations were the chief way in which Chinese could become eligible for official service, and rank. Passing the provincial exams made one eligible for the lowest rung of official positions, associated with a court rank of the Lower Ninth grade. After this were the capital exams, and palace exams. Those who passed the capital or palace exams could be appointed to the Lower Seventh Rank, or above.
During the Ming Dynasty, all those of Lower Fourth Rank and up wore red robes, and all those of Upper Fifth Rank and below wore blue. Ranks were designated in part by buzi - embroidered badges worn on the chest which depicted animals or mythic creatures according to one's rank. These ranged from a pair of cranes soaring above the clouds, depicted on the buzi of a First Rank official, down to a pair of ground-pecking quails on the mandarin square of a Ninth Rank official. On occasions when military officials wore buzi, they held to a hierarchy of depictions of bears, panthers, tigers, and the like. Members of the censorate also had a different design on their badges, depicting a xiezhi, a mythical beast that could distinguish lies from truth, and good from evil. Finally, badges bearing pythons or flying fish were bestowed by the Emperor upon select officials, placing them above First Rank in the hierarchy.
All officials wore winged hats treated in black lacquer, and thick-soled black shoes trimmed on the sides with white lacquer. Officials wore loose belts around their waists, decorated with gold, silver, rhino horn, jade, and other pieces which also reflected one's rank.
- Ray Huang, 1587: A Year of No Significance, Yale University Press (1981), 53-54.