The Twelve Symbols of Imperial Authority first appeared on the Manchu emperor's clothing after 1759. These symbols were superimposed on the general decorative schema of Qing court garments, losing the visual prominence they had enjoyed during the Ming dynasty. Nonetheless, they emphatically demonstrated the Qing intention of embracing the traditional role as rulers of the Chinese empire. Under the Qing the first four symbols--sun, moon, stars, and mountain--were placed at the shoulders, chest and mid-back. The symbol of distinction (fu), axe, paired dragons, and the golden pheasant appeared at waist level. Temple-cups, aquatic grass, grains of millet, and flames were placed at knee level on the skirts of the coat.
The dragons on this robe are worked in gold-wrapped threads, with clouds primarily in shades of blue against a yellow ground. Among the earliest examples of the predominant blue and yellow schema for an emperor's twelve-symbol 'dragon' robe is an embroidered satin robe in a London collection that dates to the late eighteenth century. See G. Dickinson and L. Wrigglesworth, Imperial Wardrobe, London, 1990, p. 32-33, pl. 23. However, most surviving pieces, like this example, date from the nineteenth century. See J. E. Vollmer, Decoding Dragons: Status Garments in Ch'ing dynasty China, Eugene, Oregon, Museum of Art, 1983. pp. 143 and 209.