The robe embroidered with dragon patterns was made for the exclusive use of an emperor during the Qing dynasty. The ritual of embroidering dragon patterns on the emperor's robe, however, dates back to as early as the Zhou Dynasty (11th century-256 B.C.).
During the Yuan and Ming, the emperors were already wearing robes graced with dragon patterns, but it was not until the Qing that they were named “dragon robes” and became part of the official attire system. A dragon robe is either yellow or apricot-yellow dragons in color, and embroidered with nine yellow dragons and five-hued auspicious cloud patterns.
The clouds are interlaced with twelve other patterns—the sun, the moon and stars (representing the light of the throne), mountains (synonymous to stability to changes) auspicious bird (denoting elegance and beauty) water reeds (which represent purity and cleanness), and fire (meaning light). According to imperial Qing rituals, the emperor's dragon robe was a kind of auspicious attire for lower-grade celebrations and ceremonies—it as by no means the highest grade of imperial attire.
The dragon robe that was passed down from one emperor to another is embroidered with a dragon on the front and the back, before or behind the knees, on the shoulders, and on the lining of the chest. Thus a total of nine dragons are embroidered on a dragon robe. Observed from the front or behind it, five dragons could be seen at a glance, because in Chinese tradition the figures nine and five tallied with the dignity of the throne.