Daoist belief emphasizes an ordered cosmos, harmonious existence with nature, and heavenly paradise. Together with Confucianism and Buddhism, it is one of China’s three major belief systems. Daoism emerged after 100 CE and soon acquired the trappings of organized religion: a supreme god, a set of scriptures, temples, priests, and ritual practices.
Robes worn by Daoist priests represent some of the richest embroidered decoration in Chinese clothing. They take two basic forms: a square, full-length, sleeveless robe with center-front opening (jiangyi), and a full-length, sleeved garment with center-front opening fastened with ties (daopao). Elaborate symbolic schemes are common to both. They feature cosmic diagrams representing paradise; the sun and moon; phoenixes (birds with fiery feathers); abstract forms of China’s five sacred mountains; and circles containing 12 zodiac animals. When priests wore robes like these, they were symbolically united with the cosmos and able to go beyond the earthly and heavenly realms.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website