Daoist Priest’s Robe

Read details of this silken robe from China as donated by Albert Bender.


Daoist Priest’s Robe

When this robe was acquired by the National Museum of Ireland in 1932 it was believed to be a Lama Priest robe dating to the reign of Kangxi (1662-1722), and associated with the Abbot of the main Tibetan Buddhist temple in China, the YongHeGong in Beijing. It is now more correctly to be identified as a first-degree Daoist priest’s robe.

What is Daoism?

Unlike Buddhism, Daoism originated exclusively within China as a philosophy about 500 BC. In several ways both Daoist and Buddhist temples and their artefacts, such as incense burners and statuary are similar, which can hamper identification.

What do the symbols on the robe mean?

The decorative motifs on Daoist vestments aimed to produce celestial order through the inclusion of astral symbols that linked the earth to the cosmos. On the back of this robe symbols for the sun, moon and stars surround Heaven, which is depicted as a multi-storied tower encircled by gold discs that represent stars.

Lower down are placed four gate-like structures representing the four cardinal points (directions) of the world. Among the waves at the bottom are animals related to Daoism that include deer, crane, tortoise, snake, monster fish (ao) and dragons.

The priest who wore this robe would have become a central focus of ritual, believed to promote harmonious relations with heaven and stability on earth.

DB:1932.108