Mandarin squares were first authorized for wear in 1391 by the Ming Dynasty. The use of squares depicting birds for civil officials and animals for military officials was an outgrowth of the use of similar squares, apparently for decorative use, in the Yuan Dynasty. The original court dress regulations of the Ming Dynasty were published in 1368, but did not refer to badges as rank insignia. These badges continued to be used through the remainder of the Ming and the subsequent Qing Dynasty until the imperial system fell in 1912.
Ming nobles and officials wore their rank badges on full-cut red robes with the design stretching from side to side, completely covering the chest and back. This caused the badges to be slightly trapezoidal with the tops narrower than the bottom. The Ming statutes never refer to the number of birds or animals that should appear on the badges. In the beginning, two or three were used. In a typical example of paired birds, they were shown in flight on a background of bright cloud streamers on a gold background. Others showed one bird on the ground with the second in flight. The addition of flowers produced an idealized naturalism.
There was a sharp difference between the Ming and Qing styles of badges: the Qing badges were smaller with a decorative border. And, while the specific birds and animals did not change much throughout their use, the design of the squares underwent an almost continual evolution. According to rank, had their respective official clothes. Princes, including ''Qin Wang'' and ''Jun Wang'', usually wore black robes as opposed to the blue robes in court, and had four circular designs, one on each shoulder, front, and back, as opposed to the usual front-and-back design. Specifically, Princes of the Blood used four front-facing dragons, ''Qin Wang'' had two front-facing and two side-facing dragons, and ''Jun Wang'' had four side-facing ones; all had five claws on each foot. ''Beile'' and ''Beizi'' had a circular design on their official clothing, the former having two front-facing dragons, the latter two side-facing ones; these dragon had only four claws on each foot. National Duke, General, ''Efu'', "Commoner" Duke, Marquis and Count had two front-facing, four-clawed dragons on square designs, whereas Viscount and Baron had cranes and golden pheasants, as for Mandarins of the First and Second Class.
The specific birds and animals used to represent rank varied only slightly from the inception of mandarin squares until the end of the Qing Dynasty. These tables show this evolution.
Musicians used the Oriole.