The Twelve Ancient Symbols of Imperial Authority first appeared on the Manchu emperor's clothing after 1759. The Huangchao liqi tushi (Illustrated Precedents for the Ritual Paraphernalia of the Imperial Court), which was enforced in 1766, restricted the use of the Twelve Symbols to the Emperor. The symbols imply the notion of Imperial authority, signifying that the Emperor is the Ruler of the Universe. In the Qing dynasty, 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; and temple-cups, aquatic grass, grains of millet, and flames were placed at knee level on the skirts of the coat.
The cosmic imagery of the dragon robe, rather than construction features, was of paramount concern. See J. E. Vollmer, Five Colours of the Universe: Symbolism in Clothes and Fabrics of the Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911), Edmonton Art Gallery, Hong Kong, 1980, pp. 22-3. As a result, the garment extended from shoulder to floor for both genders to provide an uninterrupted surface for decoration. Gender identifiers were reduced to subtle, non-structural features. Male longpao were vented at the center front and back acknowledging Manchu origins as mounted warriors. Womens' longpao remained vented at the sides. In addition, female coats carried an extra band that matched the neck facings and cuffs.
The current kesi robe is a spectacular example of a late 18th-early 19th century Emperor's longpao. Most published examples have a main design which is reserved on a plain yellow ground, while the design on the present robe is reserved on an intricate wan-fret ground. The present robe also differs from the more typical examples of yellow ‘twelve symbol’ dragon robes in its shou characters rendered in a pale blue color, which stand out from the overall design scheme. See a very similar kesi dragon robe from the Qianlong-Jiaqing period, also with decoration reserved on a wan-fret ground and with pale blue shou characters, in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, accession number T.199-1948.