The inscription on the tunic reads Qianlong sanshiyi nian, Suzhou di san ci ban, indicating that this imperial guard's uniform was commissioned by the Qianlong emperor from the imperial silkworks at Hangzhou in 1766. Several thousand new ceremonial uniforms were commissioned for a grand review of the imperial army by Emperor Qianlong in 1766, and the uniforms were stored in a tower above the West Flowery Gate of the Forbidden City. This ceremony, called the 'Book of Shields', was held once every three years, and took place on a large parade ground south of the Forbidden City. Each regiment of the Manchu Banner Army was arranged in ranks at the parade ground, wearing uniforms in the colors of their Banner. The colors of this uniform, white with dark blue borders, indicate that the wearer was a foot soldier in the Inner Banner of the imperial guard that protected the imperial palace. Mounted imperial guards of the Outer Banners wore uniforms in the reverse color scheme, and protected the imperial city's walls.
Although the purpose of this uniform was purely ceremonial, its construction is based on armour used for protection in battle. The sleeves are separate from the tunic body and attached by means of leather straps and buckles, thus allowing the wearer a greater range of arm movement. The exposed areas around the sleeves were then covered with shoulder guards. The legs were covered with aprons, again for protection, but the seat was left free to allow the wearer to mount a horse. The front square panel here is made of silk, but this would have been made of metal in an actual combat armour.
Although thousands of different uniforms were made by the imperial workshops in 1767, this suit is one of the few known outside the Palace Museum Collection. One suit, in private hands, was included in the exhibition, Heaven's Embroidered Cloths, One Thousand Years of Chinese Textiles, Hong Kong Museum of Art, 1995, and illustrated in the catalogue, p. 239. Another identical armour is illustrated in both Armaments and Military Provisions - The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong 2008, p. 65, pl. 61 ; and in La Cité Interdite, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, 1996, pp. 136-9, no. 3, fig. 1
Another identical ceremonial uniform from the collection of Linda Wrigglesworth was sold in our New York Rooms, 19 March 2008, lot 40.
Compare also the present sword with three very close sabrelike knifes from the Palace Museum and illustrated in Op.Cit., pp. 140-141, pls. 144 and 145; p. 160, pl. 164.