On these occasions the emperor sat on the raised dais, wearing a golden tunic and a crown decorated with nine dragons, under a spectacular gilded canopy. He faced south across the Esplanade of Great Salutations, a stone-paved courtyard where the mandarins stood, civil mandarins to the left and military on the right, lined up in their appointed places beside eighteen stelae denoting the nine subdivided ranks. A French traveller in the 1920s witnessed the colourful spectacle, with “perfume-bearers in royal-blue, fan-bearers in sky-blue waving enormous yellow feather fans, musicians and guardsmen and ranks of mandarins in their curious hats and gorgeous, purple-embroidered dragons, kow-towing down, down on their noses amidst clouds of incense – and all in a setting of blood-red lacquer scrawled with gold.

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