This set of ornately carved belt plaques comprises sixteen pieces in several different shapes. The plaques would have been attached to a textile belt, using the small holes around the edges and on the back. The openwork decoration features dragons and flowers.Jade belt sets appeared in China as early as the third to fourth century AD, based on gold or gilded bronze originals made in countries to the West. By the Tang dynasty (618-906), belt sets were worn as indicators of rank and status, specifically regulated by dress codes. Jade, as always in Chinese history, was considered the most precious material for belts and other ornaments, and its use was restricted to the highest levels. Civil and military officials of the third rank or higher (on a scale of one to nine) wore jade and gold belts; those of lesser ranks were less splendidly attired. Dragons and other Chinese motifs decorated some Tang dynasty belt sets, but others had foreign designs.By the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the belt was the predominant ornament for men. Jade belts were restricted to officials of the first rank, but based on tomb excavations, this regulation seems to have been widely disregarded.