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The Order was founded by the Guangxu Emperor on 7 February 1882 as an award for outstanding services to the throne and the Qing court. Originally it was awarded only to foreigners but was extended to Chinese subjects from 1908. It was the first Western-style Chinese order, established in the wake of the Second Opium War as part of efforts to engage with the West and adopt Western-style diplomatic practices. Traditionally the Chinese court did not have an honours system in the Western sense; however hat buttons, rank badges, feathers and plumes were routinely awarded by the Emperor to subjects and foreigners alike prior to and after the introduction of the Order of the Double Dragon. The order was replaced in 1911 during the last days of the Qing dynasty by the Grand Order of the Throne, although this replacement was never fully implemented and the Republic of China discontinued the imperial orders after its establishment in 1912.
The order took on many different designs and forms until its abolition in 1911. Gradations were distinguished most commonly by differentiation in the type and size of precious stones inlaid, the shape of the medallion, the length of the ribbon, and the material used to construct the medallion. Gold and pearl were reserved for the higher classes, enamel and coral for the lowest classes. The original designs were similar in style and appearance to traditional Chinese insignia, but they proved cumbersome for many to wear and in 1897 they were redesigned in the form of a Western-style breast-badge, although the original designs were still awarded for some time afterwards. Similar symbolic motifs accompanied all designs over the award's history, most notably two dragons surrounding a central precious stone and flames which were connotative symbols of imperial authority. Other symbols of imperial authority - mountains, clouds, plum blossoms and characters with providential meanings - were added to variations of the designs over time.
Order of the Double Dragon, IV Class
Order of the Double Dragon, V Class
The order consisted of five classes, the first three of which were divided into three grades. The rules for award and the nature of the gradations was set out in the statues establishing the award in 1882. The rules were modified somewhat in 1897.
First Class, First Grade: for emperors and kings of foreign nations
First Class, Second Grade: for princes, and royal family members and relatives (later limited to royal family members who had earned, and not inherited, senior positions in government)
First Class, Third Grade: for ministers of who had inherited their position, general ministers, and diplomatic envoys of the first rank.
Second Class, First Grade: for diplomatic envoys of the second rank
Second Class, Second Grade: for diplomatic envoys of the third rank and customs commissioners 
Second Class, Third Grade: for counselors of the first rank, consul-generals and military generals
Third Class, First Grade: for counselors of the second and third rank, the entourage of consul-generals, and second-tier military officers 
Third Class, Second Grade: for deputy consuls, and third-tier military officers
Third Class, Third Grade: for translators and military officers of the fourth and fifth tiers
Fourth Class: for soldiers and non-commissioned officers
Fifth Class: for businessmen and traders
Despite the comprehensive ranking system, the actual awarding of the classes was lopsided, and very few Fourth or Fifth class were ever given. The much higher ranking of translators and other civil servants in the system compared to even the wealthiest Western industrialists and businessmen was in part reflecting of the traditional Chinese antipathy towards profit-seeking and commercial individuals, compared the honourability accorded to civil service. Despite patriarchal traditions however, foreign women were bestowed the order, including Canadian missionary Dr Leonora King and American artist Katherine Carl. Native Chinese were granted the right to order in 1908, but very few Chinese ever received the award and it remained an overwhelmingly internationally-awarded order.