One of the mysteries of the English language finally explained.
A red-coloured button worn on the cap of a high-ranking Chinese mandarin, especially of the first class.
Late 18th century; earliest use found in George Staunton (1737–1801), physician and diplomatist. From red + button, after Chinese hóng dǐngzi coral button indicating the first and second ranks of the Qing bureaucracy from hóng red + dǐngzi rank button (also dǐngdài; from dǐng crown of the head + dài to wear; compare zi, diminutive suffix). Chinese zǒngbīng denotes a particular one of the these ranks.
red button/ˌrɛd ˈbʌt(ə)n/
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