Author Archives: apwillia

Enigmatic Bodies: Annie May Wong as a Dragon Lady

Annie May Wong in the 1934 film "Limehouse Blues"

Annie May Wong in the 1934 film “Limehouse Blues”

"Daughter of the Dragon" featuring Anna May Wong (1931)

“Daughter of the Dragon” featuring Anna May Wong (1931)

In our presentation, we addressed the question as to how the body of the Chinese woman is seen as exotic and sexy in Western filmography, and what symbolism is used to achieve this image of the Chinese woman as being mysterious and intriguing. Looking through each of the pictures in the enigmatic bodies exhibit, it became evident that the symbol of the dragon was overused and exaggerated to perpetuate this sense of mysticism we as westerners associate to the Chinese women, and more often than not, the body used to perpetuate this association was that of Anna May Wong, the first Chinese film star in Hollywood. It became evident that the dragon became a key indicator of the Chinese “other” for Western consumers, a symbol that has persisted to symbolize an otherness between the East and West in the past and today.

yes, the symbol of dragon but explain why so?

The first image in the collection seemed to characterize perfectly the stereotypical western view of the eastern other we observe in Hollywood filmography of this time. The photo is a sequence taken from the 1934 film Limehouse Blues, which features Annie May Wong as a supporting actress. Our eyes are immediately drawn to the Chinese dragon woman taking the stage, her body captivating the entire audience, which predominately consists of westerners. She is different from them; the dragon body raps around her gown, almost making it look like her face is that of the dragons. Her presence on the stage almost makes it seem as though she is subordinate to the westerners in the audience, and merely there to entertain their gaze and fascination with the exotic otherness she embodies. The dragon is again pushed forth onto the audience as a symbol of a Chinese ethnic other as it is plastered across all the walls, making the restaurant different and mysterious.

Again, Annie May Wong and the dragon are pushed towards us as indicators of a mysterious Eastern other in another photo in the exhibit entitled “Daughter of the Dragon” from 1931. She is shrouded underneath the dark ominous shadow of the dragon that seems to overtake the entire picture. Perhaps the dragon is meant to be her own shadow, making the association between the Chinese woman and the dragon even stronger. She isn’t scared; rather, she is a daughter of the dragon. She further perpetuates this exotic intrigue that the Chinese dragon lady portrayed in early Western filmography.

the connection between the image of “dragon lady and the fashion/costume?”

The Cosmetics Market Introduces a Beauty Standard for the Ideal Chinese Woman

Introduction to the Cosmetics Market in China:

My article, “In China’s Cosmetics Market Beauty is Pocket Deep”, commented on the dynamic nature of the cosmetics market in China today by assessing the extent of success both Western and Eastern cosmetics companies are currently having in the market. The author, Jill Petzinger, highlighted how Western cosmetic companies are finding it hard to keep with the ever changing tastes of local Chinese customers. Local Chinese companies can accredit the current trend of using traditional Chinese ingredients in products to their recent successes in the market, a strategy Western companies are just now starting to use.

What I found interesting is that the image Petzinger chose to be the main focus of her article was in fact an image we had seen before in earlier units of the class- a 1934 liquor advertisement from Grand, Price & Co. Petzinger simply replaced some of the wine bottles with current beauty products. I found myself very intrigued by why she chose to transform this advertisement into something completely different- an advertisement that I wouldn’t have thought to relate to the cosmetics industry at all. What could this ad have to do with the current status of the cosmetic market in China? For this reasons, I am choosing to highlight and compare the two images in my wordpress project this week, and draw a connection between the ad’s relevancy then and now in China’s economy. very nice introduction

From: Lao Shanghai Guanggao (Advertisements of Old-time Shanghai) Yi bin, et al. (Shanghai: shanghai huabao chubanshe, 1995)  page 90 Liquor advertisement from about 1934

From: Lao Shanghai Guanggao (Advertisements of Old-time Shanghai) Yi bin, et al. (Shanghai: shanghai huabao chubanshe, 1995)
page 90
Liquor advertisement from about 1934

Advertisement Remade for the article: “In China’s Cosmetics Market, Beauty is Pocket Deep”

Contrasting the Images: Connotation and Dennotation

The first immediate difference I noticed between the two was the substitution of alcohol, the primary advertisement, for cosmetics commodities, such as Procter and Gamble cosmetics. This completely rebuilds the objective of the advertisement, yet at the forefront of the picture, we are still greeted with the highly sexualized woman dressed in qipao. Much like she was inviting us to come and drink wine with her in the first ad, the remade ad still possesses these invitational qualities. Clearly, she is using cosmetics in the image. She looks very beautiful and done up, as if to say if you use these cosmetics, you can be as beautiful as her. The slit up her leg gives the ad an air of promiscuity, and her dress is almost see through. Why did the makers of the ad sexualize the woman in the qipao in the first place? They wanted the outsider to consume this image: to want her or to want to be her. By sexualizing her they were promoting the product. more detailed analysis: how is the substitution made and for what purpose

Relation to the Cosmetics Industry Today

All of this made me think: What does this have to do with products today, especially that of China’s cosmetics market. Through not only my presentation, but those of my peers, I have seen that the use and popular market for cosmetics in China has projected the idea of an ideal woman. And relating back to my article, which noted the high popularity of the cosmetics marked today in China, we can observe that this sexualization of consumerism subsists from the past to today. The woman projected at the forefront of these two pictures is the ideal Chinese woman. Through the use of both the wine, and current cosmetic products, you can be just like her.

The Red Guard Rides to the Countryside

"To villages we go, to the borders we go, to places in the fatherland where we are most needed we go", 1970, artist unknown, photo taken from

“To villages we go, to the borders we go, to places in the fatherland where we are most needed we go”, 1970, artist unknown, photo taken from

The image I chose to analyze this week is a propaganda poster from the cultural revolution taken from the year 1970 in China with text reading, “To villages we go, to the borders we go, to places in the fatherland where we are most needed we go.” During this time in China, Mao’s Red Guard had begun to wreak havoc in urban areas. Mao’s faithful agents had caused too many acts of violence, becoming too chaotic for Mao’s liking. Although the Red Guard played a huge role in the Cultural Revolution and had greatly helped propel Mao back up to an esteemed government status following the failure of his “Great Leap Forward,” Mao became frustrated with the guard’s violent nature, and began sending the Red Guard into the countryside, where they would live in rural areas and learn from the peasantry.

What I found extremely interesting was that this image depicts the trust and faith the Red Guard had in Mao’s plan, and their belief that it was their duty to go out to rural areas and learn from the peasantry, despite it being Mao’s interest to reduce violence in urban areas. First, though, we must look at the denotation of the poster. Pictured is a train shipping members of Mao’s Red Guard to the coastline. They are dressed to modern standards of the time, in Mao Suit, with simple hair, no makeup, and no distinct defining gender differences. Two are featured as the focal point holding Mao’s Little Red Book; however, there are many more of them who look the exact same in the background towards the back of the train. The background is very simple, with no bursts of color, and the national color red seems to dominate the picture.

As I dug deeper with the connotation, what my eyes first drew their attention to was the facial expression of the two member’s of the Red Guard. They were smiling intensely, seeming to send the message that they were proud to be doing Mao’s work, and they knew that it was their duty to go out to the country side and learn from the peasantry. I noted the enthusiasm of the younger generation to go out to rural areas and serve their leader, but it struck me as shocking how the picture sent the message that this generation could be so happily robbed by Mao of their educational opportunities, given the goal of the revolution was to industrialize China and surpass other countries. The lack of gender defining qualities made it harder to distinguish man from woman, which to me symbolized the exaggerated message that the two genders were completely equal in this society. Their outfits and the presence of the Little Red Book further show the enthusiasm and trust the guard places in their leader Mao, and their undying efforts to please him. This leaves me feeling very sad for the generation Mao sent to the countryside, seeing how much they trusted their leader, yet watching their leader rob them of educational opportunities and a normal lifestyle.

see what happens if you could pair the denotation/connotation together. for instance, the train/destination and its connotation; the military uniform and its connotation; the little red book and the connotation …. 

Fan Bing Bing on the Red Carpet

“Fan Bing Bing in Dragon Robe by Lawrence Hsu” Fan Bing Bing photographed at the premiere of “Robin Hood” during the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Accessed February 29, 2016.“robin-hood”-premiere-–-fan-bingbing


While traditionally the qipao served the purpose of being the state mandated Chinese dress in the early 20th century, the gown has made a comeback in recent years. Despite having exited the realm of high fashion in the 1950s, the qipao now returns re-legitimized, having a very obvious presence on the fashion runway. In his article, Contemporary Re-Emergence of the Qipao: Political Nationalism, Cultural Production, and Popular Consumption of the Traditional Chinese Dress” author Matthew Chew accredits such a re-emergence largely to the influence of cultural elites in China- most specifically, prominent fashion designers.

The image I chose to analyze this week serves as evidence to Chew’s claim, as it pictures well known actress Fan Bing Bing on the red carpet, dressed in qipao. Fan Bing Bing’s outfit combines both traditional and modern style, showing not only the ever-present cultural importance of the qipao, but also transforming the qipao to fit modern standards of fashion.

To further prove this transformation of the qipao, we must observe the entire image at first glance. My eyes immediately noticed the low neckline, something that is obvious and critical to a traditional qipao piece. Next, I noticed the bold yellow color of her gown, and the many symbols it represented- the Dragon, the peonies, and the water. The embroidery is extremely fine and detailed, and the material resembles that of a traditional qipao. She wears dangly earrings and no other jewelry with her hair pulled back simply and elegantly. Fan Bing Bing is featured on the red carpet surrounded by tons of photgraphers- not even Chinese, mostly western- that seem to have all their eyes on her.

The neckline to me really symbolized the modern twist Bing Bing is putting on the look- Bing Bing is drifting away from the traditional neckline and replacing it with something a bit more cutting edge and revealing. The bareness of her shoulders and neck serve the purpose of drawing even more attention to her gown. The yellow color immediately made me think of the Emperor’s traditional robe. Yellow, the color of royalty, was only to be worn by the emperor. By wearing this color, Fan Bing Bing is making a bold statement and showcasing her high status on the red carpet. The dragon, which traditionally symbolizes adaptability further evidences the qipao’s ability to adapt to modern times. The traditional looking embroidery and material to me showed that she respected the original look, yet still looked to update it to modern times. The background further evidences not only her importance, but the importance of the qipao in the global sphere as many western photographers are looking at the qipao, photographing and admiring the piece very graciously.

further address the idea of qipao tradition and modern celebrity  through the lens of global photographers

let the connotation follows immediately the denotation, in so doing, the organization may be clearer.



The Power of Concealment in Footbinding

L0056859 Canton, bride and bridegroom. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Canton (Guangzhou), Kwangtung province, China: a Cantonese bride and groom. Photograph by John Thomson, 1869. 1869 By: J. ThomsonPublished:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Source: Thomson, John: “Canton, Bride, and Bridegroom”, 1869

The photo I have selected, “Canton, Bride, and Bridegroom” illustrates the strong role concealment played in creating an allure for footbinding. In her piece “The Body as Attire: The Shifting Meanings of Footbinding in Seventeenth- Century China”, Dorothy Ko asserts the appeal and alluring nature of footbinding, stating “To be provocative, a pair of small feet had to be covered by binder, socks, and shoes dredged with perfume and fragrant powder, then hidden under leggings and skirts.” (Ko, P. 16)  Although Ko is assessing the portrayal and message of footbinding in the seventeenth century, after viewing Thomson’s work, it becomes clear that this notion of draping the body with skirts and embellishing it with ornaments has held strong for a very long time.  Featured are a bride and groom on their wedding night in late 19th century China. At first glance, the couple shown seems to be completely plain and emotionless in face, attesting to the idea that beauty in China is not at all dependent on facial appearance; however, beauty was more focused on the adornment and embellishment of body, specifically with emphasis on the bound feet.

The bride’s stature and dress, as well as her body positioning in relation to her husband serve as symbols to further evidence the idea that the beauty in footbinding lie in the adornment and covering up of the body. From head to toe, the bride is completely covered- her legs are draped over with a long skirt only faintly showing the tips of her slippers, making them seem even more mysterious and exotic in nature. Her long, plain vest furthers this concealment, robbing her body of any shape or femininity, bringing more attention to the delicate nature of her feet. Her expressionless face is covered in jewelry, not only serving the purpose of taking attention away from her face, but also serving as an indicator of higher class in Chinese society. Then, we can observe the positioning of her husband in relation to her body. The first obvious comparison to make is his large feet in relation to her delicate bound feet, perhaps done on purpose to create a greater allure for the bride. Then, we can observe the distance between them: although they have just married, they stand as though they are strangers, adding an air of mystery to the photo, a quality very commonly associated with footbinding. All of the components of Thomson’s photo come together to communicate a portrayal of footbinding that finds its power and intrigue in the art of concealment.

Yes, the art of concealment and explain connotation of “the concealment.”

-Allie Williams