Author Archives: mhxing

China: Through the Looking Glass

China: Through the Looking Glass Met Gala

China: Through the Looking Glass
Met Gala

In the Met Gala exhibit China: Through the Looking Glass, an amalgam of fashion pieces as art was presented in a decontextualized and culture sensitive setting. In the photograph above, the exhibit displays a traditional Chinese porcelain vase next to two aesthetically similar but clearly distinct dresses. This specific grouping of two different forms of art in three objects epitomizes the idea of surfaces as an expression of beauty and art, the redefining of orientalism, and the concept of using culturally and traditionally significant objects as inspiration for fantastical embodiments of symbols and signs respectfully removed from the original context. break this long sentence and make it sound clear.

Objects: Each of the three objects in the photograph above has an individual purpose and context, but together they function in conjunction as a gallery art exhibit. It is clear that there are three objects in a line presented to the audience, a porcelain vase, an elegant gown, and a more exploratory/extravagant dress. Though these objects would rarely be associated with each other on a day-to-day basis, it is obvious that the two pieces of apparel derive its symbols from the porcelain vase. All three items are the same two colors: blue and white. And all three items project a sense of tacit fragility and admirable delicacy. While the porcelain vase’s material itself is shatter-able, the first dress projects delicacy through its soft silk material and tight hem, the second dress projects fragility through the multitude of gems on the bodice and the elaborate layers of chiffon ruffles. The vase is too intricate for casual use just as the dresses are too sophisticated for wear. Thus, all three display pieces are not for use but for aesthetic appreciation.

Placement: China: Through the Looking Glass claims that a main concept of the exhibit is to promote a communication between the east and the west without appropriating or orientalizing the east. The photograph above is representative of the aforementioned idea in the placement of the objects. Clearly the porcelain vase is inherently Chinese, while the two dresses speak more of western influence in style and material. However, all of these objects are of similar height. The curators have purposefully elevated the porcelain vase so that it is not degraded or looked down upon, but seen as an equal. Furthermore, the vase is place a few feet in front of the two mannequins, while temporally distant from the viewer it is proximally more tangible. This closeness of the vase disallows orientalization as it is brought into the reality of the viewer as well as the two dresses.

Lighting: The deliberate lighting of the exhibit also reconfirms the goal of decontextualization. As we can see, the porcelain vase while physically closer to the viewer, is shrouded in shade while the light directly shines on the two dresses. Initially, this automatically brings the viewer’s attention to the dresses. The viewer will first perceive the two dresses and then shift their focus to the porcelain. This process of interpretation lets the viewer recognize the dresses as the main art exhibit, and then by shifting their gaze to the vase, the viewer understands that the vase was the source of inspiration. Also, the three objects on display contrasts with the dark tapestry in the background. Because the foreground differs so greatly from the background in color, material, lighting, and time period, the decontextualization of the exhibit is even more profound. The dynamic between the tapestry and the three art pieces emphasizes that the vase and dresses are each a solitary form of art regardless of context.

The carefully selected three items showcased in the exhibit along with the particular lighting and placement of the art is a paradigm of what China: Through the Looking Glass wants to convey to the audience. It simultaneously evokes artistic awe and admiration, demonstrates a reverent mode of communication between China and her western counterparts, and also shows the possibility of extracting unique symbols without importing the whole framework of the symbol.

yes, the three pieces in display reflect incorporation between source of inspiration and outcome of creation without contextualization. The transition from a classical flower vase to modern fashion dresses does contrast China as Other and West innovation, however. 




The Contemporary Chinese Bridal Portrait: Reimagining the Past, Recreating Reality


Chinese Couple at Contemporary Bridal Portrait Photoshoot

Chinese Couple at Contemporary Bridal Portrait Photoshoot 11/05/2014

This portrait documents not only a married or maybe engaged couple but also represents an amalgam of nostalgia, national and international fashion, and a potentially faux relationship. In this contemporary Chinese bridal portrait, the photographer has his subjects, presumably a husband and wife, project their traditional Chinese heritage and history while simultaneously selectively distancing themselves from the Mao Era by connecting them to western culture and modernity.

Wardrobe: The man and women in this picture are clearly wearing qipaos or qipao-esque clothing, connecting them to the past. Knot buttons, intricate embroidery, symbolic images such as peonies, high collars, silk, and the color red, clearly found in the subjects’ clothing is specific to traditional Chinese fashion. Furthermore, the male and female though both wearing similar styles of clothing each projects a unique style. With respect to the Mao era, the complimentary differences expressed in the separate outfits of the male and female reject the androgynous restrictions and lack of personal identity represented by Mao suit and instead serve to highlight gender distinctions. Thus, the amplified sartorial aspects of this photo epitomize a pre-Mao era, and are nostalgic of an idealized past distanced from the Cultural Revolution.

Accessories: Although the clothing itself is inspired by the qipao and seems to be extracted from the more traditional and cultural memories of ancient or pre-modern China to preserve a sentimental hue of the past, the accessories donned by the subjects are a deviation from the historical thematic elements embodied by the wardrobe. While the shirts and skirts worn in the photo are antiquated, the accessories that are also prominently displayed on the body are both more modern and western, creating a common ground for contrasting ideals while also completely excluding the Mao era. The sun glasses and umbrella seem vintage, likely introduced to China in the 70s after the Cultural Revolution came to a conclusion, which brings the audience of this portrait from the qipao era to a more recent time period. But most interestingly, the red platform high heels worn by the woman seems temporally closer to the viewer. The heels are clearly 21st century, fit for any high fashion, black tie event. This portrait pulls fashion trends from both the present and the past, creating a contemporary interpretation on history in modern times.

Setting and Context: It is clear that this photograph was taken in a very posed environment, most likely at a photo studio, conveying a potential sense of artificiality. The background that consists of a solid red sheet, the manipulated lighting contribute, post-photograph filters, and high editing that are present in this portrait further contribute to the lack of natural ambiance found in traditionally western wedding photos. It is also important to consider the creator of the portrait. Most likely, the photographer is directing his subjects to his imagined ideal, not to recreate or document a genuine moment. The photographer is in command of not only adjusting general position and wardrobe but also in control of the minute, details such as finger placement, facial expression, and head tilt. Furthermore, the woman’s expression exudes forced playfulness while the man’s projects a faux a cool-ness, both faces likely heavily decorated with foundation, skin cream, and other make-up. The posed and highly controlled aspects of the portrait ranging from environment to outfits to subjects themselves suggests that the portrait may represent an illusion, that the reality for the couple may not be glamorous, wealthy, or loving.

By embracing both international and national sartorial trends, meshing idealized Chinese history with the present, recognizing the dynamic between man and woman, and superficially developing the photo, the contemporary bridal portrait rejects the Maoist era and creates an imaginary moment with falsely constructed people. persuasive conclusion

well structured and reasoned piece

Students and the Mao Suit

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During the Cultural Revolution in China, personal identity disintegrated as a new group identity and subsequent group mentality were formed. Under Chairman Mao, millions of people, men and women, young and old, rural dwellers and urbanites, were all forced into the same mold, projecting a sense of unity but also resulting in a loss of individuality. From the image presented above, we can deduce that Mao especially targeted the youth with propaganda and attempted to suppress all individuality through wardrobe, education, and limited choice.

Continuation: The most obvious denotation upon first glance at this photograph is the seemingly endless number of students in uniform in an organized formation. Though this photo cuts the group off at five columns and four rows of students, it projects a sense of mesmerizing repetition. Because the multiple subjects of this picture take up both the foreground and background, and because there is no highlight placed on one specific subject as separate from the others, the photograph gives the viewer an overwhelming sense of continuation, and makes us believe that the students expand past this photograph’s edges into all corners of China and also into our reality, much like Mao’s rule during that time period.

Repetition and similarity: This constructed sense of repetitive identity dehumanizes the students into robots and clones. For instance, all the subjects of this photo have the same outfit, accessories, hairdo, and are also of the same demographic: Chinese pre-teen female students. All students are also holding the same exact book, Mao’s red handbook, most likely reciting/reading the same paragraph in tandem, and have the same physical posture and facial expression. This almost perfect unity leads the viewer to perceive a void of emotion, personality, and personal agency. Though the students are loyally honoring their country’s leader, their praise and devout following does not stem from a genuine place and instead seems forced. Furthermore, none of the students even acknowledge the camera, either intentionally or unintentionally avoiding all eye-contact. This additional lack of human connection perpetuates their clone-like selves. The girls presented in this picture were most likely swept up into the Cultural Revolution without the choice to accept or deny participation. Mao has chosen them as the face of the Cultural Revolution, substituting their own unique voices with his own and dictating how they will learn and live.

Gender: Another aspect of this photograph to consider is the gender of all the subjects. If we assume that the photographer intentionally chose to capture this moment with only females, what was his purpose? One answer could be to elevate the social status of women. By capturing females actively participating in this social and political movement, it incites a sense that Mao’s revolution was all-inclusive. By emphasizing female participation, we can conclude that the photographer wanted to communicate the importance of women and their involvement in the 1960s and 70s.

Small distinctions: Upon closer examination, though each student seems indistinguishable from the others, there are slight differences in the shade of the Mao jacket and collar that each student wears. Some jackets seem brown while others are olive green, and also some white collars are rounded and shown, while others are pointed and fitted underneath the outer jacket collar. Thus we can conclude that although Mao’s goal was to create national unity through the suppression and extinguishment of the individual, it would be impossible to fully and completely repress personal distinctions. While this photograph correctly captures the widespread jurisdiction of Mao and demonstrates his attempt at nation-wide uniformity, it also represents the underlying flaws and failures of his propaganda and forced sameness which is simmering beneath the Mao suit.

nice organization and detailed explanation

Modernized and Westernized Qipao

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The qipao was originally worn by the Manchu ruling elite in the 1600s and looked like a hybrid of a loose-fitted long sleeve dress and an elegant robe. Over time, as the Han and Manchu began to assimilate, the qipao also underwent various transformations, such as a tighter fit and shorter hem length. Today, the qipao is worn by all demographic groups (western and eastern women, old and young, and wealthy and middle-class) for all different occasions (work uniform, tourist souvenir/costume, formal event gown, casual party/clubbing dress, or even a casual outfit).

may start from the following paragraph

Thus, as the subject of the qipao changes, the message of the qipao has also changed, with both negative and positive implications. In recent years, alongside the global integration of China, the qipao has adopted many western alterations to appeal to a more international audience. However, as can be observed in the two presented images, the westernization of a dress that is not inherently western provides a unique juxtaposition/superimposition of cultural discourse, but also can devalue or skew the original message that the traditionally and culturally valued qipao was designed to project.

The images show the western penetration and global influence that has affected China. First, we can see that the qipao is made of cloth and print, not delicately embroidered like classic qipao. Furthermore, the print on both of the qipaos are totally hyper-westernized/de-orientalized. The two Asian models, presumably Chinese, are wearing traditional Chinese qipaos. However, the print of the two modern qipaos is a completely inaccurate depiction of what the original qipao embodied. On the modeled qipaos, one has American flags, American alphabet letters, American newspaper print, and the other has European women wearing high heels, trench coats, sunglasses, handbags, and sun hats, all of which are not even remotely identifiable to the classic qipao or Chinese culture. Going back to the origins of the qipao, some common designs were dragons, mountains, water-weeds, and fire, which were representative of adaptability, stability, purity, and brilliance, respectively. In contrast, the designs printed on these modern day qipaos are purely surface level, visually and materialistically rich but symbolically insignificant and culturally lacking. This demonstrates that the qipao is still admired, but it is appreciated and purchased for commercial reasons with little connection to traditional and cultural Chinese values.

what is signified by American flags and European prints and for what purpose? 

Interestingly, the two images, although taken from two very different shopping websites, have very similar physical style regardless of the different print, which indicates the pervasive preservation of traditional Chinese qipao style. Both dresses have the traditional Han style length, fit, side-thigh slit, knot buttons, and high collar. Although the qipaos displayed in the two images are meant to appeal to an international audience and has clearly diverged from the original qipao, it still maintains the physical design and cultural touches of the qipao. This shows that the present purchasers of the dress choose to wear the qipao purely as an aesthetic or exotic outfit, and not for cultural celebration. Through this semiotic analysis, we can conclude that the qipao has a decreased cultural and traditional message, but instead hasan  increased commercial and artistic value. The Chinese culture that was originally conveyed by the authentic qipao has become diluted by the consumer culture it caters to. conclusion is strong

strengthen the connotation 

Foot Binding Represented in Scene from Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

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source: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2011)

During the Neo-Confucian ages in China, foot binding was a prevalent and deep-rooted cultural tradition. This multifaceted act of physical mutilation and ornamental embellishment was also, depending on time and perspective, dynamically symbolic of wen civility, the familial system, sexuality, femininity, character, and nationalism. This snapshot image of an intimate moment of a newly wedded husband delicately holding and examining his new wife’s bound feet in the foreground while the wife blends into the background is representative of the fetishization and disproportional importance of bound feet, the small foot as the epitome of the beauty aesthetic, and the paradox of concealment and modest exposure that contributes to sensuality. your argument?

Through a purely aesthetic lens, the viewer of the image is first struck by the obvious color scheme of the scene. With bold reds, blacks, and browns in varying shades and lighting, the color subconsciously guides our eyes and thus our focus. For instance, the two subjects of the image have wardrobes of dark color, both the female and male wearing a predominantly brown wardrobe. However, the female’s lower leg and foot are clothed in a vibrant red, contrasting with its surroundings and bringing the viewer’s attention to the bound foot, (the bound foot could be the first point of attraction) conveying that the foot is actually the true subject of the image, and subject of the man’s desires. Furthermore, the woman is on the edge of the image basically blending into the background while the man is placed in the foreground but half-cloaked in shadow. The image shows that the foot itself is of more concern and importance than the person it belongs to. Instead of the two human characters in the scene, the foot is given the complete spotlight. This emphasis that is placed on the foot through lighting and color in this context demonstrates that the bound foot transcends the visible and physical and signifies the disproportional importance of a small foot in marriage and its general importance in the lives of wives, husbands, and the Chinese.

structure of foot then color and light

the bound foot and veiled face indicate that …. Also, a veil covers the woman’s face, her body is draped in layers, and her husband’s gaze is solely focused on her lower leg and foot. This intense combination of admiration and analysis, even celestial reverence, that the husband shows for the singular foot highlights the lack of those same feelings towards his wife as a whole. Even more, upon first glance, the woman’s presence is unnoticeable, minimal at best, unlike her center-displayed foot. Ultimately, this strategic placement of the wife and the purposeful tunnel-vision of the husband portrays the ideology that the foot holds the most beauty and deserves to be admired, while the face and body of a wife is of little concern to the husband. The small foot was the only physical trait that assigned beauty value to a woman and set a beauty standard for a man.

The fetishization of the foot against the spatial setting of the wedding chamber suggests that …. Lastly, this scene seems to be set in an intimate environment with the woman sitting on a bed and many curtains and drapes around the two characters. The fetishization and focus placed on the foot provides a sexual undercurrent to the image while the setting casts a sensual and intimate light onto the subjects. Though the woman’s body is very concealed (even her face is covered), the foot peeks out of her long robe, modestly titillating the audience and husband. Thus, I would argue that the paradox of concealment and modest exposure contributes to the subdued but present sensuality expressed in this image and many romantic relationships during neo-Confucian China. Through careful examination, we observe that the symbolic image delivers many messages about the act and meaning of footbinding in China. This one image embodies the traditional importance and obsession with ‘golden lotuses’ as an extreme form of beauty and sensuality, and simultaneously offers a visual representation and therefore a more realistic understanding of footbinding from a less biased Chinese cultural perspective.

focus on one idea in one paragraph and start the paragraph with a topic sentence