Author Archives: Rebkah Tesfamariam '18

Appreciation vs. Orientalizing

The “China Through the Looking Glass” exhibition in the Metropolitan Museum of New York aims to capture Chinese aspects of art, fashion, and culture and appreciate it. It’s goal overall is to sell the idea that Western and Eastern art and fashion influence each other, but I argue that it is mostly the West orientalizing the East, specifically exotifying the most tangible qualities. Many of the art pieces are misrepresentations of Chinese culture and do not indicate appreciation for the real meanings behind the art, but just its unique qualities. This perfume bottle from the exhibit is an object that has aspects to contribute to the consumer orientalizing aspects of the West influencing the East. The exhibit titled its section “enigmatic spaces,” to contribute to the mystifying the Chinese culture, rather than attempting to understand it. The perfume bottle in this exhibit exemplifies the orientalizing of Chinese people and culture from the Western perspective from its name “Nuit de Chine” and fake Chinese writing, among other details.

Les Parfums de Rosine (French 1911). "Nuit de Chine" perfume flacon.

Les Parfums de Rosine (French 1911). “Nuit de Chine” perfume flacon.

Perfume Bottle

The photo shows an artistic display of a perfume bottle and the enigmatic space it takes up. The bottle is selling a scent, with red and purple accents. It is a memorable, unique shape. From this display, we can infer that the bottle is representing the repackaging of Chinese culture. Somehow, the brand of perfume is able to capture the “scent of China” and sell it. The Eastern manufactorers are able to produce and profit from the incorrect assumptions made from using a “Chinese” product. The makers of this perfume chose the colors red and purple, which symbolize exotic mystery, and relates China to this type of “other.” The perfume bottle shape and decorations allow one to exotify the Chinese culture incorrectly represented in this object.

“Nuit de Chine”

The product is called “Nuit de Chine,” which means “night in China” in French. The perfume bottle is from France, which only makes sense why the perfume’s name is in French. However, one must consider the meaning that the product somehow embodies the scent of a night in China. The perfume orientalizes the China lifestyle and culture, acting as if it is something one can acquire and wear. Westerners who are unfamiliar with Chinese culture may think the perfume is an accurate depiction of China, which diminishes the country’s value into a commodity. The Western perspective on this “Chinese” product and scent does not appreciate but devalues the Chinese culture.

Fake Chinese Writing

In addition to the title of the product, the perfume has some sort of characters on the bottle’s label. It is not distinctively Chinese, but it is the largest part of writing on the product. Due to the fact that the writing is not real Chinese, it is a huge indication of the lack of knowledge and respect for the Chinese culture in this product. The Western creators of the perfume bottle did not care to represent China in a correct way, but chose to create some kind of incorrect writing for the look of the product. Not only was fake Chinese writing incredibly disrespectful, it also allows the consumer to further orientalize Chinese culture by misrepresenting it. The consumer could ignorantly claim to know and understand Chinese culture, all because of the commodification of a fake representation of culture that the French company chose to portray.

Overall, the representation of China and its people’s culture is belittling and disrespectful. Western influences turned meaningful aspects of China into an orientalized commodity that could easily be misinterpreted. Rather than appreciating the true essence of Chinese culture, the French makers of “Nuit de Chine” essentialized race into a mysterious, exotic scent that could be misinterpreted in many ways.

you have made a number of critical statements and supported with visual evidence. further tie the statement and evidence close and in detail. For the question of bottle form, for instance, how does the bottle reflect Orientalization? 

Beauty Ideals Reproduced in Advertisements

Across the world, beauty advertisements are the reason for some of the most top selling products. Although cultural differences may vary the brands, many of the products sold are quite similar in their purpose. In our studies, we see that skin-whitening cream is quite common, especially in China. The goal is to look and be more like the Caucasian Westerners, who seem to symbolize success in all areas of life. This advertisement presents skin whitening cream as one way Chinese people (and other buyers) can achieve this “white success.” By using English text, the zipper effect, and a removal of blemishes, the advertisers claim to give the buyers a glimpse of what it is like to live like a white Westerner. The advertisement sells false perceptions of whiteness and the product itself to trick its consumers into buying more of the product. Its advertisement assumes that achieving whiteness is the ultimate goal.

Chinese Beauty Advertisement for Johom "Pure and Natural" skin whitening cream.

Chinese Beauty Advertisement for Johom “Pure and Natural” skin whitening cream.

The Zipper Effect good topic

The zipper on the woman’s face in the advertisement is one of the first things the consumer will notice on this ad. It is unzipping the woman’s outer skin, revealing a whiter, smoother skin below to get rid of the outer, blemish-filled, darker skin. From this visual, we can assume that the skin cream is advertising the revelation of a better, newer you. By using their product, they are claiming that your skin will be better in all aspects, but most importantly–white. The advertisers use the zipper as a way to force the consumers to believe that their product will give you the skin lightening you want. It is as if you must remove your darker layer in order to achieve the inner layer that you want–whiteness. The advertisers are insinuating that everyone has a deeper inner whiteness than can be achieved by the product. By assuming that every consumer wants to remove some sort of “darker” layer for a lighter one implies that whiteness is the ultimate goal for beauty standards.

the zipped and the unzipped via the beauty product: indications behind it

Removal of Blemishes any critical claim that can make?

The beauty advertisement uses the zipper to show the transformation from dark to light skin, but also includes the removal of blemishes and other unfavorable facial attributes. The whiter complexion does not seem to have any marks like the darker outer layer. From these denotations, I can see how the lightening of skin is now implied as an even more favorable trait. The advertisers are claiming that not only does the whiter skin “look better,” it also removes unwanted blemishes to produce clear skin, even though this is not even in the product description. It is clear that the product’s purpose is to whiten the skin, but the removal of blemishes insinuates that looking whiter means more beauty overall. The advertisers are selling the product to reproduce the social claims that whiteness is better for every part of your skin and life.

English Text

The advertisement presents English text as the only font on the product. However, my research on the product indicates that this product is made in China with natural herbal ingredients from its home country. From this observation, we can assume that this subtle change was not an accident. I believe that the connotations of the switch of language are an indication of the market the sellers are trying to advertise. The skin whitening cream is marketed to allow its buyers to look more like the Caucasian Westerners, and the English text only reaffirms how much closer the buyers will be towards a more “Western” lifestyle. The buyers of skin whitening cream would be attracted to the product’s the devotion to be more like the Western Caucasians, which would then get them to buy the product. The switch of the English text could even trick the buyers that this product is from America, even though this is not true. I believe that the English text was a subtle trick to increase sales by the advertisers.

By sending misleading messages in its images, the advertisers sell a product that falsify its effects and reproduce unattainable beauty ideals of whiter skin. The subtle messages of the zippered skin, English writing, erasure of blemishes, and many other aspects of the advertisement are ways that the advertisement sell consumers an unhealthy, unattainable beauty ideal. The consumers are only forced to believe that whiteness, specifically Western Caucasian whiteness, is the highest form of beauty through the product itself and its advertisement.

nice subtitles. explanation could sound more critical.

The Women’s Liberation and Appreciating Women’s Bodies

Hu Ming, "Stand Up." Size: 140 x 106 cm. Oil on canvas painting, 2007.

Hu Ming, “Stand Up.” Size: 140 x 106 cm. Oil on canvas painting, 2007.

During the People’s Republic of China Era, the Mao suit was created to symbolize the unification of the country and the elimination of individuality. Mao Zedong tried to instill his socialist ideals through a uniform that publicly showed his people’s support for him. The Mao suit successfully supported the cultural revolution of socialism through its uniform look to disidentify with personal individuality and gender. Hu Ming, the female provocative contemporary artist, challenges the Mao suit ideals with her artwork as shown above. By highlighting the one female soldier in a hyper-sexual way, Ming forces the audience to realize that one cannot silence the beauty of the female body.

The painting “Stand Up” portrays the Red Guard army in their traditional Mao suit uniform lined up, ready for duty. Hu Ming’s artwork highlights the complications of attempting to hide individuality and forcing commonality, especially for women. Ming artfully used four modes of the painting to highlight her appreciation of women in the army—the uniformed look, color contrast, transparent uniform, and exposed female body. The artist used “Stand Up” as a way to comment on the women’s liberation movement that occurred in China during the Red Guard era. contemporary art about political past

Uniformed look:

At one quick glance, the audience can notice denotations of the uniformed look of the figures in the painting right away. Every figure in the painting has the same height and straight posture. Every soldier is in a tidy, clean Mao suit, indicating their involvement with the Red Guard army. We can conclude connotations that Ming wanted to accurately represent the Mao socialist party present at the time. She wants to indicate to the audience that these were soldiers, unified to protect their country, and complied with what is expected of them under Mao’s rule. It is clear that looking out of order is undesirable.

Color contrast:

Another easy denotation of this painting to notice is the explicit color contrast that is lighter on one of the soldiers, the visible woman, than the others. The audience can notice the lighter portion of the painting very quickly, that draws attention to the outlier of the seemingly uniform group. The color contrast seems to be larger and closer to the audience, as opposed to a figure later down the line. From these denotations, we can create connotations that assume that Ming wanted the audience to notice the woman first. The female figure blatantly does not physically look the same as the other soldiers. Ming used the color contrast to remind the audience that women will always hold a different place in the army, be it positively or negatively, that we must quickly recognize in such a monolithic society.

Transparent Uniform:

Perhaps the most important denotation to take from “Stand Up” is the transparent uniform of the one female figure in the painting. It explicitly reveals her breasts to highlight the subtle difference in her uniform. Ming painted her uniform slightly different that catches the eye of the audience quickly. From these observations, I would predict connotations that blatantly disregard Mao’s rule of uniformity. Although the female soldier may explicitly follow the socialist rule, Ming shows that women will be inherently different. Women cannot hide their feminine beauty, and they should recognize and appreciate their differences, although the liberation movement has been to their advantage.

Exposed Female Body:

The exposed female body is a denotation that cannot be ignored in this painting. As discussed earlier, Ming used several painting techniques to allow the audience to be drawn to the female soldier before noticing the other figures. I believe that Ming used such explicit denotations to comment on the beauty of femininity, even in a society that values uniformity. The connotations of the exposed female body indicate that one cannot ignore the qualities of womanhood.


Ming used several modes of painting technique to allow the audience to slowly analyze denotations (no need to repeat the word too often) that reflect the connotations of her opinions. Ming supported the women’s liberation movement, and this is reflected in her work to highlight the beauties of the female body specifically in the Red Guard. In “Stand Up,” Ming used her art to comment on the Chinese Revolution as a time of change and anonymity, but not to forget about the celebration of the women’s liberation. Her work is important to provoke thought about how Mao’s China influenced public opinion, political affiliation, and army support, as well as its effect on the appreciation and respect of women.

nice organization and explanation!

Sexualization of the Qipao



1999. Liu Jianhua “The Painted Sculpture Series: the Memory of Infatuation and Merriment.”

The photograph above depicts a sculpture of give figurines of female bodies, exposed in sexual positions in the Chinese traditional qipao. The artist, Liu Jianhua, is a Chinese male who created a whole series of sculptures similar to this from 1999-2000 called “The Painted Sculpture Series: the Memory of Infatuation and Merriment.” The picture above is a sample sculpture from the series.  The little figures on the sculpture have clear female anatomy, but they lack heads and arms. Some of them are also lacking shoes. The qipao-dressed figurines are sprawled in many sexual positions, some of which exposing their entire legs and undergarments. The sculptures are laid on an intricately decorated plate in blue and white.

Based on the photo’s depiction of hypersexualized women in a demeaning way, the artist challenged China’s standards of women and the social implications of the qipao. This provocative piece, and its entire collection, does not leave room for interpretation or consideration of other viewpoints, besides an offended one. Although it is very possible to assume that the artist truly viewed women in this misogynistic light, I believe that the message of this piece is deeper than surface level–to provoke the audience to consider a more nuanced view of the qipao and its negative influence on women’s roles and respect in Chinese society.

The first detail of the sculpture that stood out to me was the array of provocative positions the female bodies lay in. The qipao is an indication of femininity, but it often still relied on keeping the mystery of the female body under the clothes without much skin exposure. The sculptures revealed skin exposure as well as undergarments, as if to mock the illusion that qipaos actually promoted society to respect women more. The artist shows his discontent with female portrayal in society by highlighting the real crime against women–the belittlement and hyper-sexualization. He is criticizing the dominant society by exposing the real problems of eroticisation that are hidden under gender norms.

i am trying to understand the idea of exposing the female body and respecting women

The decision to remove the heads and arms from the sculptures further dehumanize the female bodies, as if to reduce them from real women to the easily sexualized parts of them. It gives the impression that women do not have the ability to run away from the male gaze or protect themselves from the possible harm they could endure when wearing provocative clothing. The artist indicates another level of subjectivity the female body endures when in the famous qipao clothing.

A subtle, but important aspect of the sculpture is the fact that the figures are on an intricate place with dragons. Dragons on a qipao indicate adaptability and are an important aspect of respectability. However, this beauty distracts from the issue that the female bodies are being served on a plate, as if they are ready for anyone to take and use them. In further imagery, the female bodies are visualized as objects, with no form of choice to resist manipulation. The artist’s creativity in providing commentary on the degrading representation of Chinese women in qipao’s is provocative, but blatant.

There are many aspects of this artwork that could be analyzed, but I chose to focus on the aspects of this representation of the qipao that I thought were the most prominent. The artist made a statement that cannot easily be ignored that comments on the hyper-sexualization of Chinese women, specifically in the qipao. The tradition of the qipao started in a more conservative light, but the modern qipao was used to eroticize and feshize the Chinese woman, especially globally. This was an attack on the Chinese female dignity and respect. If society were able to acknowledge and address the prevalent degradation of women in a more straight forward way like this piece of artwork, then perhaps the qipao would symbolize the cultural aspects of fashion more and less of a sex-symbol for women.

suggestion: good work, but clarify the argument and adjust the organization

Preserving Femininity

Taken by William Charles White, called "Bounded Foot (Unbound)," (not dated).

Taken by William Charles White, called “Bounded Foot (Unbound),” (1873-1960).

This photo shows a woman with her bounded foot exposed. She is being taken care of by two other women, who could be her maids. She is clearly looking straight at the camera, knowing the picture is being taken of her exposed feet. Foot binding was a practice common in China for centuries. The earliest piece of evidence found from this practice is dated from around the twelfth or thirteenth century. It was an indication of civility, grace, and ethnic superiority for Chinese women, practiced from a young age. It was a desirable trait to have one’s feet bound because it was attractive in society and elevated one’s status. Foot binding was widespread, and often had a mysterious reputation that caused fetishization. Women kept their feet bound in finely decorated shoes, and did not allow men to see the naked shapes of their feet. This was a tradition between mothers and daughters. Due to this mysterious female secret, it is assumed that this also caused erotic imagination. I believe that this was a picture taken during the later years of the foot binding practice, perhaps when it was about to end, because this woman would not have allowed this picture to be taken otherwise. Her embodiment of the image of her bound foot indicates her acceptance or compliance of revealing her feminine secret.

The history of foot binding has largely been lost, but it was a tradition that lasted many years and dynasties. European and other Western civilizations observed Chinese culture and misunderstood their fashion and traditional practices, which often lead to devaluing their societies as a whole. In fact, the practice became unpopular in China because of outside influence claiming it was “shameful.” Foreigners invaded their space in order to criticize and expose the critical part of foot binding– the concealment. Chinese women allowed the exposure of their deep secret in order to gain a pension from the curious Europeans who wanted to take pictures of the unfamiliar practice.

find a focus and make an argument

analysis could begin from here: The woman in the picture is looking straight at the camera, focused and prepared for the photograph. Only one foot is exposed, but the audience is able to see the entire bend of the bound foot. Underneath the bench is her other foot, still in its intricate shoe. She is a well-dressed woman who is clearly wealthy enough to have other women tend to her feet. Due to these signs, I believe I can assume that this was probably one of the women who was paid to show her bound foot. She may or may not have had the choice in doing so, but we may never know because this practice was only historically recorded by men. The women are outside, perhaps cleaning the exposed bound foot, which seems to be unlikely at a time when the binding was still supposed to be concealed. The photographer has a Western name, which could further indicate that a foreigner photographed this revealing scene.

In conclusion, I believe that this woman exposed her bound foot unwillingly. (make the claim at the beginning of the entry) Based on the time period of when the world saw photos of the practice and discredited the tradition, I can imagine that the foot binding practice was on its decline in prevalence in society. The photograph exposes an integral issue in Chinese history of maintaining civility, feminine elegance, and high standards of beauty for women.

how about the significance of the unknown photographer as the subject and the woman with bound feet the object of being photographed?


Dorothy Ko, “Bondage in Time: Footbinding and Fashion Theory,” Fashion Theory Volume 1, Issue 1, 1997: 3-28.

Dorothy Ko. “The Body as Attire: the Shifting Meaning of Foot binding in Seventeenth-Century China.” Journal of Women’s History 8-4 (Winter 1997): 8-27.