Category Archives: Fashion and Gender in China

Age & Power: How a 3 Year-Old Boy Ruled China

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The film, The Last Emperor, brings to light the story of the last emperor of China. A significant focus of this movie lies in the time period in which he was taken as a child and put into this life. The three year-old has incredible power and the film does a great job using visual cues to signify this point. Through the Emperor’s robe, the color yellow, the mass amounts of people, and the cricket scene, we can see that the movie did a create job creating a clear contrast between the emperors young age and its incredible power that he has.

The Traditional Emperor Robe:

It’s details: This scene image shows the three year-old Emperor dressed in the traditional robe. The details are extremely intricate and carefully woven, demonstrating high class. It clearly could only be worn by a wealthy member of society.

It’s size: The robe is clearly very large and oversized when put on the Emperor. This highlights the Emperor’s youth and contrast between his young age and the incredible power and influence he already has.

The color yellow: The color yellow is extremely prominent in this photo. There is a lot of yellow in the dress as well as in the background. During this time in China, only leaders could wear yellow. In this photo, this color signifies the power and leadership that the boy has.

The Mass Amounts of People: The second photo shown displays the emperor standing in front of a crowd of thousands of people. The people are lined up in straight lines and all bowing down to him. Again, this symbolizes the vast power and control the emperor has. This photo also does a good job emphasizing how young the boy is by having him stand in front of this large crowd. Every person is bowing down to a three year-old boy, who is perhaps too young to even read. Overall, it shows China’s dedication to tradition and unwavering commitment to their cultural processes.

The Cricket Scene: In the scene with the cricket, the boy Emperor can hear a cricket noise. He walks down the aisle of people bowing down to him in order to find out where the noise is coming from. He finally finds a man who looks like he is from the lower class, based on his raggedy clothes and lack of detail in his overall wardrobe. His face is fascinated when he sees the cricket. This scene further displays the emperor’s youth and his hunger to be a kid. Hearing a cricket and seeking it out allows for the viewer to see his real age being played out. It also brings up sadness in the viewer because it shows a contrast between the live he has to live while being an emperor versus the life he wants to live out as a child.

Each of these photo or scene cues demonstrates a contrast between age and power. The three year-old is so young, naïve, and still has so much to learn, yet he is leader of China.

“In the Mood for Love” and the Gendered Uniforms of Modernity

Kar Wai Wang’s 2000 film In the Mood for Love vividly captures not only a romance between two neighbors who find their spouses in an adulterous relationship, but also the sartorial choices that show Hong Kong in the 1960s caught between East and West.

To make reference to the broader historical framework, Hong Kong developed separately from the rest of China owing to its special relationship with the British who acquired a 99 year lease on the island. While China was in the midsts of communism and famine, Hong Kong stood as a beacon of capitalism and entrepreneurship in the East. Many Western companies set up offices in Hong Kong to have a stake in Asia, but one mediated by a familiar power: the British. The introduction of Western businesses and Western business techniques gave rise to domestic companies owned by citizens of Hong Kong who have made the city a global economic powerhouse with a commanding role in the finance industry.

In the Mood for Love

Despite this Western flair, Hong Kong never completed shed its China roots and this is evident in the 2000 film In the Mood for Love as evidenced in the above scene where Mrs. Chan is saying goodbye to her boss who is leaving to have dinner with his wife. The boss is depicted in a Western style suit with distinctly modern influences. His suit is excellently tailored, perfectly terminating at his shoulders. The sleeves are precisely long enough to reveal the edge of his light blue shirt with French cuffs and the subtle, yet sophisticated cufflinks. His tie features a modern paisley pattern that terminates exactly above his belt buckle that widens ever so slightly as it moves from top to bottom.

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In contrast, one of the few shots where Mr. Chow is fully visible reveals a distinctly different character. His tie, unlike Mrs. Chan’s boss visibly clashes with his shirt. Furthermore, it is far wider at the bottom than at the top. Such is a fashion style commonly associated with a tacky used car salesman. Finally, he is tied it inappropriately such that it falls when standing where his zipper begins rather than where ending above his belt buckle as shown by Mrs. Chan’s boss.

What this suggests is an incomplete adoption of Western fashion trends that unfolds along class lines. Her boss, the owner of a successful import/export business whose business spans across the globe likely has both the exposure to Westerners through business meetings and the financial resources to appropriately wear Western clothing. Mr. Chow, a low level functionary at a print company, likely has little exposure to such people and his needing to rent a room speaks to lacking much disposable income. What matters for Mr. Chow, who is an archetypal common white collar male in 1960s Hong Kong, is the appearance of being Western rather than complete adoption of their sartorial forms.

Both Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan’s boss’s clothing choices stand in stark contrast to hers. She is seen wearing a high collared Qipao that evokes images of Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s. Unlike them, however, her clothing features very rich and vibrant colors of purple and yellow in complex flowing patterns. Such complex patterning is made possible by dyes and techniques of modern clothing manufacturing. Furthermore, it is sleeveless. The lack of sleeves, vibrant colors speak to a marked departure from early Qipao styles dominated by floral images, the color red and short sleeves. She is also seen later carrying a western style not unlike those you would see sold today in Western department stores and boutiques.

The juxtaposition of these three characters reveal is the complex identity of Hong Kong during the 1960s as it straddled East and West culturally, independent of China. The highest members of society, symbolized by Mrs. Chan’s boss, had the cultural knowledge and financial resources to perfectly mimic Western fashion styles. When juxtaposed with the lowly Mr. Chow who poorly pulls off a Western look, it is clear that the aspiration of Chinese men as they became more successful was to look more perfectly Western in their clothing choices. Mrs. Chan stands in contrast throughout the filming by always wearing Qipaos rather than Western dresses. Although they are clearly influenced by Western designs by abandoning the design elements of the 1920s and 1930s, women nevertheless attempted to preserve the traditional clothing style. Thus, it can be seen that modernity as imagined by women in the 1960s consisted of subsuming Western materials, patterns and manufacturing techniques within the traditional qipao style.


Qipao’s Significance in “In the Mood for Love”

In Wong Kar-Wai’s film, In the Mood for Love, Maggie Cheung is seen in more than 20 different Qipaos. Each Qipao that is worn in the movie is specifically crafted for each scene and is perfectly tailored to Maggie Cheung’s body. Although the Qipao is only a costume in the film, it actually is more than just a costume. The Qipao in Wong Kar-Wai’s film is used as a mode for time and mood for each scene in the film. In Giuliana Bruno’s article, Surface, Fabric, Weave: The fashioned World of Wong Kar-wai, Bruno argues that fashion is an art form in the sense that it’s considered a form of imaging similar to a painting or photograph. With this in mind, it is clear while watching the film that Wong Kar-Wai uses the QiPao as an “aesthetic form of Visual fabrication” that is in-sync with the history of visual culture.

Picture captured from late scene in the Film

Picture captured from late scene in the Film

In the film, Mr. Chow (Tony Chiu Wai Leung) and Mrs. Chan (Maggie Cheung) found out that their spouses are having an affair with each other. However, neither of those characters are shown during the movie keeping the focus on the two victims of this affair, Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan. Furthermore, the majority of the film is focused around Mrs. Chan’s Qipao. Every time Mrs. Chan is seen, she is wearing a Qipao, which brings to light Mrs. Chan’s beauty, femininity, and sexuality. The color of the Qipao, like a mood ring, indicates what mood she is in, but also the mood of the scene. So, when Mrs. Chan is seen wearing a simple, or colorless Qipao, she is concealing herself and gives off a conservative attitude, which is in contrast with the Qipao’s historical and cultural connotation. But, when Mrs. Chan is in a more colorful Qipao, she steals the focus of the audience, furthermore drawing the attention of Mr. Chow. cite a visual evidence

The Qipaos that Mrs. Chan wears indicate a change in time. Because the film jumps around from moment to moment with no indication of time change, it is difficult for the audience to know the context of when these actions are taking place. But, thanks to the different Qipaos worn, it is clear to us that it is a new day or moment because Mrs. Chan is wearing a different QiPao. need a visual evidence

Maggie Cheung’s face throughout the film is also very simple, making sure not to show her emotion through her facial expressions, but rather have the audience interpret and understand her emotions and thoughts through her costume in that scene. After Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan end their affair, Mrs. Chan tells Mr. Chow to never look at her again. This is a great example of how the Qipao is used. As she tells him this, she is wearing a colorful Qipao, which was previously an indicator of her happiness, but also that she was trying to attract Mr. Chow. So, when she tells him to never look at her again, we can assume that the beauty and elegance of the Qipao is the reason Mr. Chow was so attracted and enamored with her.

Fashion put aside, the music of this film also played a significant role. In the film, Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan role played as each other’s spouses in an attempt to figure out how their spouses’ affair began. In multiple scenes, the same music is played as Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow come in contact with each other. This music is an indicator of the heightening of their affair. Also since they are trying to figure out how their spouses’ affair started, the music can also indicate a moment their spouses shared in the beginning stages of their affair. focus on qipao as there is no enough room for music

a nice work, Ejazz 

Hero: The Color White is Pure


Photo taken from the movie Hero by Zhang Yimou.

In the movie Hero the same portion of a story is told four times, each time with a different color (red, blue, green, and white) and a slightly different plot to the story. Each time the story is told the main characters, Flying Snow and Brocken Sword have a different relationship and their actions in the story are different.

For the final scene, they wear white and they are purely together as they die and things become calm and simple, as seen through the color white.

Denotations: In the scene Brocken Sword had just died or is in the process of dying white the sword in his chest. Flying Snow calmly talks to a dying Brocken Sword saying that they will be going home, and Flying Snow kills herself with the sword that is killing Brocken Sword. The film also cuts to where Nameless is confronting the king and in that chaotic part of the scene there is all black. Lastly the backdrop for the white scene is the natural dessert landscape instead of the colored backdrops for the other colors such as in the red scene all of the leaves building being red.

Connotations: Although Flying Snow was the one to kill Brocken Sword when she charged at him, he took the hit, completely giving into the blow and not trying to block himself with his own sword. He calmly let into death. Looking more closely at the last part of the scene where Flying Snow is whispering to Brocken Sword telling him how they are going home together. There is a calm in the part of the movie even though she had killed her lover she is calm as she believes that they will travel together home. Also to bring in the natural landscape (as this white scene is the only one to have the natural setting), when Flying Snow says they are going home, that home is that they are returning to is the nature as represented in the natural background. The white robs that they are wearing represents the purity. Yes Flying Snow kills Brocken Sword but as they die they are finally together, deigning together with the one that they love and at peace with that. This is seen in the way that Brocken Sword does not fight Flying Snow and instead lets him kill her. He is giving into the one he loves because he would rather die than fight her back. Together they are dying by the same sword yet they could not look more peaceful and pure as they sit together with the wind moving their spotless white robes. It inflicts the pure calming feeling even after the deaths of two lovers.

focus is set and well maintained


Hero: Women Warriors

moon and snow

In the film Hero, directed by Yimou Zhang, a warrior called Nameless is invited to see the King of Qin after defeating three assassins that had attempted to take his life. This particular scene is part of a flashback during Nameless’s account to the king in which one of the three assassins, a female warrior named Flying Snow is confronted in the woods by Moon, the apprentice of Broken Sword (another of the three assassins who is both Moon’s master and Flying Snow’s lover). Moon approaches Flying Snow in the woods in order to get revenge for the death of Broken Sword. At first, Flying Snow refuses to fight Moon and doges her blows. Moon attacks repeatedly and expresses her anger in yells and grunts while Flying Snow remains silent. The two engage in nothing short of a dance ant the forest’s yellow forests are swept up in the movement of their red robes. When Moon manages to cut off a lock of her hair however, Flying Snow agrees to “help her die.” She makes her move and lands a fatal strike. Moon pulls Flying Snow’s sword from her wound and throws it. The sword hits a near-by tree and a close up shot reveals blood dripping from the blade. When the blood drips, the leaves in the forest suddenly turn from yellow to crimson red and drift slowly to the ground. try to avoid description

start from here: The fight scene between the two female warriors is a brilliant yellow and red color scheme. Each account of Nameless’s stories are shaded in different colors from red and blue to green and white. This particular scene is untrue. In this version, the red sets the stage for the jealousy, anger, lust, love and betrayal that plays out on the screen. In this clip, we experience perhaps the only true violence of the film. The fact that blood is only shown in this particular part and that Moon is particularly vocal about her anger through her series of exasperated yells supports this idea. It is a fight driven by rage and emotion rather than a traditional battle of honor between warriors. The yellow, a traditionally imperial color worn only by emperors, ties this scene into the story line as a whole. In the end, Nameless does not kill the king. Through his trials and with the guidance of Broken Sword he realizes that peace rather than vengeance is the only way to unite china ‘All Under Heaven’ and stop the decades of suffering that resulted from China’s warring states. I argue that the yellow not only foreshadows this but is emblematic of this idea. Violence and anger do not bring closure rather, giving up personal goals for the collective good is the only way to achieve peace. Finally, the scene is significant because it is the only one that depicts a battle between two female warriors. This narrative seems to be an attempt by the director to counter hegemonic orientalist stereotypes of women as frail and meek. Instead, the two women are agile, intelligent, strong, and have super-power like ability. At first, the scene seems to propagate the stereotype that women only ever fight over men. In the end however, this sexist perception is done away with when the scene is revealed to be made up and, in reality, the two women are strong, virtuous, and idealistic to the death.

it would be clearer should the writing move from one color to another.

Link to Scene:


Hero, Yimou Zhang, 2002. Film.

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? 

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. 




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?”

Enigmatic Space in Perfume

In the exhibit, Empire of Signs, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City the impact of Chinese art, culture and general aesthetics on Western art and fashion was presented. The thesis was that Chinese aesthetics have driven “fashionable imagination” in Western countries for decades. In this exhibit, enigmatic objects, bodies and spaces were explored and shown to audiences. Enigmatic means: difficult to understand, mysterious. The items presented in the exhibit show this influence both as an enigmatic concept, and enigmatically.

One of the categories of the exhibit Empire of Signs, was Enigmatic Objects. It is here the image of a bottle of perfume is seen.

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

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

This bottle of perfume is from a french company founded in 1911. The fragrance is called “Nuit de Chine”, or Night in China/Chinese Night. For the reason that the perfume is called “Night in China” alone, it represents an enigmatic space. The bottle represented a capitalization of the appeal of mystery the Orient held for Europeans in the early 1900s. The scent symbolized for consumers the appeal of a location they might never visit, but that was “exotic” and shrouded in mystery. It would make them, the wearer, mysterious and exotic, desirable, out of reach. For researchers, the perfume symbolizes a location that is neither in the imagination of a French parfuemerier, nor in a busy Chinese city at night. It is both a location that is nowhere, and is in both places.

good claim: “Night in China” as enigmatic space

This image itself is enigmatic as well. The perfume bottle has a label on it with what appears to be a false Chinese symbol. The label is meant to be uninterpretable, mysterious. It is not meant to be understood by users, nor taken seriously. The French words say the name of the brand, Rosine, and the name of the scent. The dark colored perfume, coupled with the simplistic brass handles on either end are intended to mimic popular European depictions of China. The entire bottle, its simplicity, its vague label, its name are all intended to promote an enigmatic space of China.

the bottle, the label, and the scent created “enigmatic space of China”: the claim is appealing which calls for explanation/support, however.

A Chamber of Whispers — Echoing the Consequences of Cultural Exchange

Adam Geczy, in his article A Chamber of Whispers, offers a critique of orientalization in defense of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s ‘China Though the Looking Glass’ exhibit. The Chamber of Whispers is the last section of the exhibit — juxtaposing Chinese artifacts from the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries against the couture pieces they inspired. Gezcy wants the reader to reexamine the negative connotations of orientalization by pointing out the ways in which the East (China) was inspired by Western art. He points out cultural symbols such as the brise fan, which originated in Europe and co-opted into Chinese culture by way of printing cultural designs upon the object:

Picture1 Brise fan made in France c. 1830 – 1840

He introduces the term ‘transorientalism’ as “a more serviceable term that, while admitting of ethical aspects of cultural appropriation, also supports the undeniable circumstances of exchange, re-translation, and re-envisioning embedded in the Orientalist idea, and a dynamic that still today shows no signs of abating” (Gezcy 24). Gezcy aims to protect the integrity and freedom of artists that choose to create pieces inspired by Chinese culture by defending the experimentation that cultural exchange provides. However, he fails to acknowledge the power dynamics between the East and West, and the perpetual understanding of the East as ‘other’ or ‘stuck in the past’.

wonderful claim which calls for immediate support: how could one learn about “the power dynamics” through the fan object? 

Picture2Jar with Dragon. Early 15th Century. Picture3Evening Dress, fall/winter, 2005-6. This piece was inspired by the Jar with Dragon.

Gezcy is correct in saying that the East and West engaged in cultural exchange; the sheer volume of objects and concepts that were imported, exported, and intellectually  exchanged is worthy to note. However, Western interpretations of Eastern Art seems have more cultural longevity than the original Eastern art forms. This is to say that people value the ability of Western art to legitimize aspects of Chinese culture and make it accessible to the masses. Western art, in an attempt to appreciate aspects of Chinese culture, has misinterpreted cultural symbols and as a result taken them out of context. While Chinese artists have created works influences by Western artists, there remains an understanding of where the ideas originated from and the image of Western culture is not harmed in the process.

The West has historically viewed the East as an ‘other’; a foreign, amorphous location that can be used as an artist’s playground:  “Yet it is also worth remembering that, against all accusations of inauthenticity…dressing up furnished a means for expression that allowed one to do things that would have been difficult to justify in every day life” (Gezcy 27). It is this statement that unravels Gezcy’s argument, because he unabashedly describes the problematic lens through which Westerners view Chinese culture. Westerners did not have the freedom to experiment with their surroundings, and turned to Chinese culture as a means for exploration. When they had completed their exploratory phase, they created works of art that summarized their premature conclusions about Chinese culture. China has never had societal dominance in this manner. While they engaged in cultural exchange with the West, there was never a relegation of Chinese art to an inferior status.

In addition, there has not been a call from the East de-contextualize Western art from its Chinese origins in the support of academic and artistic freedom. Gezcy’s defense of the Chamber of Whispers exhibit is written under the assumption that people value Eastern and Western art equally. The consequence of using the term ‘transorientalism’ is that it purposefully ignores the inherent power imbalance involved in the exchange of Eastern and Western art.

your comments are critical and forceful. Just wish that you could use the art objects as visual evidence to support your claims