Session Review ”Textiles in China” by Mei Rado

”Textiles in China: Identity, Literacy & Communication”

by Mei Rado, SNPA Recipient

Chinese textiles and dress constitute a relatively understudied field in art history, textile history, and fashion studies. While the technical and stylistic analysis of Chinese textiles have been carried out by Chinese scholars, notably Dr. Zhao Feng and his team at the China National Silk Museum, with great achievements, the art historical, cultural, and social aspects of Chinese textiles have not been fully explored. The panel “Textiles in China: Identity, Literacy and Communication,” which mainly consisted of doctoral students in art history, demonstrate some of the new perspectives of and approaches to Chinese textiles.

My own paper “Imitation and Invention: ‘European-Style’ Silks under Qing Imperial Patronage” approaches Qing imperial textiles from a transcultural perspective. This paper sheds light on the Chinese phenomenon of creating European-style textiles as the counterpart of European chinoiserie. It offers a new angle to look at reciprocity and dynamism in eighteenth-century global exchanges. Rachel Silberstein’s paper “Words and Symbols: A preliminary Study of Literate Communication in Chinese Embroidery” examines the presence of women’s literacy as seen in Chinese embroidery with characters. Looking at multiple sources where the designs of embroidered characters might come from, Silberstein’s paper exemplifies an interdisciplinary approach combining textile studies and social history. In her paper “Innovation and Preservation of Manichaean Textiles in Southern Coastal China in the 17th-20th centuries,” Gloria Gonick investigates a special category of wool tapestries made by descendants of Uyghur Manicaean clans. She combines object-based analysis with religious and ethnic history. The last paper “Embroidering for the Nation: Embroidered Portraits and the Invention of an Artistic Tradition in Modern China” by I-Fen Huang deals with both transcultural and transmedium issues. In discussing how painted portraits in realistic style became an embroidery genre in modern and contemporary China, she also explores the Japanese influence on the emergence of this genre. Huang also situates this phenomenon in the broader historical framework of China’s nationalism and modernization.

mei radoMei Rado is a doctoral candidate in Art History at the Bard Graduate Center, New York. Specializing in Chinese textile and dress, she is particularly interested in textiles in a transcultural perspective. Her dissertation examines the new developments in design, weaving, and display of Qing imperial silks and tapestries during the eighteenth-century — changes that occurred when in contact with European textiles.