Concessions in “The Silver Age”: Exhibiting Chinese Export Silverware in China
This paper explores the role of museums and material objects in conveying evolving state priorities to the Chinese public, taking the traveling exhibition The Silver Age: A Special Exhibition of Chinese Export Silver as a case study. The silverwares displayed in the exhibition were produced in the politically contentious treaty port period for foreign consumers, and thus are complicated examples of Chinese cultural heritage. I analyze a set of translation strategies used by the organizers to present the objects as examples of fine craft. I argue that the emergence of Chinese export silverwares as a subject of collecting and display has provided the grounds for a political re-envisioning of China’s “century of humiliation” through the political construct of a “Silver Age.” The exhibition has thus participated in efforts to consolidate a global identity for the Chinese state, while reconciling narratives of past foreign imperialism.
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