Concessions in “The Silver Age”: Exhibiting Chinese Export Silverware in China

  • Susan Eberhard (Author)

Abstract

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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Published
2020-01-29
Language
English
Keywords
material culture; colonial economics; craft networks; trade networks; modern China; museum studies