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

  • Susan Eberhard (Author)


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.


material culture, colonial economics, craft networks, trade networks, modern China, museum studies