Chinese Looks: Fashion, Performance, Race

Chinese Looks: Fashion, Performance, Race

Chinese Looks: Fashion, Performance, Race

Chinese Looks: Fashion, Performance, Race

Synopsis

From yellow-face performance in the 19th century to Jackie Chan in the 21st, Chinese Looks examines articles of clothing and modes of adornment as a window on how American views of China have changed in the past 150 years. Sean Metzger provides a cultural history of three iconic objects in theatrical and cinematic performance: the queue, or man's hair braid; the woman's suit known as the qipao; and the Mao suit. Each object emerges at a pivotal moment in US-China relations, indexing shifts in the balance of power between the two nations. Metzger shows how aesthetics, gender, politics, economics, and race are interwoven and argues that close examination of particular forms of dress can help us think anew about gender and modernity.

Excerpt

To speak of China as the emergent world power is axiomatic, particularly since recent U.S. journalistic coverage describes China’s products, its investments, its labor force, and even its environmental destruction as ubiquitous. But China has long registered in the national imaginary and in a material sense within an American context. This book begins with a case study describing a personal if ambivalent relationship to China’s rise but quickly shifts scale from my individual accounting to examine several historical strands that set the conditions of possibility for my ideas about how China looks today. I begin, then, not with some macro-level analysis of geopolitics but with a relatively humble tale of three dresses, because the details of wardrobes provide threads that lead to larger discourses.

I remember seeing my maternal grandmother finely frocked only once while she was alive. a bold turquoise provided the base for a random print of flowers that stretched down her ankle-length qipao, a short-sleeved, silk sheath topped with a mandarin collar and fastened over her left breast. Such fashion indulgence impressed me—at the age of eight or nine—since this woman tended to adorn herself in polyester and pleather. These cheaper ma-

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