Chinese Restaurants' Interior Decor as Ethnographic Objects in Newfoundland 1

By Li, Mu | Western Folklore, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Chinese Restaurants' Interior Decor as Ethnographic Objects in Newfoundland 1


Li, Mu, Western Folklore


In order to present the culture of overseas Chinese restaurants, a descendant of Chinese restaurateurs, Karen Tam (who grew up a restaurant called Aux Sept Bonheurs in the Montreal neighborhood of Rosemont) launched a project entitled Gold Mountain Restaurants (2002-2010) to exhibit the physical interior of "traditional" Chinese restaurants across Canadian small cities and towns. According to Tam, restaurants that she grew up around and knew well are sites for the formation of ideas about ethnicity; her aim in the deconstruction and reconstruction of Chinese restaurants is to "see which elements signify meaning for the public and, thus, play a role in influencing Western perceptions of the Chinese" (Karen Tam 2013). A Chinese restaurant, in the mind of Tam, is "a metaphor for an imaginary China, imagined by the West and as a place recreated by the Chinese in the West" (Tam 2006). Tam's installed restaurants featured only the space itself (not food) and tangible items such as decor and furniture, which aspects she views as cultural elements that are significant but that have not been well studied in folklore studies on ethnic culinary traditions or in material culture studies in the realm of folklore and ethnicity. An exception is Shalon Staub's study of Yemenis in New York City (1989). In addition to discussing food, Staub looks at the names, signs, and decor of the Yemeni restaurants as representing a stage of ethnic cultural performance. This challenges "the dominant voices in the field of ethnic studies to consider the construction of ethnic identity as a fluid process of social boundary negotiation with variable cultural content" (Staub 1989:11). Staub's work represents a few instructive attempts by folklorists to understand the relationship between architectural elements and ethnicity.

In the same vein, Lily Cho, writing of western Canada, argues, "Of course, a restaurant is more than the food that it serves-it has an architecture; it is a gathering space; it is the kitchen and dining area and the swinging doors which contact the two; it is the menu and the space of the counter" (Cho 2010:14). In addition to serving Chinese dishes, some Chinese restaurants also promote their exoticism and/or authenticity through decorations that include various Chinese symbols. Karen Tam's installation investigates a sense of tradition in Chinese restaurants in terms of physical space and suggests that the roles of the architecture and interior decor of those restaurants serve not only as supplemental elements to attract business but also as important markers of the changing pace of immigration patterns and immigrant identities, such as what Lily Cho saw during her visits to Tam's exhibitions (Cho 2010:109-130). In this sense, the decors of Chinese restaurants become the ethnographic artifacts or objects of ethnography, which Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett defines as follows:

Ethnographic artifacts are objects of ethnography. They are artifacts created by ethnographers. Such objects become ethnographic by virtue of being defined, segemented, detached, and carried away by ethnographers. They are ethnographic, not because they were found in a Hungarian peasant household, Kwakiutl village, or Rajasthani market rather than in Buckingham Palace or Michelangelo's studio, but by virtue of the manner in which they have been detached, for disciplines make their objects and in the process make themselves. (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1998:17-18)

In this article, inspired by Tam, I trace the changes of those ethnographic artifacts in the architectural and interior decor of Chinese restaurants in Newfoundland, the easternmost province of Canada, to explore the interplay of the interior spatial arrangements in Chinese restaurants and exterior social space of the Chinese diaspora in various social and cultural contexts.

AN EARLY SOCIOECONOMIC HISTORY OF CHINESE IN NEWFOUNDLAND

The first arrival of Chinese to Newfoundland can be traced to the 1890s, when Newfoundland had not yet brought into confederation (Adams 2001:35; Daily News, 19 August 1895; Ping 1995). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Chinese Restaurants' Interior Decor as Ethnographic Objects in Newfoundland 1
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.