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Eleanor Short: China

March 5, 2017

The fascination western Europe has had with Asia and it’s culture has been around a long time. The desire to collect and catalog artefacts and objects is immense, and within the China collection, we can see how these objects are exploited and a culture is appropriated. I started with an intricate pot. It had the date, the dynasty, and that was about it. I went on to see that this was common for most objects in the China collection. No descriptions and no attempt to educate the viewer on the artefacts. Without such explanation, the viewer resorts to simple appreciation for the object’s aesthetics, not it’s cultural background. The act of viewing a people or a culture as a spectacle has long been a form of degradation and oppression. And while one can appreciate the sharing or knowledge and artefacts, these objects are in the permanent collection. These objects sit in cabinets to be marvelled by foreigners who have no deeper appreciation for the object, when they could be in museums of their origin, enjoyed by the descendants of the people who made them. Many countries around the world including China are still requesting looted and stolen artefacts to be returned to their place of origin. And even if these requests were met, it wouldn’t mean such history wouldn’t be shared again. Many countries have touring exhibitions of their countries artefacts, including the terracotta warriors, which will return to the UK as an exhibit in 2018.

Even if such objects are not returned, the attempt to educate the viewer is almost non existent. Almost all of the designers and artists are unknown. Although this information may be impossible to find, where they found the object can give a lot of information. The town or village it was found in perhaps tells a bigger story about what kind of life the artist lived. Something long neglected by foreign exhibitions of Chinese objects is the fact that China is made of many provinces. These provinces all have their own dialect and cultures. I lived in China for 6 years, and learnt Mandarin for 6 years. There are probably 1 million people who might be able to understand my Mandarin. Which is a dismal amount considering there are nearly 1.4 Billion people in China. Knowing the dialect a person speaks is imperative in understanding them. There are over 200 different dialects in China, so to say something is Chinese is not enough, because it doesn’t tell you what language the people who use the object spoke.

What makes an object special, is the people who made it, used it, and loved it. The V&A doesn’t even attempt to reveal some of these details, so at the end of the day, the pot in the cabinet, is just a pot.

Brown, Mark. "China’s Terracotta Warriors to Return to UK for First Time in Nearly a Decade." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 07 Dec. 2016. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

Foster, Peter. "China to Study British Museum and V&A for Looted Artefacts." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 19 Oct. 2009. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.

Accredited Language Services. "What Are the Different Types of Spoken Chinese?" ALSINTL. Alison, n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2017.


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