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British Chinese Women: Interdisciplinary Workshop, Kings College London


Speakers at the British Chinese Women Workshop

I was invited to speak at an interdisciplinary workshop for and about British Chinese Women, held at Kings College London on 8th May 2019.


Whilst there has been recent interest in community histories of the British Chinese, academic research remains sparse, particularly in relation to British Chinese women. This workshop drew together researchers working across vastly different disciplines - from geography, history and the social sciences, to art, fashion and digital media - presenting their research on the British Chinese specifically in relation to gender.


I presented my PhD research-in-progress Complicating Chinoiserie: Wearing Authenticity, Dressing Orientalism. My paper was highly dependent on the visual depictions of Chinese- and Chinese-style (what I term 'Chinoiserie') fashion and dress objects (which unfortunately cannot be included in this blog post due to copyright restrictions). I presented a quick walk-through Chinoiserie fashions of the 20th century, and how these may both relate and diverge from documentation of Chinese diaspora fashion histories. I explicated how portrayals of Chineseness in Western popular culture have always been gendered, often as a way of managing a perceived political threat of China. Due to the workshop theme, I focussed on women, but also highlighted how myths of Chinese effeminacy have affected portrayals of Chinese maculinity. In response, this has given rise to hyper-masculinity in martial arts imagery of male Chinese bodies.

Presenting my research on Chinoiserie fashion histories & Chinese diaspora dress

The half-day event was organised by PhD students Denise Kwan (Westminster), Sha Zhou (Kings) and Chen Yang (Westminster). It was inspired by the National Federation of Chinese Women conference in Birmingham held in September 1988: the organisers had been unable to find evidence of any other academic events centring on British Chinese Women in the intervening 31 years.


The range of speakers made for a really interesting selection of papers. The day was very well-attended, and the audience had an equally varied range of personal and professional backgrounds. This led to very lively discussions following each of the two panels, and feedback at the end of the day suggested a real appetite for further events.


I really enjoyed presenting at the British Chinese Women workshop, and received great feedback on my research from audience members, who were largely excited by the prospect of my PhD on Chinese diaspora dress. I joined the speakers & organisers for a celebratory dim sum lunch afterwards - a fantastic way to close the day! The workshop brought together lots of people who might not have otherwise met, due to their differing disciplines. I look forward to what events might come in the future.


The event was supported by the Social History Society, and selected highlights were live tweeted on the day.

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© 2020 Anushka Tay