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Collecting Objects / Excluding People

Chinese Subjects and American Visual Culture, 1830-1900

Lenore Metrick-Chen

Publication Year: 2012

Combining aesthetic and political history, explores the influence of Chinese people and objects on American visual culture. In Collecting Objects / Excluding People, Lenore Metrick-Chen demonstrations an unknown impact of Chinese immigration upon nineteenth-century American art and visual culture. The American ideas of “Chineseness” ranged from a negative portrayal to an admiring one and these varied images had an effect on museum art collections and advertising images. They brought new ideas into American art theory, anticipating twentieth-century Modernism. Metrick-Chen demonstrates that efforts to construct a cultural democracy led to the creation of unforeseen new categories for visual objects and unanticipated social changes. Collecting Objects / Excluding People reveals the power of images upon culture, the influence of media representation upon the lives of Chinese immigrants, and the impact of political ideology upon the definition of art itself.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vii

Illustrations and Credits

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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. xv-xvi

I have been very fortunate in relationships, with mentors whose wisdom and compassion have been seemingly limitless, and with a loving and supportive family. My research could not have started without the initial support of the Committee of Social Thought at the University of Chicago. I was accepted into this PhD program...

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pp. 1-12

This book explores the cultural consequences of politicized imagery of Chinese people in the mid- to late nineteenth century. American political policy and cultural orientations intersected, interpenetrated, and were transformed when Chinese people, and not just Chinese objects, arrived on American shores. The four chapters...

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Chapter One: The Politics of Chinoiserie: The Disappearance of Chinese Objects

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pp. 13-72

This chapter explores an absence, or more accurately, an erasure. It is an attempt to understand why Chinese art disappeared from an American art discourse in the 1870s. This remains a critical question still, because despite the reemergence of Chinese objects in the art discourse of the 1890s, that almost twenty-year silence has shaped...

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Chapter Two: The Power of Inaction: Chinese Objects and the Transformation of the American Definition of Art

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pp. 73-120

To Americans in the Victorian era, fine art conveyed—or rather, they hoped it would convey—a seemingly transparent message of morality. The English art critic John Ruskin advocated this thesis authoritative declarations to that point, stating: “the...

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Chapter Three: From Class to Race: The New York Times Reconstructs “Chinese”

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pp. 121-168

In 1870, the idea of excluding Chinese from the United States seemed an absurd goal, not to mention an impossible undertaking. The minority agitating to exclude an entire nation’s people was initially viewed by most people on the East Coast as disreputable, and their opinion patently wrong. Protest against Chinese immigration...

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Chapter Four: The Chinese of the American Imagination: Nineteenth-Century Trade Card Images

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pp. 169-222

Art and politics met again in the images of Chinese people on American nineteenth-century advertising trade cards. In the last third of the nineteenth century, these vernacular images became so plentiful they contributed to the culture’s expanding fluency in visual language. Innovations in color lithography transformed print media from monochrome inkings into a riot of colorful images that...

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pp. 223-224

Throughout the nineteenth century, Americans used the Chinese figure as a means to explore contested areas of their culture. Unlike representations with a single established meaning, such as Uncle Sam representing the quintessential American, the Chinese figure had a wide range of possible meanings. A vast amount of cultural exploration, accommodation, and adaptation occurred outside the...


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pp. 225-264

Name Index

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pp. 265-268

Subject Index

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pp. 269-278

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781438443270
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438443256

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 817565636
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Collecting Objects / Excluding People

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Art, Chinese -- Collectors and collecting -- United States.
  • Art museums -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Art and race.
  • China -- Foreign public opinion, American -- History -- 19th century.
  • China -- Foreign public opinion, American -- History -- 20th century.
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