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Authors:Marzia Varutti: Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, (IHEID), Geneva, Switzerland
Publication title:Representing and ‘Consuming’ the Chinese Other at the British Museum
Conference:National museums in a global world. NaMu III, Department of culture studies and oriental languages, University of Oslo, Norway, 19–21 November 2007
Publication type: Abstract and Fulltext
Issue:031
Article No.:006
Abstract:In this paper, I propose to analyse the way in which the British Museum perceives, interprets and addresses cultural diversity. As a case study, I consider the museum representation of the Chinese ‘Other’. Building on an analysis of the Chinese permanent gallery as well as of the temporary exhibition “The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army”, I set to investigate how the Museum portrays China and Chinese culture. What is exhibited and what is omitted? How is the image of China constructed? What forces – political, economic, social or other – contributed to shape it? Through these questions, I aim at pondering how the representation of China in the British Museum articulates with the expectations of its multi-cultural and increasingly globalized public.

The colonial past is often a key factor in the museum representation of other cultures, and as such it has legitimately been at the core of the reflection on museums’ approaches to alterity. However, I want to argue that the analysis should not be confined to colonialist or post-colonialist historical perspectives, but remain open to include contemporary socio-political and economic factors. The British Museum case study suggests that the economy of travel, the evolution of consumer tastes and demands, renewed opportunities for commercial exchange and business enterprise, an important Chinese community in London and the UK, and global scale media events such as the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games (hosted by China), are all factors that affect museums and museum representations, to the extent that they impact on audiences, on their tastes, interests and expectations. It is of crucial importance to acknowledge that museums are becoming increasingly receptive vis-à-vis such patterns of change, all the more if of global scale.

Methodologically, the arguments put forward in this paper rest on an analysis of the museological choices underlying the displays in the Chinese permanent gallery and the temporary exhibition “The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army” aimed at disentangling the narrative lines underlying the exhibitions.

Through this analysis I wish to suggest that the museum representation of the Chinese ‘Other’ at the British Museum rests on two different, though complementary, narrative lines. On the one hand, in the permanent gallery, the Museum is carrying on its ‘traditional’ function as a public education institution. On the other, in temporary exhibition, the Museum is responding to the demand for cultural consumption of its increasingly consumption-oriented audiences.

Language:English
Year:2007
No. of pages:11
Pages:69-79
Series:Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings
ISSN (print):1650-3686
ISSN (online):1650-3740
File:http://www.ep.liu.se/ecp/031/006/ecp0703106.pdf
Available:2008-07-16
Publisher:Linköping University Electronic Press, Linköpings universitet

REFERENCE TO THIS PAGE
Marzia Varutti (2007). Representing and ‘Consuming’ the Chinese Other at the British Museum, National museums in a global world. NaMu III, Department of culture studies and oriental languages, University of Oslo, Norway, 19–21 November 2007 http://www.ep.liu.se/ecp_article/index.en.aspx?issue=031;article=006 (accessed 9/1/2014)