Imagined journeys to distant Cathay: Constructing China with ceramics, 1780-1920

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Between 1780 and 1860, mothers and housewives set their tables using Chinese ceramics and British imitations, including the willow pattern. Since these ceramics carried idealized Chinese scenes, women could construct an exotic China, called "Cathay," that they could visit in their imaginations at a time when the real China was cloaked in mystery. Curiously, the dearth of information on China conferred credibility onto Cathay; when Americans traveled to Canton, they compared the actual country with the ceramic patterns etched in memory. Around 1900, large importers of Asian goods dictated through advertising exactly how women should construct China for pleasure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-80
Number of pages28
JournalWinterthur Portfolio
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History
  • Museology


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