Visualising ethnicity in the Southwest Borderlands: gender and representation in Late Imperial and Republican China
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date03/07/2020
This thesis explores the mutual constitutions of visuality and empire from the perspective of gender, probing how the lives of China’s ethnic minorities at the southwest frontiers were translated into images. Two sets of visual materials make up its core sources: the Miao album, a genre of ethnographic illustration depicting the daily lives of non-Han peoples in late imperial China, and the ethnographic photographs found in popular Republican-era periodicals. The study highlights gender ideals within images and aims to develop a set of “visual grammar” of depicting the non-Han. Casting new light on a spectrum of gendered themes, including femininity, masculinity, sexuality, love, body and clothing, the thesis examines how the power constructed through gender helped to define, order, popularise, celebrate and imagine possessions of empire. In order to examine the visual transformations of images of non-Han, this study places the Miao albums and modern photographs side-by-side for comparison, revealing the different ways of seeing ethnic minorities when Han Chinese gender norms were de/reconstructed. The insights into the visual codes of gender also aim to place Chinese imperial models in a cultural context, testing how well the case of China fits into theories of empire generated mainly from European models. This thesis asks how imported imperial tools, in particular European technology and the science of human variations, were localised within the conceptualisation of nations in modern China. It also considers the relationship between text and image in historical analysis, uncovering the values of images to historians in novel ways. By taking an interdisciplinary approach, the thesis aims to contribute to the fields of gender, visual culture and imperial studies.