bike - forever
8 July 2021

Made in China- Beyond the Label


This research project is based on how the concept Made in China has been deployed, from an English-speaking context. By examining how the term is used in a number of different categories, a pattern of colonial and imperialist discourses is seen where Orientalism is often present. From a 'Western' perspective, a picture is painted of China as both victim and perpetrator: we want to get both close to China, but also keep it (the idea, the place) at a distance. How then to curate in such a vexed representational terrain?

This research project's main focus has been on how the term Made in China stands in relation to one of its counterparts Made in Italy. The research has also focused on the Western view of Chinese traditional art compared to contemporary art. In thinking through Made in China, this research project has examined how other museums based in Europe and North America have proceeded when they have created exhibitions with the theme of 'China. This research project draws attention to indoctrinated discourses that dominate the 'Western' cultural sphere. It endeavours to show how  museums can reshape such a discourse, with the help of both material and non-material culture, so as to offer more responsible representational practices.

Image: WM-67452, text from our collection website: "Yongjiu 永久 (forever) is one of the largest bicycle producers in the world, which originated in Shanghai. In the 1970s, the bike was an iconic view on the streets, and its relatively high price (approx. 150 Yuan, which equalled several months’ salary) made it a symbol of status. It became a popular wedding dowry object in the 1960s and 70s, alongside radios, sewing machines and watches." Hannah Li, April 2019

Bio | Emilia Elfgren

Originally from Stockholm, Sweden, Emilia Elfgren is currently completing the first year of a Heritage and Memory Master’s degree at the University of Amsterdam. In 2020, before moving to Amsterdam, she graduated from Stockholm University with a BA in Museum and Cultural Heritage studies. During the BA, she mainly focused on Ethnology, which has led to an interest in critical heritage studies. In 2019, she conducted an internship at the National Gallery in Stockholm where she worked with conservation and preservation of artifacts, i.e. material culture.