The lens of performativity offers a framework for illuminating the possible ideological textures of seemingly apolitical and neutral porcelain displays. The versatility of Ming and Qing porcelain, in particular, enables an intensive analysis of museum performativity in terms of how the boundaries between Self and Other—as a matter of ideology not of essence—can be erected, dismantled, blurred, consolidated, or redrawn depending on the changing discursive framings of the china displayed. The widespread transfer, reception, and appropriation of Ming-Qing porcelain make it a material interface for cultural contact, playing a significant role not only in Chinese material culture, but also in the cultures involved in its distribution, exchange, and consumption. In the museum world, the versatility of Ming-Qing porcelain is manifested in how it is readily collected and displayed in ways that cross boundaries of provenance and express multiple cultural identities other than ‘Chinese’.

The purpose of this project is to contribute to the interdisciplinary discourse. Its object-based perspective (asking what different display techniques do to the same kind of object) aims to enrich existing discussions around the dynamic construction of cultural identities in museum practice. In the field of art history, this project’s focus on the discursiveness of china display is pertinent to the growing research interest in the production and dissemination of Chinese/Asian art historical knowledge in museums.

Specifically, this project draws on three case studies to demonstrate an extensive set of connections between the cultural connotations in porcelain displays and the institutional and socio-political contexts of different museums, including the British Museum in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the National Palace Museum in Taipei. This group of case studies are of particular interest because they offer different frameworks to consider how china display might serve the identity-construction of different cultural groups who are not porcelain producers but have become involved in its widespread circulation and consumption. These case studies are also carefully chosen to provide a multilayered perspective across time and space, aiming to unravel the institutional reception and appropriation of Ming-Qing porcelain across cultures in terms of the museums’ image-building, policy-making, collection and presentation histories, and socio-political environments.