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Contemporary Textile Craft Practice by Chinese Craftspeople: Establishing Identity, Agency and Social Value

This research aims to study contemporary textile craft practice of Chinese craftspeople working in weaving, dyeing and embroidery, exploring how they have earned a living, built their identity, and constructed cultural, economic, social and even political agency through their craft and art practice.

For individual or community experience, the research will draw on feminist and care theories, revealing how craftswomen, both lead entrepreneurs and employed workers, regain status as active subjects and enhance their competitiveness in the labour market. Secondly, it seeks to evaluate some concepts and theoretical thinking around craft. It will investigate craft’s relationship with art, design and modernity within Chinese and global context. Also, it will examine the meaning of ‘intangible cultural heritage’ in Chinese context, and reflect on the assessment system of inheritors.

Furthermore, in response to the emotional need for handmade, natural products and a simpler lifestyle in contemporary urban context, Chinese dyers are increasingly applying natural dyes in craft practice as well as creating clever market strategies to capitalise on natural dyeing as opposed to synthetic dyeing. This study will demonstrate how this demand affect the lives and practice of them. Last but not least, the research will excavate the unique role crafted textiles play in shaping Chinese identity and representing a positive image of China in the context of globalisation.


More about Shuye

Shuye Zhang is a design historian interested in crafts, sericulture and textile industry, trade history, transnational fashion, women's consumption culture, identity, ethnicity and museology. With a background of Archaeology and Museology at Peking University, her research is strongly material-based. Her MA dissertation aims to study the exporting of Chinese silk to late Victorian Britain, to examine how Chinese silk as a material product was understood and incorporated into British Victorian social and private life. As a PhD student in RCA, she is working on contemporary textile craft practice by Chinese craftspeople.

MA History of Design, Royal College of Art, London, 2019;

BA Archaeology and Museology, Peking University, Beijing, 2017

Visiting lecturer, teaching design psychology in BA Digital Fashion Design program, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, Beijing, 2021;

Internship, Assistant Editor, Chinese social media Project, British Museum, London, 2018–19;

Internship, Collections Placement, Asian Stores Decant Project, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2018–19;

Internship, Cataloguer, Book Cataloguing Project, Asian Department, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2018

Curator, Weiming Ci, Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology, Beijing, 2017;

Curator, Memories of Yan Yuan, Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology, Beijing, 2016;

Exhibition Interpretation Placement, Gods and Heroes: Western Artists and the Classical Tradition, Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology, Beijing, 2016;

Exhibition Research Placement, Exploring Beijing’s City Walls and Moats in History, Capital Museum, Beijing, 2015

Zhang, Shuye (forthcoming), ‘Dare not Speak: Self-care Guilt’, Care(less): A Supplement to On Care, ed. by Gemma Blackshaw & Sharon Kivland (London: MA BIBLIOTHÈQUE, 2021);

Zhang, Shuye, ‘Chinese Whispers: The Story of Silk Export Shawls’, Selvedge Magazine, Issue 91 (2019);

Zhang, Shuye, ‘Review of Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic’, Museum Review 2 (Shanghai: Shanghai Lexicographic Publishing House, 2019);

Zhang, Shuye, ‘An Interview with the Curators of You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’, Beyond Viewing: 13 Exhibitions' Reflection and Dialogue, Beijing: Cultural Relics Press, 2019;

Li, Wei, Embroiderers, ed. by, Beijing: POSTS & TELECOM PRESS Co., LTD, 2019 (personally interviewed 33 craftspeople and wrote the Peking embroidery section)

Preserving, Presenting and Prolonging the Life of Living Heritage: the Multiple Operating Approaches of the Puzhen Bai Tie-Dye Museum in Dali, 5th AHRC Connected Communities Heritage Network Symposium, 12 February 2021;

Chinese Silk in Late Victorian Britain, Cultural Diversity Panel Discussion, RCA Chinese Students and Scholars Association, 8 February 2019;

Chinese Silk in Late Victorian Britain 1870–1901: Textile Trade, Consumption and Cultural Identity, History of Design Symposium 2018, V&A/RCA History of Design, 11 December 2018