Beyond Curios: The Formation of the Bishop White Collection and the Making of Chinese Studies in Canada
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Kara Kaifang Ma
University of Toronto, Canada
Abstract: Between 1925 and 1934, Bishop William Charles White (1873-1960) acquired more than 8,000 Chinese antiquities for the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). The backdrop of White’s intensive collecting coincided with the Canadian Government’s Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923, creating a jarring juxtaposition whereby Canada was taking in Chinese objects but not its people. Drawing on the study of artifacts and textual documents, this paper situates White within the woven tapestry network of collecting, studying, and displaying Chinese objects and examines the crucial role White played in defining Chinese art and culture for Canadians. With a specific focus on the complex yet diverse circle of friends, dealers, and acquaintances that are part of White’s collecting network, how did White’s Bishop status allow him to navigate within the social, political, and cultural strata in China to amass a significant number of antiquities for Canada? How did White negotiate between the different roles of a Bishop, an archaeologist, and a specialist on China, to conceal and complicate any imperialist and colonialist connotations? Many of the objects collected by White continue to be exhibited, researched, and re-interpreted today. This paper aims to shed light on how the objects collected by White take on new values and meanings as they are interpreted and displayed in museums, and how his definition of Chinese art and archaeology may still be visible in Chinese art curation today.