John E. Vollmer will present on Devising Imperial Wardrobe: An Exercise in Qing Dynasty Statecraft.

What the emperor of China wore had always been of paramount importance. Among China’s most ancient written sources are directives for an emperor’s conduct of the rites and rituals required by the mandate of Heaven from which a dynasty’s authority and the security of the empire sprung. These sources distinguish ritual attire from other types of dress and identify the symbols that should be displayed while conducting rites. 

Manchu tribal peoples, living north of the Great Wall, established the Qing dynasty, the last of China’s imperial governments during the early decades of the seventeenth century. This action signaled Manchu intention to assume to mandate of Heaven, by which China had been ruled since the mid-second millennium BCE. As a result and in the absence of a tradition of dressing like emperors, developing the wardrobe to sustain such imperial ambitions became an urgent priority. Decisions about Qing court garments were affected by the demands of ethnic distinction from the majority Han population, as well as from the lingering imperial ambitions of neighboring Mongol tribesmen. This talk discusses how Qing court attire met the requirements for a complex and sophisticated wardrobe distinguished gender, kinship and rank, as well as fitting seamlessly into the culture of imperial China.

John E. Vollmer is an independent scholar recognized in the fields of Asian art, textiles and dress. His exhibitions have ranged from Chinese textiles to Baseball and from the fashion designs of Mariano Fortuny to Inuit footwear. Educated at Columbia, Harvard and the University of Toronto, Vollmer has held curatorial appointments at museums and taught at universities in Canada, the United States, Taiwan and Singapore. His company, Vollmer Cultural Consultants, Inc., has developed exhibitions, publications, and public programs for a wide range of international clients. Among his recent projects is the publication of Re-envisioning Japan: Meiji Fine Art Textiles a collaboration of seven scholars from Japan, Great Britain and the United States that development of luxury textiles, termed bijutsu senshoku (fine art textiles) primarily for Western export markets.