Reflections on Qing Dynasty Women

As I have written about in earlier postings, my imagination is moved by images of old China.  Maybe it is because for me as an outsider there are so many things that I appreciate about the culture that are beautiful, and yet I do not understand them completely either.  There is a degree of mystery in these images for me.  And yet, there is something about these images from a 6000-year old culture that speak to the present moment as well. It seems to me as if Chinese culture always has one foot in the contemporary world which at the same time having the other foot firmly planted in the past.  People in China know from whom they come from.  Not like we Americans who are lucky if we can trace our ancestry back more than four generations.  In America, there is so much emphasis placed on “the new”, that it is as if we cast away our own history like lasy year’s fashions.  But for me, the fashions of China, particulary during the Qing Dynasty, are especially intriguing.


I have a reproduction of the picture above near my easel.  I often look into the faces of the women represented here.  Like my own paintings of late, they gaze ahead, nearly without any expressed emotion, their thoughts locked away behind their eyes.  What did they think about while their images were being rendered?  What did they struggle with in their lives?  Were they happy?  Did they have unrealized dreams and carry around many sorrows which they could not express?  Did they ever even think about things like this, or were they content to just focus on their existance for that day?  Where did they come from, and what happened to them.  To me, they are faces without stories – beautiful faces and beautiful clothes which may have covered hearts which did not feel so beautiful if they only could have been expressed.

Where would they have wanted to go had they not had bound feet?

This picture makes me think of these things every time I turn on the light in my studio.