Date of Thesis

Spring 2019

Thesis Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts

Major

Anthropology

Minor, Emphasis, or Concentration

Philosophy

First Advisor

Allen Tran

Second Advisor

Stuart Young

Keywords

anthropology; art exhibition; China; middle class

Abstract

Kanzhan, translated at “going to exhibitions,” has emerged as one of the most popular leisure activities in urban China. Contemporary art exhibitions cover a wide range of subjects, including world-renown artists, jewelry and fashion brands, and pop-up museums. More and more visitors are taking art exhibitions experience as a way to exhibit their personal taste, which reflect the rise of middle-class values such as individuality and self-development in China. This paper is an anthropological exploration of the relationship between visitors and art exhibits and what those art exhibitions tell about the new middle class in China.

My research is based on original field research in the summer of 2018 and winter of 2019. I conducted participant observation and semi-structured interviews in art exhibitions in the city of Beijing and Shanghai. Drawing on anthropological theories of cosmopolitanism, body and emotion, and photography and self-presentation, I argue that going to art exhibitions is a critical means of performing and reinforcing one’s middle-class identity and aspirations in contemporary China. As such, the thesis contributes to the anthropological understanding of the role of aesthetics and taste in the production of class.

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