Quilts uncover politics of revolutionary China

Fascinating insights into Chinese domestic life at a time of political turmoil can be glimpsed at a University of Edinburgh exhibition.

Rarely seen textiles – never exhibited in Europe before – offer an intimate perspective of ordinary citizens’ experience in the decades following the foundation of the People’s Republic of China.

Memory on Fabric 1950-1980 showcases a prized collection of bed quilts that illustrates how Chinese political culture pervaded even the most private spaces of people’s homes.

Motifs taken from the propaganda posters that dominated the political landscape at the time are a common theme in the designs. Eight paper templates will be displayed alongside a selection of 30 cotton bed covers.

Included are quilts created to celebrate the successful launch of the atomic bomb, industrial progress, bumper harvests and even the establishment of the Revolutionary Committee.

Space Shuttle

Among the other curiosities are depictions of children on a space shuttle, the three most constantly read articles by Chairman Mao and the table tennis bat to mark so-called ping pong diplomacy between China and the US in the early 1970s.

These sit with familiar symbols from ancient Chinese culture such as peacocks and peonies. Nearly all of the backdrops are red, which is traditionally associated with happiness.

The exhibition will be held from 25 to 29 September in Riddle's Court at 332 Lawnmarket in Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Memory on Fabric is a follow-up to the University’s popular 2014 exhibition, Poster Art of Modern China, 1913-1997. It sees the return to Edinburgh of exhibition curator Yang Pei Ming, Director the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre. His collections, Textiles of Revolutionary China – the largest of its kind – provides all of the exhibition’s content.

Major events

The exhibition is one of two major cultural events being hosted by the Confucius Institute for Scotland in the University of Edinburgh this autumn.

Delegates from China, Africa and Europe will attend a conference that seeks to offer fresh perspectives on China’s so-called Belt and Road Initiative and the opportunities it offers.

A distinguished panel of experts from China, Africa and Europe will discuss the $900bn pledge by China to boost trade and stimulate economic growth.

Keynote speakers

Among the Keynote speakers will be Sir Douglas Flint, who was appointed as the UK Government’s Special Envoy to China’s Belt and Road Initiative In December 2017. He serves on the Advisory Council of the Belt and Road Forum for International Co-operation.

The Initiative, unveiled in 2013, is the world’s largest development project. This year marks the third year of the Belt and Road Initiative Conference organised by the Confucius Institute for Scotland in the University of Edinburgh

Topics covered during the two-day event will include governance, economics, environment, data, law and China-Africa relations. It is the first time that a senior speaker from Africa has attended the event.

These remarkable objects, lovingly preserved, offer viewers the chance to appreciate how the traditional beauty of an ancient culture was amalgamated with imagery associated with the complex political history of a modern-day superpower.

Professor Natsascha GentzDirector of the Confucius Institute for Scotland