"The Politics of Display: Transnational Convergence in the Chinese Nationality Room," by Karen Lue

 

"The Politics of Display: Transnational Convergence in the Chinese Nationality Room," by Karen Lue

The Chinese Nationality Room (CNR) in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning was one of the first nationality rooms to be built, dedicated in October 1939. These rooms were meant to represent minority groups in Pittsburgh, celebrating their cultures through the creation of a classroom that would embody aspects of each heritage through furniture and décor. However, the CNR presents a special case, as its planning and erection—organized by a committee of Chinese students, alumni, and community members—occurred in the midst of the Chinese Exclusion Acts and racial discrimination in the U.S., and rising nationalist sentiment and political turbulence in China, providing a complex, transnational context for its creation.

This exhibition will demonstrate that the CNR stands as a memorial to not only Chinese cultural achievement, but also to Chinese-U.S. relations in the 1920s and 30s. Using materials from the CNR Archives, photographs, and other visual and textual sources contemporary to the Room’s creation, this exhibition will construct a narrative revealing the Room’s cross-cultural history of Chinese exclusion in the U.S., political turbulence in China, and their impacts on the Chinese population—particularly Chinese students—in the U.S. These students constituted an important subdivision of the Chinese immigrant population, representing the Chinese government’s efforts to modernize and acting as facilitators between American and Chinese culture. Seen within its historical context, the CNR can be viewed as an intervention to combat racial discrimination by endorsing China’s cultural and political significance, as well as an illustration of acculturation and cross-cultural acceptance. The exposition of the Room cannot be dissociated from the discrimination faced by the Chinese population and its efforts to mediate between two cultures. The Chinese Nationality Room is a testament beyond a celebration of Chinese culture, signifying a transnational history of the Chinese in America.

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