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Distinctions And Identity: Chinatown, China, And The Divine Land

December 21, 2015 2 min read

Chinatown, China, or the Divine Land: What do we talk about when we talk about China? (redstone, TonyV3112, and feiyuezhangjie / Shutterstock)

What comes to mind when you think of Chinese culture? A Chinese New Year parade? Confucius? “Kung Fu Panda”? Over the years, by examining my own Chinese-ness or non-Chinese-ness, I’ve come to the conclusion that all these representations of Chinese culture are as valid as they are inadequate.

Here at Yun Boutique we are two Chinese-American women designing jewelry inspired by Chinese culture. Ariel grew up in communist China and came to the states as a political asylee. I grew up in San Francisco, where one-fifth of the city is of Chinese descent.

None of our generation can imagine what China could have looked like had the communists not smashed temples and banished its brightest thinkers to perish in the backwoods.

Yet many of us possess an inherited sense of nostalgia for the irretrievable Old Country, where hutongs have not been knocked down in favor of high-rises, and a mother could raise their children with the help of her parents, without having to scrape around in a Shenzhen factory 11 months out of the year.

We dream of a society where legends about gods helping people can light the imaginations of new generations; where Chinese people’s belief in human-cosmic harmony can be openly acknowledged without derision or irony.

Cut off from its roots, post-Cultural Revolution China can’t accurately reflect Chinese culture, which poses problems for designers taking Chinese culture as their inspiration. Chinese culture itself is incredibly diverse. So is the Chinese diaspora, which in America gave us Amy Tan and Amy Chua. Chinese in Singapore and Peru each have their own local icons and customs.

As jewelry designers, to take the diaspora as inspiration would overwhelm the brain. To reference China’s deliberately warped modern culture would have problematic implications. So we create jewelry that tell the stories from China’s 5,000-year legacy.

Its philosophies and legends have formed and sustained the character of Chinese people. Its spirit endures within each person of Chinese descent no matter their location, era, or socio-political situation. As long as the ideas remain valid, they will never seem trite.

We describe Yun Boutique as “Jewelry from the Divine Land.”

Chinese have historically referred to China as the “Divine Land.” If the name sounds like a mythical place, it's only because it has been taken from us, not because it never existed.

Even though Ariel and I cannot safely visit today’s China because of our persecuted faith, our work has given us a chance to rediscover what in our hearts is the real China—that rich crucible of history, heroes, divine legends, and dazzling artwork.

Designing jewelry inspired by Chinese culture and history requires that we reach back to the source—a task made nearly impossible by scant reliable texts and original artifacts. So while we cannot truly design historical jewelry, we are rediscovering the spirit of China, and recreating it for the future—one small gem at a time.

After all, where is the real China, but in the imaginations of all who respect its spirit?

Produced and edited by Christine Lin.

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