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Enter the Dragon: The Beginnings of English Chinoiserie, 1680–1710

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Chinoiserie, n. (sheen-WAH-zer-ee): 1. A European style in the arts inspired by the decorative traditions of China, Japan, and India. 2. Decorative objects that imitate actual "Chinese" objects. 3. A style term adapted from the French word for Chinese, chinois, first used in the nineteenth century.

English fascination with the Far East exploded in the last quarter of the seventeenth century. The East India Company overtook the Dutch for control of trade in the Pacific, and merchants in London began importing vast quantities of delicate blue-and-white porcelains, brightly dyed silks, and rich lacquerware from China, Japan, and India. Consumers were entranced not only by the beauty of these goods but also by their peculiarity. In the words of one merchant, "the more strange and novel the better."

Eager to participate in this lucrative market, English artisans began to imitate Asian imports. The result was a distinctive style known today as Chinoiserie. Potters, furniture-makers, embroiderers, enamellers, and silversmiths decorated their wares with exotic new imagery—extraordinary animals, pagoda-roofed houses, and curiously-dressed people. Other Europeans created their own Chinoiserie styles at this time, but the English devised especially playful ways to capture the essence of "The Orient." Enter the Dragon presents the fresh spirit of experimentation that defined the style’s first moments and influenced western perceptions of the Far East for hundreds of years.