China fashion, delineated here in a restricted sense as a mass phenomenon rather than an intellectual discourse, was fundamentally object-oriented. In the 17th century, the most prevalent objects were predominantly of Chinese origin. These were, in particular, porcelain , silk, lacquerware and tea, which were initially imported by Portuguese shipping companies and, from 1600/1602, mainly by Dutch and English shipping companies. Trade was systematically orchestrated through exclusive merchant coalitions, commonly known as "the companies". The most renowned, enduring, and voluminous in terms of importation were the East India Company and the United East India Company.1 Recent historiographical insights have begun to reconsider and critically evaluate the pre-colonial violence and entanglements of these entities. Indeed, beyond trading privileges, these companies were endowed with sovereign rights and military capacities, granting them substantial autonomy and expansive spheres of influence in foreign territories, often outside the purview of European monarchies. Consequently, the trade in Chinese goods cannot be contemplated without acknowledging the associated social and humanitarian tolls.2
A schematic flow of the transfer of goods took place like this: European merchants equipped a ship with goods, crew, military, means of payment and purchase orders. Typically departing in a convoy from a European port, the ship would navigate via theand , utilizing the Gulf Stream to reach the east coast of . There, the first part of the cargo was traded. It would then traverse the southern Atlantic Ocean and make a stopover in . Here, they engaged in trade activities, conducted necessary ship repairs, and replenished supplies for the long sea voyage across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Often individual crew members remained in Cape Town or new members were taken on board. The subsequent route could vary, encompassing a passage either via to Ceylon/ and through the Bay of Bengal, or towards , which had been established as a Dutch stronghold. Only a small number of European ships ventured as far as the Pearl River Delta, docking at destinations such as and . This practice was more prevalent during a brief span at the onset of the 18th century. However, European companies predominantly utilized the bustling "trading hubs" situated throughout the expansive South China Sea to procure Chinese goods. The organization of goods within the ship was a practical and economical endeavor: the robust and moisture-resistant porcelain was typically stored in the hull, serving to stabilize the ship; meanwhile, the lighter, moisture-sensitive tea was accommodated in the ship's mid-level, alongside other fragile items such as silk and delicate merchandise including lacquerware, scroll paintings, and wallpaper.
On the return journey, ships navigated through the Pacific, making their way back via Cape Town. From there, they sailed northward along the African coast, passing through Cape Verde and the Canary Islands before reaching European ports. Upon arrival, the cargo was offloaded and purchase orders were fulfilled. Most of the cargo was cataloged, exhibited, and sold through auctions. Both intermediaries and ultimate consumers participated in these auctions, with the courts often employing agents to make purchases on their behalf. Inland regions received their supply from these intermediaries, ensuring that, despite some delays and a more limited selection, Chinese goods became accessible even beyond the primary trading hubs and directly-purchasing courts. This distribution mechanism significantly amplified the reach and visibility of China fashion across . The patterns of social and territorial distribution also become clear: immediate access to imported goods was primarily available to the urban middle classes situated in port cities and trading hubs, as well as to individuals who had financial or logistical investments in these ventures. Consequently, in the early modern period, China fashion tended to develop from , , and the Dutch cities to the interior and from the bourgeoisie to the nobility.
We can therefore assume that the limited selection, elevated prices, and infrequent delivery of original goods in areas distant from commercial hubs hastened the development of regional substitutes, catering to a receptive market eager for more accessible and affordable alternatives. As early as the 17th century, alongside the coveted imported originals, imitations and substitutes of Chinese commodities began to carve out their place: faience emerged as a counterpart to porcelain, while strawberry leaves became a local alternative to tea. Since it is quickly apparent even to untrained eyes that faience and earthenware are not porcelain, Chinese motifs were applied to the European objects; thus "chinoise" hybrids were created. In instances where a Chinese tea set was acquired but the tea supply ran out, individuals often resorted to using tannin-rich local plants as substitutes, like strawberry or raspberry leaves. These innovative blends thus gave rise to fashionable hybrids, merging Chinese and European elements. By the latter part of the 17th century, and more notably in the 18th century, the technological reinvention of porcelain and lacquer, coupled with the systematic cultivation of silkworms, saw European products of comparable quality joining the imports. Consequently, a distinctive decorative style began to flourish, gradually overshadowing the Chinese origins of the initial inspirations. Hence, China fashion evolved to become more nuanced and selective, no longer requiring a harmonious amalgamation of material, motif, and origin to be appreciated. Accordingly, the growing array of hybrids relegated the distinctive characteristics of Chinese objects to the background.
Porcelain was already known and utilized in Europe prior to the surge of China fashion in the early modern era. Prior to the maritime ventures of the trading companies, it had been imported in much smaller quantities via the Silk Road, owing to the limitations of overland transportation. Furthermore, European pottery was prevalent. There was an established infrastructure for the production and trade of vessel ceramics, including tableware and storage containers, as well as for building ceramics such as tiles and tiling. Cultural habits around their usage were also well-established. From around 1600, when porcelain began to be imported into Europe in significantly larger quantities, it was introduced to a society that was adequately familiarized. This society could identify sufficient similarities to generate demand, while also discerning enough distinctions from traditional products to attribute a unique cultural quality to the imported goods. This cultural quality encompassed both the material and technical aspects, as well as the artisanal aspects. Chinese porcelain stood out with its higher translucency, the ability to be crafted into thinner forms, and more durable colors. Additionally, it showcased greater diversity in forms and more intricately executed motifs. Moreover, Chinese porcelains introduced entirely novel motifs and shapes, which rendered them highly sought-after as fashionable and status-defining items. Furthermore, table porcelain, in particular, operated in tandem with another widely imported Chinese commodity: tea. The tea necessitated corresponding vessels, and these vessels harmonized with their contents, giving rise to a cohesive ensemble of objects. A third significant product category comprised figurative porcelains, distinguished by their purely decorative character. They introduced fresh forms and cultural symbols to Europe, including representations of the “Eight Immortals” and the Guanyin .3
Chinese porcelains in early modern Europe were long regarded as rarities, although it is essential to make distinctions. Some object categories, like tea bowls, possessed basic designs that were not inherently rare. For tiles, too, we can assume a high prevalence in many social groups, because they were also brought back home, for example, by ordinary crew members as part of their baggage allowance. Consequently, it is possible to describe a fashion trend encompassing these and similar object categories - one that might have permeated broad segments of society, coexisting with other fashionable utilitarian items of the time.
But there were also precious rarities. They encompassed items produced in limited quantities or characterized by a high cost, which factored in not only the expense of materials but also the intricate craftsmanship involved. Complex shapes, intricate decorations, and logistical challenges, such as those posed by large and lidded vases, all contributed to their exclusivity. Indeed, these precious rarities transitioned into collectible objects that infused a sense of purpose into art and curiosity cabinets. Subsequently, they found a prominent place in porcelain cabinets and dedicated collection buildings. Most notably, they catered to the aspirations of emerging dynasties and the official aristocracy, offering both contemporary relevance and a forward-looking perspective. The versatility of porcelain enabled them to set themselves apart from conventional sources of power and authority. Prominent instances can be found in the Saxon court during the reign of August "the Strong" of Saxony (1670–1733), where porcelain served a multifaceted sociopolitical role. It functioned as a spectacle, a collection of objects, a technological marvel, a gift, and even currency.4 Additionally, avant-garde architectural marvels like the Trianon de porcelaine in Versailles sparked a plethora of adaptations, especially among the European nobility.
Another category of exceptionally valuable porcelains comprises bespoke, individually crafted pieces, often bearing distinctive marks and commissioned for specific purposes (e.g., custom multi-part services). In such cases, orders were placed in Europe, often accompanied by design sketches or the intended text for application. The orders were then sent tofor production and, once completed, shipped to the customers. Commissioned porcelain was often associated with special occasions, such as weddings, where family coats of arms were painted onto the porcelain to mark the event. These custom-made items also served as unique additions to personal collections. Given the time needed for transportation and production, such order obviously required considerable lead time, typically ranging from one to two years. They were also costly, reflecting the expenses incurred for materials, craftsmanship, and delivery. These bespoke porcelain pieces were truly one-of-a-kind, and when displayed to the appropriate audience, they not only set their owners apart but also sparked trends in decorative design.
A significant part of the allure and preciousness of even the mass-imported porcelain resided in the enigmatic nature of its production process. Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682–1719) and Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (1651–1708) jointly pioneered the large-scale production of hard porcelain in 1708, with Böttger continuing the work in 1709 to develop the glazing process on his own. This laid the foundation for European porcelain, which had an impact on the evolving China fashion trends: Now, it was possible to customize the foreign material to align with individual preferences, including designing it with unique forms and decorations. Porcelain ceased to be exclusively a Chinese symbol. Concurrently, as European porcelain gained popularity and success, the debate regarding the equivalence or even superiority of Chinese culture, which had been a subject of discussion in early eighteenth-century philosophy, gradually subsided, albeit with some exceptions. This transformation was also evident in porcelain designs. In addition to emulating Chinese motifs, European patterns emerged, encompassing depictions of flowers, landscapes, figures, and even imaginative, exotic representations of China and its people. There was a transformation in the relationship dynamics: Prior to the porcelain reinvention, Chinese were integral participants in the production, value generation, and logistical aspects of the industry, sharing equal footing with their European counterparts. At this time, they began to be depicted and conceptualized as decorative elements and subjects of fantasy motifs. This shift in fashion altered cultural power dynamics. Once again, a well-known example can be seen in the collection concept at the Japanese Palace in Dresden. While it appeared to juxtapose European and Chinese porcelains, it subtly conveyed the superiority of the reinvention.5
Tea, a fashionable beverage with origins in China, became known in Europe from the mid-17th century onwards. Initially monopolized by the Dutch East India Company, the European tea culture gradually spread from the urban centers of the 6 However, it is important to note that the penetration and dissemination of tea culture varied across different social strata. Indeed, there were premium teas that catered to a select clientele, including renowned delicacies like green tea with jasmine blossoms. Additionally, high-quality luxury teas were transported to Europe overland as caravan teas. Due to shorter travel times compared to sea voyages, these teas often retained a fresher flavor profile. Moreover, there existed a trade in lower-grade teas that were commonly consumed in average households. In London, there was even a niche market for second-hand tea stores, where tea leaves dried after the initial infusion were sold for the second and subsequent steepings.7 The tea imports facilitated by the trading companies played a pivotal role in making tea more accessible and widespread throughout Europe.to the neighboring regions and, subsequently, to . The majority of tea in that era was green; black tea had not yet gained the popularity it enjoys today. In certain towns, records indicate that the range of tea varieties available at grocers was nearly as extensive as modern-day tea shops, listing up to 100 different varieties.
Indeed, the tea culture of the time encompassed not only the act of tea consumption but also the aesthetics and design surrounding the tea drinking experience. The Asian tea culture itself was not adopted, however. Like porcelain, tea served as a commodity a complementary role. The reference to China was, therefore, a multi-sensory experience, evident in the visual, gustatory, and tactile aspects of tea consumption. It is noteworthy that tea ceremonies in Europe were not conducted as direct replicas of Chinese rituals but were instead adapted into regional variations, such as the English tea time and the Frisian Tea ceremony.8 Today, both tea cultures are more accustomed to Indian tea varieties. Since the 17th and 18th centuries saw predominantly Chinese imports, we have to recognize historical forms of tea time and tea ceremony that revolved around green teas rather than black teas as is more common today.
The availability of tea was not consistently reliable during this period. Factors such as poor harvests, supply disruptions, and price fluctuations could lead to variations in its accessibility. Accordingly, substitutes for Chinese tea were often sought to uphold the tradition of tea ceremonies and prevent porcelain from going unused: Strawberry and raspberry leaves contain tannins, imparting a bitterness reminiscent of tea. Thus, the practice of drinking scalded plant extracts as "tea" followed Chinese tea and did not precede it.
The consumption of hot plant extracts as "tea" intersects with the medicinal use of plants. Tea, like other substances, was also considered in early modern medical and dietary literature for its potential health-promoting or damaging effects. Controversies regarding tea consumption, in fact, emerged during this period. Cornelius Bontekoe (Cornelius Dekker, 1648−1685) claimed that drinking up to fifty cups of tea daily was beneficial for health,9 while Johann Christian Reil (1759−1813) argued to the contrary, emphasizing the dehydrating effect of tea, especially on women. Reil even suggested that tea should only be recommended as an emetic for intoxicated youth.10 It is notable that many of the writings involved in the "querelle de thé" (tea controversy) can be linked to authors who had financial interests or affiliations with tea importers or with well-established lobbying groups, particularly the brewing industry. As a result, their analyses and assessments were not independent and unbiased.11
Chinese teas have indeed enriched the European drinking culture over the long term. Beyond the influence of Chinese tea, European consumption gradually developed its own practices. While it initially drew inspiration from Chinese customs with Chinese plants and porcelain, it progressively evolved by incorporating native plants and those from regions like India or Sri Lanka (Ceylon), along with indigenous porcelain. An integral aspect of the fashion, particularly during the 18th century, included accompanying innovations such as "tea gardens," inspired by London's Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens . In these tea gardens, stalls, often featuring Chinese-influenced architectural elements, served tea and light dishes to patrons.
In the latter half of the 17th century through the mid-nineteenth century, lacquerware and gold lacquer paintings were the third most important exports from China,12 following tea and porcelain. They were introduced to Europe in various forms, including screens, caskets, trays, chests (which could be outfitted with a European base to convert them into cabinets), and other pieces of furniture.13 In many instances, simple objects like boxes or cabinets were adorned with lacquer in intricate ways, employing diverse application techniques that often involved multiple layers. This extensive layering process led to prolonged production times due to the required drying periods. Techniques such as painting and cutting were also employed .14 Initially, these lacquer items found their place in cabinets of curiosities, but over time, entire concept rooms were furnished with lacquer panels to create cabinet rooms. The initial knowledge about lacquer was spread through writings by Jesuit missionaries. In 1655, Jesuit Martino Martini (1614–1661) described the lacquer tree in his work "Novus Atlas Sinensis".15
The demand for lacquerware produced in Europe arose from two main factors. Firstly, it was driven by the high demand once European clientele had been introduced to Asian lacquerware. Secondly, it was influenced by the unique property of lacquer to dry rapidly under specific conditions. Some goods arrived damaged in Europe after the long journey. This prompted efforts to explore new paint formulations that could address the challenges posed by the extended delivery times, compromised quality, supply shortages, and reliance on an overseas market that was beyond European control.
Lacquer shares with porcelain and silk the distinctive characteristic of having a lustrous shine. In the case of objects crafted using a cutting technique, it becomes possible to manipulate the various layers of varnish and employ different colors, resulting in captivating light effects. Furthermore, lacquer is exceptionally versatile, being both firm and protective while also maintaining flexibility. It can absorb and retain body heat, withstand high temperatures, be shaped and sculpted, and applied evenly to nearly any surface. Lacquer does not deteriorate (although it can become brittle and dry out over time) and is easy to clean. Consequently, much like porcelain paintings, many pre-modern lacquerware objects still exhibit vibrant and vivid colors. The raw materials for lacquer are relatively inexpensive, as is frequently the case with the base material used. As a result, the value of lacquerware primarily derived from its initial scarcity and subsequently from the artistry and craftsmanship involved in its processing.
The initial attempts to produce varnishes in Europe began as early as around 1610. In the last quarter of the 17th century, the brothers Gérard (1657−1715) and Jacques Dagly (1669−1728) achieved success in making lacquer accessible to a broader clientele through their work in (now in Belgium) and later in . There was now no longer a need to invest in imported cabinets or furniture. Small beechwood boxes, suitable for items like sewing kits, tobacco, or powder, could be lacquered. These lacquered boxes were easily packed in the luggage of spa guests and were affordable, despite being individually crafted. As a result, lacquerware quickly gained widespread popularity. Gérard Dagly also pioneered the development of white lacquer, expanding the Chinese color palette to include black, red, gold, and white. During the early phases of porcelain experiments in Dresden, there were attempts to substitute the traditional glaze with varnish. On a white background, much like porcelain, it was possible to paint using a wide array of colors. This led to a progression from imitation to the development of original motifs, encompassing Chinese replicas to entirely new Chinese-inspired creations. However, imitations continued to enjoy success. In the 1730s and 1740s, the Martin brothers of including Guillaume (died 1749), Etienne-Simon (died 1770), Julian (died 1783), and Robert (1706−1766), held a monopoly right for producing their black Vernis Martin16 and imitating Asian lacquerwork.
Around 1760, the period of coexistence of Chinese, chinoiserie, and European motifs came to a close, with European motifs subsequently taking precedence in decoration. After the Seven Years' War (1756−1763), there was a surge in the production of everyday items with lacquer finishes. For instance, during this period, the Stobwasser manufactory inbegan crafting items like lacquered papier-mâché lamps. Despite the significant success of these affordable, smaller lacquered products, it is worth noting that numerous lacquer workshops and manufactories were closely associated with royal courts, crafting exclusive luxury items for their use.
In the end, it was not only the purchase of lacquerware that was popular, but also the lacquering itself . "The Newly Discovered Lacquer Art," ("Neuentdeckte Lacquir-Kunst") a compilation of recipes published in in 1708 and in in 1724, claimed that one could quickly master the art of lacquering.17 Additionally, a recipe book belonging to Franziska Sibylla Augusta of Baden-Baden (1675−1733) contained a chapter on "The Detailed and Sincere Lacquer and Glazing Art" ("Die ausführliche und aufrichtige Lack und Lasier Kunst"). Wilhelmine of Brandenburg-Prussia (1709−1758) is also said to have done lacquer work in Bayreuth, as did Marie Antoinette (1755−1793). They, and others, were able to draw on pattern collections like John Stalker's and George Parker's instructional booklet titled A Treatise of Japanning and Varnishing (1688) , which featured East Asian motifs for various vessel forms.
Silk production was one of the earliest instances of technology transfer from China.18 Initially, it took place in the 14th and 15th centuries in and , and later extended to certain regions in . Chinese silk had been familiar in Europe since ancient times and was imported19 through the Silk Road. However, it only became a fashionable choice when there was a sufficient supply to meet demand, and a noticeable number of consumers began wearing silk in public. Silk played a more significant role in social conventions compared to tea and porcelain. Not only the supply, but also dress codes allowed only limited development of silk as a mass commodity.
The assumption that fabric holds the greatest "fashion potential" is not strongly supported. Silk was imported into Europe in both raw silk form and as finished silk products. In this regard, this product group does not fall directly under the category of "China fashion" but rather as a raw material import. Silk was also introduced as a refined fabric. In this case, Chinese traces remained. The refined silk, often dyed or intricately painted, was used, for instance, as a wall covering, not only gracing "Chinese cabinets" set up as collection spaces for other Chinese artifacts but also adorning rooms with different functions, whether they served a representative or private purpose, and without reference to Chinese aesthetics. This refined silk was employed in the creation of clothing, some of which featured Chinese influences, either in terms of cut or decorative elements, while others adhered to European styles and aesthetics. Thirdly, garments originating in 20 The direct connection to China is not always evident in these instances. Oriental influences are discernible, and silk, having been "orientally refined," has been reaching Europe via the Silk Road since antiquity.entered the European market through trade with the East Indies. On multiple occasions, silk robes are found in shopping lists and portraits.
The practice of dressing in silk with a "Chinese" influence did not become a widespread everyday fashion. Instead, it was more commonly associated with fashionable concepts for festivals or stage plays. Masquerade balls with a Chinese theme were held at courts, and portraits, such as the one of Margravine Franziska Sibylla Augusta von Baden, attest to individuals dressing up as Chinese women using authentic materials.21
Silk garments featuring a distinct Chinese influence were typically worn either conditionally in public as part of special occasions like masquerades or to signify privacy. Both instances could be contextualized within the framework of state interests, civic networks, or the exhibition of financial and cultural capital. The same principle applies to furnishing rooms with silk wall coverings: In this context as well, it is primarily the cabinets that underwent a "Chinese" transformation as they transitioned from public court or urban social spaces to private rooms. As these rooms did not require essential ceremonial furnishings and could be designed according to personal interests and tastes, they became ideal spaces for making fashion statements.
Furthermore, silk sets itself apart from tea and porcelain by virtue of its production in Europe since the 15th century. This also had implications for landscaping, as the primary food source for the silkworms, which were primarily used for silk production, was the leaves of the mulberry tree. Around the centers of European silk production (such as , , , ), mulberry plantations were therefore established, and official incentive systems were introduced to encourage tree planting even in regions away from the plantations.22 Thus, while we may not be directly addressing a phenomenon of China fashion, we are dealing with an indirect consequence of the demand for Chinese goods or their European substitutes.
Other goods and fashions
Chinese paper wallpaper was the model for wallpaper production worldwide. Because it could be printed in various ways, Chinese wallpaper is associated with China in two distinct aspects within the context of China fashion: both as a medium and in the motifs it features.23 In Europe, especially during the eighteenth century, a wide array of Chinese wallpaper variations can be found. These include figural panoramas structured similarly to scroll paintings, depicting scenes such as hunting, agriculture, handicrafts, industry, or social events (e.g. at MAK Vienna). Additionally, there were collages composed of different wallpapers combined together, cut-out sheets, whether locally produced or exported, that allowed figures and flowers to be affixed to other surfaces like silk or formed a collage (e.g. at ). There were also floral panoramas, sometimes complemented with birds or insects, where no specific narrative was followed, but they could create an illusory garden space or connect with ornamental decorations. At the end of the eighteenth century, in Canton ( ), European commissioned wallpapers were produced. These wallpapers were based on Watteau's models or on English print room wallpapers. They created the illusion of a view and no longer displayed Chinese or chinoiserie influences.
Chinese and Anglo-Chinese gardens are well known from the European garden fashion of the 18th century. Both design styles are united by the use of small-scale architecture such as teahouses, pagodas, or Chinese-inspired ships as “floating houses.” The inspiration for this garden fashion came from the drawings of the garden of the Chinese summer palace in made by the Jesuit Matteo Ripa (1682−1746), which circulated as copperplate engravings in Europe from 1724.
Initially, Chinese elements found their way into formal Baroque gardens, for example, by adding an exotic touch to a clearly defined and often peripheral area. With the dissolution of the formal structure of the English landscape garden, the exotic elements also lost their previously assigned place and were incorporated into the terrain design. The Anglo-Chinese garden, on the other hand, was a hybrid form that incorporated geometric formal elements from European Baroque and Chinese garden design, as well as organic elements from the landscape. There were both complexes with an Anglo-Chinese overall design and older Baroque gardens that were adapted to suit contemporary tastes. At that time, the bosket - often the end of the garden - was ideal for transforming and visually extending the garden into the landscape.
The focus in Chinese and Anglo-Chinese garden fashion was on the small-scale architecture and structure of the plant. On the other hand, the integration of Chinese plants into these concepts played a relatively minor role. They were more likely to be found in botanical gardens, collections that were not driven by fashion. Nevertheless, there were also fashionable plants of Chinese origin that were in high demand outside of large-scale court projects. These include citrus plants; the lemon tree, in particular, was a popular wedding gift due to the symbolism of simultaneous flowering and fruiting. Orangeries were established for the bourgeoisie to cultivate such plants, while Camellias were popular and traded in Europe from the mid-18th century.24
Snuff boxes and bottles
Snuff boxes and bottles can be considered culturally hybrid fashion objects. Tobacco likely arrived at the Chinese court through the influence of the Jesuits, leading to the development of precious small storage vessels. These vessels were later adapted into export goods and sent to Europe. Snuff boxes and bottles were made of various materials - glass, enamel, porcelain, horn, jade, precious metals - and featured countless decorations. This made them ideal as fashionable objects, gifts, and collectibles that served both individualization and social demarcation.25
On all objects of China fashion, including snuff boxes and bottles, the decorative motifs often contain hidden messages and symbolic meanings. If we can assume that these objects were carefully selected or commissioned, rather than simply purchased based on availability, they can provide insights into the mood or personality of the wearer, the giver, or the recipient. Conclusions may be drawn from the choices made within a collection: whether they reflect a sense of humor, a romantic or dreamy nature, a coarse aesthetic, a sense of simple and timeless elegance, regional influences, or cosmopolitan tastes. These objects could also serve as vessels for magical beliefs and function as talismans. Often this is indicated by the presence of mythological or religious motifs.
The encounter of European cultures with other cultures during the so-called European expansion has most recently been studied in the context of cultural transfer. This raises the question of which exchange processes were initiated and what changes they brought about in the respective cultures. A key characteristic of cultural transfers is reciprocity, where both cultures undergo change. The specific scope of the term depends largely on how "culture" and "transfer" are defined. In my view, the dimension of meaning is intrinsic to the concept of culture. Hence, a mere exchange of goods is not sufficient to characterize it as a cultural transfer; the meaning associated with the goods must also be conveyed and translated. Moreover, it should go beyond anthropological constants. For example, the transfer of a porcelain cup that can be used for drinking or storage is not a cultural transfer, but a porcelain cup transfer. The interpretation and use of the cup as a vessel for drinking is also not a cultural transfer, but an anthropological constant. The reinvention of porcelain is not a cultural transfer because the technology was not transferred, it was remade. In the realm of China fashion, there were primarily exchanges of goods, coupled with impulses for technical innovation that eventually culminated in unique and proprietary solutions.
Admittedly, there are indications that objects and meanings have been appropriated. There are relatively few cases that demonstrate this, however, as the object itself is not enough; we require a conceptual framework or an accompanying tradition that attests to the engagement with the foreign meaning. For example, the self-portrait of Wilhelmine of Brandenburg-Prussia as a "Chinese sage" in the Cabinet of Fragmented Mirrors of the New Palace incould be interpreted as both fashion and cultural transfer. She drew inspiration from the fashion of her era, incorporating both clothing and interior design elements, as well as adopting the persona of the exotic sage. This portrayal was prevalent not only in porcelain painting but also in the philosophical writings of the period, presenting itself as a role to be embraced. In addition to European allegorical figures such as Sapientia and ancient characters like Athena, she skillfully blends elements of China, exoticism and textual references to create a unique symbol.
Other phenomena can only be vaguely grasped with theoretical concepts. While the costuming of the Margraves of Baden in Baroque attire with various ethnic influences might be viewed today as an improper form of cultural appropriation, there is currently no evidence to suggest that this appropriation of cultural elements exploits or harms the "donor culture." It is interesting to observe that in the eighteenth century, the exclusivity of China fashion and luxury goods was challenged by European products, and Chinese culture was perceived as equal to or even superior to European culture. By simplifying forms and appropriating cultural elements for its own purposes, fashion not only played a role in the process of demystifying Asia, but this process ultimately culminated in colonial violence in 19th-century China.