Introducing Dr Rachel Silberstein

rachel-silbersteinI am a historian of early modern and modern China with a focus on the history of women and gender, and visual/material culture. Funding from the BICC enabled me to pursue DPhil studies at the University of Oxford from 2008-14, where I wrote a dissertation entitled ‘Embroidered Figures: Commercial Production and Popular Culture in the Early Modern Chinese Fashion System’, supervised by Shelagh Vainker, Curator of Chinese Art at the Ashmolean Museum, and Associate Professor of Chinese Art at University of Oxford. The dissertation explored how textile handicraft commercialization and urban popular culture transformed women’s engagement with fashionable dress, enabling women to contribute to local economies and cultures, and was further supported by the KS Scholarship for Chinese Art, and the Gervers Fellowship for Textiles and Dress at the Royal Ontario Museum. Since graduating, I have published articles in Late Imperial China (2015), Costume (2016), and Fashion Theory (2016), and taught as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Art and Visual Culture at Rhode Island School of Design from 2015-16.

For 2016-17, I have been awarded an ACLS / Luce Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to develop my dissertation into a book manuscript. I will also visit China to begin a new project which moves into the twentieth century, and examines needlework as a medium of encounter between Chinese and Western women as handicraft workers, missionaries, shop-owners, students and teachers, at a time when long-held notions of gender were uprooted, handicraft industries were revolutionized by industrialization and globalization, and embroidery’s materiality was transformed by new needlework forms introduced by foreign missionaries and merchants. The BICC played a crucial role in providing the financial support, training and academic freedom to develop my research interests in fashion and dress as a mode of cultural and economic creation, and how processes of commercialization, modernization and industrialization in textile handicrafts impact upon women’s experiences in the home, community and society.

BICC Cultural Engagement Partnership at the John Rylands Library – David Woodbridge


For my BICC Cultural Engagement Partnership, I am working with the John Rylands Library in Manchester. The library is home to most of the special collections of the University of Manchester, which include an extensive Chinese collection.

This collection was recently found to contain an unexpected treasure, and there is much more that remains to be examined. I have begun by looking at the papers of Edward Harper Parker (1848-1926). Parker worked for over twenty years for the British consular service in China, and was also one of Britain’s foremost sinologists of the time. After retiring from the consular service, Parker devoted himself to researching and writing about China, and in 1901 became the first holder of a new chair in Chinese at the University of Manchester. I am working to produce a hand list of Parker’s papers, so that the scope of this collection can be better appreciated by researchers. Parker’s contributions to Chinese studies, which was then a young discipline in Britain, have been largely forgotten. But he wrote widely on a variety of topics, ranging from ancient history to contemporary affairs, and encompassing both the Chinese heartland and the peoples and nations on China’s borders. His papers are providing interesting insights into his working methods and interests, and to his role in advancing the understanding of China in Britain at the start of the twentieth century.

The John Rylands Library is also one of Manchester’s top visitor attractions. Many people come simply to view the beautiful historic reading room, but the library also runs a range of public exhibitions and events, showcasing items from its wide collections. During my three months at the library, I will also be working with the visitor engagement team to produce one such event. It will provide visitors with an exciting opportunity to view some items from the library’s Chinese collection, and will hopefully serve to spark a wider interest in the history and culture of China.


BICC Manchester Chinese for Academic purposes week


P1020791Classical Chinese Workshops

BICC Manchester hosted and funded 15 China field PGR’s from all over Europe, from the 4th until the 8th April for a week long intensive Chinese for academic purposes workshop, with an emphasis on Classical Chinese training.

This was made possible  with thanks to supplementary funding from a collaboration with BICC Bristol, SOAS China Institute and HEFCE funding.  The Training course was  open to PGT and PGR students across the China field and financial barriers to access were removed by providing support for travel and accommodation for all the participants as well as one week’s training delivered by Chinese Professors in Linguistics and a teaching team from Manchester University.

The week was intense and the participants worked hard, and the organisation was overseen and planned by PI to the BICC project, Professor of Chinese History  Yangwen Zheng, with the Classical Chinese lessons being given by the Director of the Manchester Confucious Institute Dr Jianxi Wang.




BICC and the National Trust

British Inter-university China Centre (BICC) Cultural Engagement Postdoctoral Fellowship with the National Trust.

Dr Paul Bevan


My first experience working on the history of clocks and the eighteenth-century English “sing-song” trade with China was as part of a music project. “Handel in the Forbidden City”, a collaborative project with Dr Jon Banks of Anglia Ruskin University, looked at the mechanical music found on the clocks exported to China, as part of a broader topic concerning the exchange of ideas and aesthetics between East and West. Much of my research focussed on one particular clock in the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing, which, unusually for an English-made timepiece, plays the well-known Chinese folk melody Molihua 茉莉花 (Jasmine Blossom). My background in the study of Western eighteenth-century music, as a professional musician for over twenty years, informs my studies of the history and art of the period, as does my specialist knowledge in the areas of Chinese art, literature and music. The BICC project appealed to me for two main reasons. First, it gave me the rare opportunity to combine two areas of expertise: China, and the art and music of eighteenth-century Europe, and secondly, it appealed strongly to my interest in object-based research.

The Project

Initially the remit of the project was to discover the provenance of one clock in the collection of Anglesey Abbey (AA), Cambridgeshire, which had been restored by Matthew Read, Brittany Cox and others at West Dean College. Following an initial inspection of the clock, and other items in the AA collection, it was soon realized that the project would need to expand in scope to include more than just this one clock, as there had clearly been a close relationship between two or more of the clocks in the collection since at least as far back as the turn of the nineteenth century.



Two clocks in the collection of Anglesey Abbey have traditionally been known as the “Pagoda Clock” and the “Tower Clock” In fact, the second of these names might best be used to describe both clocks, the name “Pagoda Clock” being something of a misnomer. At the outset of the project I spent some considerable time looking at the latter term and why it should not be used to refer to the example at AA. It is clear that a number of clocks in true “pagoda” form do exist in collections worldwide and the Anglesey Abbey example does not directly relate to these.[1] In the end, for the purposes of this project, it was deemed reasonable to continue referring to the AA clocks by the names by which they had been traditionally known in order to avoid confusion.


The main clocks examined on in this report are:

The Anglesey Abbey Clocks

Pagoda Clock A

Tower Clock A

Singing Bird Clock


The pairs to the AA Clocks

Pagoda Clock B

Tower Clock B


Other Clocks in the Robersons’ Catalogue Eighteenth Century Clocks

Imperial Immortal Mountain Clock

Mirror Clock

Elephant Clock


Simon Harcourt-Smith

The project began with an examination of the available copies of the rare 1933 catalogue of the clocks in the Palace Museum, Beijing, written by the British diplomat Simon Harcourt-Smith, just eight years after the Forbidden City had been established as a museum. The Catalogue of Clocks, Watches, Automata, and Other Miscellaneous Objects of European Workmanship from the XVIII to Early XIX Centuries in the Palace Museum and the Wu Ying Tien, Peiping [Beijing], is the single most important source concerning the history of clocks in the Palace Museum, in the early part of the twentieth century and was important as far as the project is concerned, as it is the earliest document of its type available. The results of these initial investigations, although later found to be not directly relevant to the project, are included in Appendix II. Available information concerning the life of Simon Harcourt-Smith is scant, despite his importance with regard to the history of clocks in China, and the brief introduction found in the appendix may add, in some small way, to the history of Chinese clocks and automata in the early twentieth century.


For the full report written by Dr Paul Bevan;

The Pagoda Clock at Anglesey Abbey