Ching Sze Yin, Cicy, Upcycling Hong Kong Series

Step 4 of 5

Guangzhou Glass

Fig 5: Manchuria windows in the Qinghui Garden of Shunde, Foshan - Life of Guangzhou

“Manchurian windows” are one of the defining characteristics of Lingnan architecture, especially in the urban centers of Guangzhou, Foshan and Dongguan. The term refers to a type of highly decorative yet functional window made in white, as well as a range of bright colors featuring incised, impressed or painted decorations that range from intricate figurative scenes to abstract patterns.The windows are also called “Guangzhou-style stained glass windows” and the historical roots of their naming as “Manchurian” are subject to discussion; or this article on Tellerreport.com

What remains undebatable is the fact that glass production in China at large was influenced by technologies from abroad and, during the Qing dynasty, innovated by European Jesuits under the guidance of the imperial workshops in Beijing.See: Emily Byrne Curtis, [“A Plan of the Emperor's Glassworks,”] (https://www.persee.fr/doc/arasi_0004-3958_2001_num_56_1_1465) Arts Asiatiques 56 (2001): 81-90.

In addition to Beijing as a center of glass technology and design development, the cosmopolitan harbor city Guangzhou, where regular glass imports from abroad impacted local material cultures, played an important role. In particular, Guangzhou-made reverse glass and mirror paintings are well-known and collected by many museums world-wide.see, for example, on Visualizingcultures; Maggie M. Cao, “Copying in Reverse: China Trade Paintings on Glass” in Beyond Chinoiserie: Artistic Exchange Between China and the West during the Late Qing dynasty (1796-1911), edited by Petra Ten-Doesschate Chu, Jennifer Milam, 72-92. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2019.

While these paintings were largely made for export, in Guangzhou itself sheets of imported glass were integrated into segmented wooden frames in the construction of colorful windows known today as “Manchuria Windows”. At the time, Guangzhou was an important center of carpentry, influenced in many ways by the influx of Western materials, styles and types of furniture.See Kyoungjin Bae, “Around the Globe: The Material Culture of Cantonese Round Tables in High-Qing China,” in EurAsian Matters: China, Europe, and the Transcultural Object, 1600-1800, edited by Anna Grasskamp and Monica Juneja. Cham: Springer, 2018.

Accordingly, Guangzhou windows were complex and innovative designs made by some of the most skillful carpenter workshops in China at the time. Artisans were taught and inspired by European as well as Chinese technologies and aesthetics.See曾娟, 廣式滿洲窗起源、裝飾及結構技藝解析 The colors used in these windows served decorative purposes, but also carried symbolic roles. For example, some reflected the social status of the house owner. Even after the end of Guangzhou’s trade monopolies and the decline of the Qing dynasty, artfully engraved glass plates would continue to be known as “Guangzhou-style stained glass windows” and remain associated with Southern Chinese architecture in places throughout Lingnan such as Foshan, Dongguan and Hong Kong. Upcycling pieces of pressed glass sheets that form an important part of the material heritage of the Pearl River Delta Area, the jewelry series by Ching Sze Yin, Cicy uses fragments of the past to create the present.