Chasing the Dragon: China in the Western Imagination on Display at Drexel’s Fox Historic Costume Collection

New exhibition addresses the influence of Chinese design and cultural appropriation.

These Crocs debuted on the runway in 2019 at Shanghai Fashion Week. Vivienne Tam’s collection for Crocs cheekily embraces stereotypically Chinese motifs such as clouds, fans, and, most prominently, dragons. These limited editions sold out now sell for double the original price on resale sites such as Poshmark, proving the desire for chinoiserie remains strong even in this global age.

The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection of Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design is presenting an exhibition highlighting the influence of Chinese design throughout fashion history, including Western interpretations and imitations, known as “chinoiserie.” The exhibition Chasing the Dragon: China in the Western Imagination, running from October through December 2023, will open a conversation around cultural appropriation in historic fashion. The exhibit not only highlights the impact of stereotypes in fashion and arts, but also centers diverse voices from the Drexel community to highlight Asian American perspectives on reclamation.

“Chasing the Dragon serves as a reflection of what is happening in contemporary society in relation to the acknowledgement of historical cultural appropriation in the arts,” said co-curator Pamela Yau, who is a professor in Westphal College. “Through the exhibition, we are inviting the community to join in the conversation in how the interpretation of Chinese culture has played an impact on perceptions and what it means for Asian and Asian American designers to take hold of the narrative through their own designs.”

Objects on display represent the original garments produced in China, the Euro-American fashions inspired by them and styles made in Hong Kong, Manila and Honolulu that reflect the cultural fusion that occurs with global trade.

The exhibition deliberately de-centers the traditional Euro-American fashion chronicle in favor of multiple fashion narratives and encourages audiences to consider the Chinese origins of these historical garments.

From 19th Qing Dynasty embroidered garments to Crocs produced in 2019 in collaboration with Chinese American designer Vivienne Tam, this exhibit covers a wide range of fashion history. Fox Historic Costume Collection Director and Chief Curator, Clare Sauro believes all historic costume collections must acknowledge the problematic nature of fashion history and work to foster conversations around their history.

“University costume collections must address the problematic aspects of history of fashion and the garments lurking in their archives,” Sauro said.

One item in the exhibit that addresses this head on is a ballet costume by Broadway costume designer Harriet Jung, lent by Westphal Rankin Scholar and Kennedy Center Next 50 Arts Leader Phil Chan for this exhibition. Chan and Jung’s nuanced choreography and costuming respectively reimagined the 1739 Ballet des Porcelaines, combatting Western stereotypes of Chinese culture present in the original story. It is important to note that even now ballet productions still struggle with these issues including the ever-popular Nutcracker as many productions contain stereotypical portrayals of Asian people. Jung’s costume reflects on historic chinoiserie and modern interpretations.

“I'm hoping this show gives us the chance to pause and reflect on our own identities but also how are we crossing other cultures with integrity,” said Chan, who is also a co-founder of Final Bow for Yellowface and the president of the Gold Standard Arts Foundation.

The gallery is located on the first floor of the URBN Center at 3501 Market St. The exhibition is located in the URBN building at 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

Public access to the exhibition is by appointment only, please fill out the tour request form on

The Rankin Scholar-in-Residence Series, named in honor of former Dean Marjorie Rankin and established through the continuing donations of her friends and colleagues, seeks to bring noted individuals to campus who excel in the multidisciplinary education championed by the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. The goal of the Series is to inspire students, stimulate research, invigorate professional networks, and aid in the continuing development of the Drexel community.

Phil Chan is a Westphal College 2023 Rankin Scholar. This program inspires students, stimulates research, invigorates professional networks, and aids in the continuing development of the Drexel community. Chan is a co-founder of Final Bow for Yellowface, and author of Final Bow for Yellowface: Dancing between Intention and Impact, and the President of the Gold Standard Arts Foundation. He is a graduate of Carleton College and an alumnus of the Ailey School. He has held fellowships with NYU, the Manhattan School of Music, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and is currently a fellow at Harvard University, Drexel University, and the Institut National d'Histoire de l'Art in Paris. As a writer, Phil served as the Executive Editor for FLATT Magazine and contributed to Dance Europe Magazine, Dance Magazine, Dance Business Weekly, and the Huffington Post, and currently serves on the Advisory Board of Dance Magazine. He served multiple years on the National Endowment for the Arts dance panel and the Jadin Wong Award panel presented by the Asian American Arts Alliance. His latest choreography project, the "Ballet des Porcelaines,” premiered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in December 2021 and will tour throughout 2022. He is a Benedict Distinguished Visiting Professor of Dance at Carleton College in Fall 2022 and was just named a Next 50 Arts Leader by the Kennedy Center.