Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Eugenia Paulicelli

Subject Categories

Fashion Design | Film and Media Studies | Women's Studies


This thesis aims to analyze the concept of “Ornamentalism,” a term created by Anne Anlin Cheng. In Ornamentalism (2019), Cheng proposes the term—a combination of Orientalism and ornament—as a new way to study Asiatic femininity. Cheng applies the term to a case study of the career of Anna May Wong, the first Asian-American actress to feature in Hollywood films. Throughout her career, which began in the 1920s, Anna May Wong held the status of it-girl and muse to designers such as John Galliano. However, Wong was also subjected to playing stereotypical Asian roles in films and was consistently the victim of discrimination in Hollywood. Building on the relationship between skin and surface, Cheng describes how Wong was objectified through the use of costumes in her films. She states that human flesh and the material surface of clothing intertwine and transform the Asian woman into an ornamental hybrid. This transformation causes the woman’s corporeal personhood to blend with adorned material surfaces, thereby causing a significant shift in her humanity. This process prompts a conversation about how clothing is involved in the construction of gender, racial identity, and agency.

Examining the relationship between clothing and skin, this thesis explores the representation of Chinese women through films and costumes in both Hollywood and China. The study also investigates how the Chinese woman has been viewed by society and depicted by other types of media of the 20th and 21st centuries. Analyzing the directorial works of Zhang Yimou as well as other directors, the first part of the study will illustrate orientalist depictions of Chinese women in film. The second part will focus on Western media depictions of the Chinese woman, using Anna May Wong as the prime example.

In examining the portrayal of Wong and her ornamentalization in films like Piccadilly (E.A. Dupont, 1929), Shanghai Express (von Sternberg, 1932) and Daughter of the Dragon (Corrigan, 1931), this study aims to create a framework for analyzing the work of Gong Li, a Chinese actress who has acted as Zhang Yimou’s muse in his films. Taking into account factors such as clothing, object studies, and costumes, this study will focus on how elements have been used to ornamentalize Gong Li in the film Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou, 1991). Through the lens of feminist, critical, and critical race theories, this research will provide a robust lens through which to view Asiatic female personhood and autonomy under the synthetic surface with which she has been intertwined.