Adult Programs

Explore the Forbidden City: Imperial Costumes and the Projections of Desire

Explore The Forbidden City Lecture Series

Imperial regalia were strictly regulated by sumptuary laws in traditional China. These laws reveal much about the culture in China, and specifically in the Forbidden City. Imperial costume expressed the wants and desires of both the individual wearer, and of society as a whole.

The ROM boasts a superb collection of Imperial Chinese costumes so fine that it provided inspiration for the costume design of the Academy Award-winning film, The Last Emperor, directed by Bertolucci and released in 1987. Dr Angela Sheng, formerly of the Royal Ontario Museum and a key historical consultant on the film, will highlight both the symbolism behind the garments, as well as how she used the ROM’s collections to create the fantastic costumes in The Last Emperor.


Angela Sheng joined the School of Arts in 2005 to teach Art History. She received her Ph.D. in Oriental Studies (now split into East Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations) from University of Pennsylvania, with fields in Chinese art history, the history of Chinese Science and Technology, and symbolic anthropology. She began her academic career at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, first as Curatorial Fellow and then Assistant Curator, in charge of Asian textiles. She taught at universities in Taiwan and Japan and at McGill in Canada before coming to McMaster. She has also worked extensively as a consultant in cross-cultural communications with clients in both Asia and Canada.

She reads costumes and textiles both as functional art and as documentation of human negotiation with others and with time, place, and space for individual and collective reasons. In 2007 she started studying Inuit art and material culture in comparison with those of selected Chinese minorities. She is working on a major long-term project on Interculturality, Memory, and Meaning that includes a book manuscript, Reading Textiles: agency and intercultural transmission of art and technology along the Silk Road in the first millennium.

She has been serving on the Advisory Board to the McMaster Museum of Art since 2008, as Chair since 2011 for a three-year term.

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