Author: Anne Anlin Cheng, professor of English and American studies, and director of the Program in American Studies

Form of a body in an elaborate red dress

Publisher: Oxford University Press, January 2019

Focusing on the cultural and philosophic conflation between the “oriental” and the “ornamental,” Ornamentalism offers an original and sustained theory about Asiatic femininity in Western culture.

This study pushes our vocabulary about the woman of color past the usual platitudes about objectification and past the critique of Orientalism in order to formulate a fresher and sharper understanding of the representation, circulation and ontology of Asiatic femininity. Tracing a direct link between the making of Asiatic femininity and a technological history of synthetic personhood in the West from the 19th to the 21st century, Ornamentalism demonstrates how the construction of modern personhood has been surprisingly indebted to this very marginal figure and places Asian femininity at the center of an entire epistemology of race.