Chinese Fashion Designer Sparks Outrage After ‘Appropriating’ Sacred Tibetan Art


Celebrated Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei has sparked controversy online for using sacred Tibetan art in her recent fashion collection.

The renowned couturier shared images of her Guo Pei Spring/Summer 2020 Couture Collection on Instagram, where many called her out for disrespecting Tibetan culture and religion. 



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Himalaya: Look #22 The multi-layered, soft-flowing silhouettes of the collection are inspired by traditional Tibetan designs featuring exaggerated sleeves and dropped waistlines, reflecting the freedom and uninhibited nomadic culture at the foot of the Himalayas. The Himalayas is the sacred birthplace of oriental civilization and faith. Guo Pei reveals her moving tribute to the mountain range through her finale dress – a two-meter long train intricately embroidered with magnificent Thangka patterns. Guo Pei Spring/Summer 2020 Couture Collection Make-up by Dominic Skinner @dominic_mua and the MAC Pro Team @MACcosmetics @MACcosmeticsFrance Hair by BEAUTICK @beautick_official Beppe D’Elia for Beautick using Great Lengths @beppedeliaofficial #guopei #guopeiparis #pfw #hautecouture #Himalaya

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In Tibetan culture, a Thangka is a Tibetan Buddhist painting, commonly depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala, on cotton or silk. Traditionally, Thangkas are used for worship and then kept unframed and rolled up when not on display. Since selling of religious artifacts is frowned upon in the Tibetan community, Tibetans usually do not sell Thangkas.

According to a Tibetan source, Thangka is meant to be hung up on a wall or placed beside the altar for worship and not intended to be worn, especially at a fashion show.

When asked by other Instagram users why a Thangka design on a dress could be disrespectful, one user cited the problematic use of it by someone who is Chinese. 

“The reason it’s disrespectful is that Chinese gov which is communist commits continued genocide in Tibet, because Tibet was illegally occupied violently,” the user explained. “This person used a Tibetan word ‘Thangka’ without any mention of Tibet. No credit. And used culturally significant art. The fashion line would completely be fine being called ‘Himalayan’, without appropriation.”

Meanwhile, another user raised the issue of the the design’s religious significance among Tibetan people. 

“It’s a very sensitive issue for Tibetans to see their sacred art – called Thangka – used in this way especially by someone who is Chinese,” another user pointed out. “Regardless of how beautiful the piece may be, using sacred religious art for fashion is tantamount to throwing a Thangka painting on the floor and stomping on it.”

“This is what it has come to…. disrespecting ones religion and using the Thangka (sacred paintings of deities) as a piece of clothing and it is being dragged on the floor too,” a separate comment noted.

Guo Pei has yet to address the criticisms she received on social media.

Feature Image via Guo Pei

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