Shanghai Social Diary in New York: China Institute Celebrates 90th Year Gala

China Institute 90th Anniversary Gala Co-Chair Yue-Sai Kan with Peking Opera actors, who performed in New York City.


China Institute celebrated its 90th anniversary in New York City with a glittering gala that included a surprise performance by a troupe of Peking Opera performers. Three people were honored for their contribution to increasing understanding and cooperation between the U.S and China: Bob Chapek, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman; Richard Gelfond, IMAX Corporation CEO; and fashion designer Guo Pei.

I was elated at the inclusion of Guo Pei, whom I predicted would become one of the biggest international names in haute couture when I first saw her work.

China Institute President James Heimowitz, Gala Co-Chair Sophia Sheng, Haute Couture Designer Beatrice Pei, and China Institute Board Chair Chien Chung “Didi” Pei.

Guan Wang, the evening’s emcee and chief political correspondent for CCTV America’s Mandarin service, with TV presenter and writer Chiu-Ti Jansen.


China Institute, founded by a group of educators in 1926, is the oldest bi-cultural, non-profit organization in America to focus exclusively on China. Its anniversary event attracted more than 350 guests, including culture, business, education, and government leaders from around the world and Institute friends and supporters.

With seats starting at $2,000, the event raised nearly $1 million to support the Institute’s program in education, culture, business, and art.

Peggy Gelfond, Ida Liu, and honoree Richard Gelfond.

Mark Wilson and Alexandra Munroe, the Guggenheim Museum’s Senior Curator of Asian Art.

Lin Ma, Fuji Tao, and Yingying Ma, CEO of Lux Shine, a Beijing-based company that promotes Peking Opera by combining it with contemporary elements such as rock, rap, and ballet.

Stuart and Kim Beck flew in from Shanghai.

Constantino and Lizzette Pozzi, who flew in from Italy, with Hearst International SVP Jeanette Chang, and China Institute Board Member Ann Hu.

Yue-Sai Kan, Sarina Russo, visiting from Australia, Susan Gutfreund, and fellow Aussie Brook Adcock.

Fashion designer and honoree Guo Pei, new mom Nicky Hilton Rothschild, and Ana Hu.

Jennifer Liu, Luke Yang, and Fu Xin.

Sergio Orozco, Sana Sabbagh, and Jeanne Lawrence, wearing a couture jacket designed by honoree Guo Pei.

Patricia Hearst, Meera Gandhi, and Eglee Karam.

ashion designer Sally Wu, fashion designer Nicole Miller, Fashion Institute of Technology Museum Director Valerie Steele, and fashion designer Yeohlee Teng.


Bob Chapek, Richard Gelfond, and Guo Pei were honored with the Blue Cloud Award for their outstanding work and leadership in fostering understanding and collaboration between the US and China:

Gala Co-Chair Sophia Sheng, honoree Bob Chapek, honoree Guo Pei, honoree Richard Gelfond, Gala Co-Chair Yue-Sai Kan, and China Institute President James Heimowitz.

China Institute Board Chair Chien Chung “Didi” Pei at the podium, flanked by China Institute President James Heimowitz.

Honoree Bob Chapek is Chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, which in June opened the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort, a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company and the state-owned Shanghai Shendi Group.

More than 1 million people have already been to the resort, which is more than 11 times the size of California’s original Disneyland.

Didi Pei with honoree Bob Chapek, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts.

IMAX Corporation CEO Richard Gelfond was also honored. IMAX has a strong presence with China, with the Middle Kingdom generating a third of IMAX’s global box office sales.

In August, IMAX signed the biggest deal in its history with Chinese company Wanda Cinema Line. With the new agreement to create 150 additional theaters in China, the total number of IMAX theaters there will reach 742, roughly double the number in the United States.

IMAX Corporation CEO Richard Gelfond.

The third honoree was Chinese haute couture fashion designer Guo Pei, the designer to whose work Americans are now being introduced in a big way. Pop star  Rihanna wore one of her gowns to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Ball in New York in 2015, when the designer was also featured in The Met’s exhibit “China: Through the Looking Glass.”

Beijing-based haute couturiere Guo Pei takes the stage.


Known as “China’s Empress of Haute Couture,” Guo Pei invited the fashion model Carmen Dell’Orifice to China to model her opulent fashions several years ago.

On a Beijing runway, legendary American model Carmen Dell’Orefice was majestic in an extraordinary Gua Pei gown so heavily embroidered that four men had to assist her.

When I admired a Guo Pei blouse Carmen wore to a New York gala, Carmen told me about her work, and on my next visit to Beijing back in 2010, I made a point to visit Guo Pei’s showroom, Rose Studio. I expected a boutique, but I arrived to find a workshop filled with skilled artisans such as tailors, pattern cutters, embroiderers, jewelry-makers, and shoemakers.

Meeting Guo Pei was a highlight of that trip. I was so taken with her unique work that I asked that she design several custom outfits for me.

At Guo Pei’s atelier in Beijing, I ordered the hand-embroidered jacket that I wore this evening in her honor.

Lifestyle writer Jeanne Lawrence, couturier Guo Pei, and legendary model Carmen Dell’Orifice had a reunion at the Insitute Gala.


A few years ago, I predicted that Guo Pei’s name would soon be familiar in international fashion circles and her work would be in museums. Indeed, she was featured in last year’s “China: Through the Looking Glass,” the best-attended exhibition in the history of the Costume Institute at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Displayed in Guo Pei’s Beijing studio is this richly patterned, jewel-encrusted, gold tour de force. The embroidery work took thousands of man-hours by her 450 craftspeople.

Only a presence as grand as Rihanna’s could carry off this show-stopping, 55-pound gown which the pop star wore on the red carpet at the 2015 Met Ball.

Among the works displayed in the Met’s China exhibition was Guo Pei’s Chinese Blue Porcelain Dress, worn by 2012’s Miss China and a Miss Universe finalist, Ji Dan Xu.

This gown is made entirely of golden panels with dragon motifs meticulously embroidered with gold thread.

In one of my previous columns, I reported on how Guo Pei is keeping China’s traditional and historical crafts alive. Her work is strongly influenced by the elaborately embroidered and ornamented silk and fur-trimmed styles worn by Chinese royalty and courts in several dynasties, especially the Ming and Qing. Read more about my visit to Guo Pei’s studio here.


The Emmy Award-winning television host and producer Yue-Sai Kan enthusiastically described the items she was auctioning off.

Among the coveted auction items was an iconic photograph by China’s No. 1 fashion photographer Chen Man.

History buffs were drawn by this set of pieces from a jade burial suit, a kind of armor for the afterlife, one of the very few excavated in China.

Shoppers could also bid on “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”—an exclusive breakfast served at the store.


The surprise for the evening was a performance by the actors from Peking Opera Theater of Beijing, a troupe founded in 1979, who flew in for the event. The art form, one of China’s cultural treasures, involves stylized action, singing, mime, dance and acrobatics, martial arts, and water sleeves.

I was fascinated by a chance to watch the actors backstage before the performance as they applied their bold facial make-up to represent the spirit and personality of each character.


Lux Shine, a Beijing-based opera theater company, makes the ancient art form more accessible and helps bridge the generational gap by adding contemporary elements, such as rock, rap, rhythm and blues, and ballet.

What a performance! The enthralled audience demanded an encore, and the actors obliged by performing the piece over again!


Photos by Patrick McMullan and Jeanne Lawrence.



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