Chinese Bones and Cutlery at Stockholm’s East Asia Museum

Unlike the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Austro-Hungary, the Netherlands and Italy, Sweden was too late and too weakened during the 18th and 19th centuries to be a colonial power in Asia. So its engagement with Asia was built on a much more equitable basis, particularly with the independent East Asian countries (Japan and China).

colonial-asiaColonial Asia (Source)

That story is developed at the Museum of Far East Antiquities in Stockholm.

It was launched in 1926 by the Swedish parliament and led by the renowned archaeologist Johan Gunnar Andersson known for the geological process of solifuction and one of the key players in early Chinese archaeology.

In 1914, Gunnar Andersson was invited by the Chinese government as a mining adviser to the government and the China National Geological Survey.

Together with local scholars Ding Wenjiang and Weng Wenhao, Andersson helped to train a generation of young Chinese archaeologist. Andersson made a great discovery in 1918. “Andersson paid his first visit to Zhoukoudian in 1918 drawn to an area called Chicken-bone Hill by locals who have misidentified the rodent fossils that are found in abundance there. He returned in 1921 and was led by local quarrymen to Dragon Bone Hill where he identified quartz that was not local to the area. Realising that this may indicate the presence of prehistoric man he set his assistant, Otto Zdansky, to work excavating. Zdansky returned for further excavations in 1923 and a great deal of material was shipped to Uppsala for analysis. Eventually in 1926, on the occasion of a visit by the Swedish Prince to Beijing, Andersson announced the discovery of two human teeth. These were later identified as being the first finds of the Peking Man (source).

Andersson subsequently collaborated in the discovery of prehistoric neolithic remains in Henan province, near the Yellow River. The neolithic period refers to the period when humans began to moved from hunter-gatherers to systemic agriculturalist. Subsequently digs were made in Gansu and Qinghai provinces with even more findings. The Chinese and Swedish governments agreed to share the findings with each other and the Swedish government was set up the museum to house these Chinese artifacts.

  Andersson’s work on Chinese prehistory was built on by the second director of the museum Bernhard Karlgren and sinologist and linguist who focused on the study of Chinese dialects. Karlgren was a pioneer of the reconstruction of Middle and Old Chinese, although much of his work has since been surpassed. The collection in the museum was later on furthered with purchases that sought to trace China from prehistory to the end of dynasty through its figurines.

   Swedeish academics have long had a fascination with Chinese culture. In fact the first ever dissertation on China was by Jonas Matthiae Locnaus from Uppsala University on China’s Great Wall (1694). Andersson and Karlgren were the first in a line of scholars and were followed by Goran Malmqvist and Sven Hedin.

Trade between China and Sweden began even earlier than the digs did. It went back to the 17th century with the first trade ship the Gotherborg reaching southern China in 1654 and trade beginning officially from 1731. While the British were crazy over Chinese tea and silk in Sweden the focus was on porcelain, or as it’s called – china. It was what the elites wanted. What every individual of means needed to have to show they have arrived. Those who really could afford it paid to have special family made versions prepared.

Chinese and Swedish relations continued in 1950 with Sweden being the first western nation to recognise Communist China and have continued on today based very much on trade.

What about Japan? What story does the museum tell about Sweden’s relationship with Japan?




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