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2015 is the 150th anniversary of the Swedish explorer, Sven Hedin, and we mark this with articles by Håkan Wahlquist on Sven Hedin and other Swedish visitors to Dunhuang, the events held to commemorate this anniversary, and the Sven Hedin Project. The Sven Hedin Foundation at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm relaunched its website for the occasion. Artefacts from the Hedin collection are being made available through IDP.

A man sitting at the foot of some giant statues inside a cave at Mogao.
Sven Hedin at the Mogao caves near Dunhuang, 6 November 1934. Photographer: Parker Chen. The Sven Hedin Foundation 1034.46.12.
Composite image with a posed family portrait from the nineteenth century, and a gravestone with a bouquet on it.
Left: Sven Hedin (standing) with his mother and siblings, Stockholm 1882. The Sven Hedin Foundation, Hedin Family Album 06.01.
Right: The Westman-Hedin family grave, Stockholm. 19 February 2015. Photographer: Jerry Lantz. The Sven Hedin Foundation.

Sven Hedin 1865–1952

On 19 February 2015 the 150th anniversary of Sven Hedin’s birth was commemorated in Stockholm. A minor symposium was held in the Museum of Ethnography. The idea was to provide some examples of the multitude of uses to which the Hedin material and archives are put today. The Sven Hedin Foundation provides texts and photographs for translations and publications of Hedin’s books in many different languages; recently Uygur, Korean, Mongolian and Arabic have been added to the list. Cartographic material is provided to pinpoint sites for palaeontological finds, photographs to determine changes in the extent of glaciers, or the resilience of buildings to withstand earthquakes. Photographs are supplied to show what archaeological sites once looked like. Photographs for publication come from Hedin’s rich collections of portraits. The archives are drawn upon for researchers in geo- as well as human sciences; people who write biographies of artists, authors, politicians, military and fellow researchers, and scholars who work on the history of science. Those were just some examples given during a well-attended afternoon.

In the evening, representatives of the family and the Sven Hedin Foundation gathered at the Westman-Hedin family grave at the Adolf Fredrik church yard in Central Stockholm for the depositing of wreaths.

In Washington, the same evening, the Silk Road Dance Company presented a program of dance and music accompanied by texts selected from Hedin’s travelogues.

Sven Hedin and Dunhuang

Håkan Wahlquist

Dunhuang/Mogao does not figure prominently in the records of Sven Hedin’s four expeditions to Central Asia. He visited the site only once, in November 1934, on his way back on what has been called his ‘car-expedition’ 1933–35, the last leg of the composite Sino-Swedish Expedition of 1927–35. Requested by Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nanjing Government and paid for by his Railway Ministry, Hedin had taken on to align possible routes for roads and railways connecting heartland China with its unruly western areas. To the Nanjing government this was of strategic importance. To Hedin it meant possibly a last chance to return to Xinjiang and the areas that he had researched more than thirty years earlier. He was approaching 70. In 1928 he learned that the Lop Nor Lake in 1921 had returned to its northern position and in 1930 he dispatched two of his men, Nils Hörner and Chen Parker C., to map the lake spreading its shallow surface east of Loulan.

Chen Parker C. was again on his staff, as were two more Chinese scientists; Kung C. C. and Yew Irving. He also brought with him his close associate and doctor, David Hummel, and the archaeologist Folke Bergman. Some ‘local’ hands, including two Swedes, Georg Söderbom and Efraim Hill, concluded the team. The Chinese archaeologist Huang Wenbi joined them at the last moment although he did not stay for the entire expedition.

The journey turned into an extraordinarily eventful and dangerous experience, through a landscape of political and military upheaval. At one point they faced an execution squad, at another they spent quite some time in detention in Urumqi. Hedin, however, true to his reputation, managed to fulfil his dreams travelling down the Konche and Kum Darya following that unstable system of rivers all the way to Lop Nor. A sub-team, in the meantime, with Folke Bergman and Georg Söderbom together with Hedin’s old scout Ördek, made the momentous re-discovery of Xiaohe Mudi (‘Ördek’s Necropolis’).

On the way back east the team, this time without Bergman and Hummel, mapped the best route through the Lop Desert to reach the oases of westernmost Gansu, Anxi and Dunhuang. In Dunhuang Hedin made a detour to the Mogao caves. He states that his visit to Dunhuang had had quite a different purpose than to study the already well-described caves. He went there out of ‘curiosity’ and ‘because it seemed absurd to have been at Tun-huang without having seen the famous grottoes’. However, he was not overly impressed.

In a way, the “Caves of the Thousand Buddhas” disappointed me. I had expected something finer and more distinguished, and not the dull uniformity I found, neglected and allowed to fall into decay by a careless posterity. What is impressive is the multitude of grottoes, and the work and patience that must have been needed to excavate these rooms and niches in the hard conglomerate. The men who gave their time and strength to this gigantic labour must have had a burning faith in the power of their gods.

An engraved illustration representing the Mogao caves in a picturesque European style.
The first European depiction of the Mogao caves. Illustration from Gustav Kreitner. Im fernen Osten. Reisen des Grafen Bela Széchenyi in Indien, Japan, China, Tibet und Birma in den Jahren 1877-1880. Wien 1881: 665.

Hedin was a man for romantic and nationalistic poetry but does not strike you as a particularly great admirer of music or consumer of the arts, though he had artist friends, whom he sometimes showered with praise. His own drawings and watercolours he considered to be records of observations, though he did not mind if people saw an artistic talent revealed by them. One of the pillars of his world-view was surely the Protestant state church of his native country, but he was no great friend of missionary activities, which he considered unwarranted, apart from the medical and other help dispensed at their stations. He was an interested and mostly a positive observer of the religions and their expressions that he met along the road, in mosques, temples and monasteries. But he did not have the training or the inclination to explore the in reality fabulous interiors of the caves, nor their religious or artistic content. His eyes were probably more directed to the geological formations which had made them possible. He nevertheless climbed his way into no fewer than twenty-one. Discoveries could add adventure to his books, and provide chronology to the ever-changing landscape he studied and mapped. Archaeological materials collected, however, he left to others to analyse and publish.

Hedin had not visited the Mogao caves on any of his previous expeditions. Aurel Stein’s and Paul Pelliot’s periods of work there in 1907/1914 and 1908 respectively, were well known to him. But when Aurel Stein explored the treasures of the Mogao caves in 1907 Hedin was in Tibet on his last ‘one-man expedition’, to return to Central Asia only in 1927.

Hedin was, however, very early on aware of the existence of the caves, though of course not of their true contents. From Lilla Russell-Smith’s article on ‘Early Hungarian Visitors to Dunhuang’ we have been reminded that the first Europeans to make their way to the caves, in 1879, were the Hungarians Count Béla Széchenyi and the geologist Lajos Lóczy together with the geographer Gustav Kreitner. This happened during their expedition to China 1877-80. They all belonged to Sven Hedin’s Central European scientific contacts and Hedin’s library contains their well-read (or in Lóczy’s case ‘consulted’, since it is in Hungarian) reports on the the expedition. Count Béla Széchenyi’s work carries an inscription to Hedin, Kreitner’s book has pencil-strokes in the margins marking passages about ‘Tun-huang’.

Hedin’s introduction to Central Asian researchers in Budapest dates to 1886 when, as a 21 year-old returning from a journey through Persia, he visited the great Turcologist and Orientalist, but also pilgrim in disguise and secret agent Arminius (Hermann) Vámbéry (1832-1913). Vámbéry’s early travelogues had been promptly translated into Swedish in the 1860s. They had been studied by Hedin and Vámbéry was one of several role-models influencing the young Swede. Hedin had indeed closely followed Vámbéry’s route through Persia, and Vámbéry was asked to write the foreword to Hedin’s first book, which he also did. He stayed with the Hedin-family during the 1889 Orientalist Congress in Stockholm, and they were to remain in contact until Vámbéry’s death.

Six men in formal dress. Historical black and white photograph.
Arminius Vámbéry with Sven Hedin on his left side and Lajos Lóczy von Lócz to his right. Standing to the right behind Vámbéry is Count Széchenyi Béla. Budapest 1902. Hedin Family Album 1: 42.01.

Sven Hedin, on several occasions, met Professor Vámbéry in Budapest, addressing learned societies there, and then also got to know other scientists, especially Graf Széchenyi and Professor Lóczy, who became close friends of his, exchanging books and letters. In his travelogue The Silk Road Hedin recalls his many meetings with them in Budapest and how they discussed the Hungarian expedition of 1877-80. It was the Dunhuang – Anxi section of the journey that interested Hedin.

The letters from Hedin’s Hungarian colleagues do not mention Dunhuang. (As for Hedin’s letters they may be found in Hungarian archives). One paragraph may however be remembered. In a letter dated Budapest 4 April 1908 Professor Lóczy, believing that Hedin is to return from his Tibetan expedition to Kashgar via Gilgit (which he did not), mentions that: ‘In Khotan or Kashgar you will probably meet Herr Dr. Aurel Stein, who is on his way home from Kansu loaded with rich archaeological treasures!’

Selected Bibliography

This tells the story of defence debate and its resultant political crises in Sweden before the Great War, in which Sven Hedin played a prominent role.

For an annotated bibliography of Hedin’s works see Daniel C. Waugh’s excellent resource. This is also available from IDP as an online resource and a downloadable pdf.

Other recent works:

A dense description and analysis of the development of Sino-Swedish joint efforts in geosciences, including palaeontology, from Erik Nyström via Johan Gunnar Andersson to Sven Hedin.

A study of the Abhidharma part of the collection of Old Uyghur manuscripts with the Hedin collections in Stockholm (1935.52.0025-0040) According to Professor Kudara Kōgi these manuscripts belong to the ones found in the Yuan-period caves of Dunhuang/Mogao.

Håkan Wahlquist is Keeper of the Sven Hedin Foundation. He was formerly Senior Curator of the Asian Collections at the Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm.

Höhner and Bohlin at Dunhuang 1930 and 1931

Two other ‘sub-expeditions’ of the Sino-Swedish Expedition 1927–35 passed Dunhuang, though no Swedes other than Sven Hedin and Georg Söderbom visited the caves themselves. Nils Hörner and Parker Chen with their Mongolian helpers stayed there for a week in November and December 1930 on their way to Lop Nor and Loulan. Hörner describes Dunhuang as a beautiful and flourishing oasis, where one could rest and rebuild the caravan and its supplies.

Of more importance, however, was Birger Bohlin’s (1898–1990) visit in June 1931. On the 29th of that month he and his small team visited some newly discovered cave-temples along the Tang River southwest of Dunhuang, the Western Qianfodong (Hsi-ch’ien-fo-tung). Bohlin spent some time there, drew plans of some of the caves and took photographs. He published his finds in an article a few years later.

  • Bohlin, Birger. ‘Newly Visited Western Caves at Tunhuang.’ Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 1.2 (1936): 163–66.
  • Hörner, Nils. Resa till Lop. Stockholm: Norstedt & Söner. 1936
Hand-drawn line map, very sparse.
Sketch map showing the route taken by Birger Bohlin on his journey to Dunhuang in 1931 and the Western Caves. (From Reports from the Scientific Expedition to the North-Western Provinces of China: 26. Stockholm 1945
: 288).

The Sven Hedin Project

Lars Larsson

Sven Hedin (1865–1952) devoted his life to exploring Central Asia and Tibet. He spent almost twenty years in Asia, mapping such a large unexplored territory overland that it has never been paralleled in history. The purpose of the Sven Hedin Project is to make a series of expeditions through Asia in the footsteps of Hedin. Every second year will see a new expedition. The first stage of the project was carried out in April–May 2013, following Hedin’s 1906 route through the deserts of Eastern Persia (present-day Iran). The first two stages of the project have been funded by the National Geographic Society. The plan is to follow up on Hedin’s geographical and ethnographical observations, with the help of his maps, diaries and photographs, as well as repeating some of his most spectacular adventures. Like Hedin, we will capture the landscape and villages through which we we travel and the people we meet, but with digital photography and videography. In this way we can document how the landscape and culture have changed during the last century.

The second expedition will go to the Pamir in July–August 2015, a mountainous area in Central Asia known as the ‘Roof of the World’. During Hedin’s first large Central Asian expedition he explored this area in 1894–95. Our journey will take us through Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and China.

Hedin spent extended time with the Kyrgyz in the eastern Pamir while studying the glaciers of Muztagh Ata, ‘The Father of Ice-Mountains’ (7,546 m) in Xinjiang, China. He also traveled through more remote Kyrgyz settlements in the Afghan ‘Little Pamir’ of the Wakhan Corridor. This is the narrow finger in the northeast of Afghanistan and is a result of the ‘Great Game’ ­— the political power struggle between the Russian and British Empires for supremacy in Central Asia during the nineteenth century. The Wakhan was a buffer zone between the two rivaling empires. When Hedin entered the far eastern end of the corridor through the Wakhjir pass from China, he was to walk straight into the Anglo-Russian Boundary Commission of 1895 and the final historic settlement of the Great Game. He tried to keep neutral; dined alternatingly with generals from both sides but was a pawn in their Game.

The Wakhan Corridor once served as a part of the fabled Silk Road. Today the borders have been closed for almost a century making the Afghan Pamir one of the world’s most isolated regions. Today the only way to reach the Wakhan Corridor legally is to enter from the Afghan side in the far west along the Panj River. If you drive eastwards into the corridor, until the dirt road ends, it still takes seven more days of trekking to reach the eastern end. This is the Little Pamir where a small number of isolated Kyrgyz nomads still live. Hedin only traveled this upper part of Wakhan, but just one year later in 1886 the Danish lieutenant Ole Olufsen (1865–1929) set out on the first of two Danish Pamir expeditions where the main target was the lower Wakhan Corridor along the Panj River. Olufsen was the first European to collect ethnographical information on the Wakhi agro-pastoralists inhabiting this area.

Composite showing photographs of the same location: one a historical black and white image, one a modern colour photograph.
Images of Naibend, Iran. Top: taken by Hedin in 1906 (The Sven Hedin Foundation, 1026.0469). Bottom: by Lars Larsson in 2013.
Hedin wrote at this time: ‘To the stranger, even a brief visit to Naibend is worth the effort of the entire journey through Persia.’. More than 100 years later, many parts of Naibend, an isolated village north of the Lut desert in Iran, have hardly changed. Sven Hedin called it ‘an earthly paradise’, where ‘[I] find myself at the foot of a steep ridge crowned by the fort of Naibend among tall houses and walls hanging like birds’ nests over the edges […] The whole scene reminds one of Ladak and Tibet.’

Hedin’s collection of c.15,000 photographs has been buried for over a hundred years in the archives of the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm. The large undertaking of digitizing these old glass plates began in 2010 and is ongoing. We will be the first to take advantage of this unique material. Olufsen’s photographic collection, to which we also have access, is held in the Archives of the National Museum in Copenhagen and is of equal historic value. We will search for the exact locations of Hedin’s and Olufsen’s photographs and where possible capture new images to match the old ones. This gives us a visually striking comparison spanning 120 years, revealing changes in both landscapes and culture.

Finding historical camera locations can be an extremely time consuming task. Therefore we will use a powerful methodology based on geographic information systems (GIS). This greatly reduces the time required to find a location.

Our first objective is to study Muztagh Ata and determine how far its glacier fronts have retracted since 1894. By repeating Hedin’s photographs of the glaciers, georeferencing his map sketches in a GIS and comparing them to satellite images, we hope to be able to reconstruct what the glaciers looked like 120 years ago. This study is done in collaboration with glaciologists at the Department of Physical Geography and Quaternary Geology at Stockholm University. Our results will have a unique scientific value in climate change research, since traditional studies based solely on aerial photography only reach back to the 1960s.

We will use the same methodology to reconstruct and study Hedin’s attempts to ascend Muztagh Ata. He made four attempts along two different routes; one towards the main summit and three towards the slightly lower northern summit, where he claimed to have reached a maximum height of 6,300 m. This was an astonishing feat and one of the highest ascents in the world at this time, but has later been disputed with claims that Hedin only reached 5,800 m. To settle this question with scientific rigor, we will combine our GIS with field observations while attempting to ascend the main summit along the same historical route as Hedin.

Our second objective is to follow up on Hedin’s anthropological work on the Kyrgyz. Our photographs will be supplemented with anthropological information gathered by traditional methods. We will also visit the more remote Kyrgyz settlements in the upper Wakhan. Repeating Olufsen’s photographs is our third objective.

By communicating our results and the unique material from the Hedin archives to the public in a groundbreaking way, with interactive and geographically oriented media powered by Google Earth, we will set a new standard for virtual exploration of historical and modern adventures. The development of this GIS is funded by the Swedish Foundation for Internet Infrastructure (.SE) and the first version is planned for release in 2015. The three subsequent Hedin-expeditions will cover the following areas: The Taklamakan and Lop deserts (Xinjiang), The Changtang plateau and the Transhimalaya mountain range (Tibet), Mount Kailash and the sources of the Great Indian Rivers (Tibet).

Lars Larsson is Expedition Leader and Lead Photographer on the Project. Latest progress can be found on the project website.

Obituary: T. H. Tsien, 1909–2015

Headshot of T. H. Tsien.

Tsuen-hsuin (T.H.) Tsien, Curator Emeritus of the East Asian Collection of the Joseph Regenstein Library and Professor Emeritus of Far Eastern Languages and Civilizations of the University of Chicago, passed away in Chicago on 9 April 2015, at the age of 105.

For anyone involved with Chinese books or manuscripts, T.H. Tsien’s book, Written on Bamboo and Silk: The Beginnings of Chinese Books and Inscriptions is indispensable reading. First published by the University of Chicago in 1962, it arose from his PhD at Chicago (awarded 1957) and continues in print with a second edition in 2013.

T. H. Tsien was educated in China, graduating from Jinling University (the precursor of Nanjing University) in 1932 with a degree in Library Science. He worked in Jiaotong University Library, Shanghai, and then in the Nanjing Branch of the Peking Library. In 1941, he arranged the shipping of 300,000 rare books to the Library of Congress for safe-keeping during the war. After the war, he went to Washington DC to arrange their return. However, the outbreak of civil war in China made this impossible, and he remained in America together with the books. In 1947, Herrlee G. Creel (1905-94) invited him to the University of Chicago to manage the Far Eastern Library (now East Asian Collection). He remained in Chicago thereafter.

In 1978, after retiring as Curator of the East Asian Collection, he accepted Joseph Needham’s invitation to participate in the Science and Civilisation in China project, producing the volume Paper and Printing. In 2011 he published Collected Writings on Chinese Culture.

His influence lives on not only in his publications but in the East Asian Collection at the Library at Chicago and in the librarians he trained, who went on to head the East Asian Collections at Harvard and Princeton.

The History of Chinese Buddhist Bibliography: Censorship and Transformation of the Tripitaka by Tanya Storch, 2014, front cover.

Recent Publications

The History of Chinese Buddhist Bibliography: Censorship and Transformation of the Tripitaka

Tanya Storch
New York: Cambria Press 2014
HB, 268 pp., US$109.00, ebook
ISBN: 9781604978773

The Study of Chinese Excavated Ancient Medical Manuscripts

Ma Jixing (ed.)
Shanghai: Shanghai Scientific and Technical Publishers 2015
HB, 3 vols. CHY1280
ISBN: 9787547823668

Cosmopolitanism in the Tang Dynasty: A Chinese Ceramic Figure of a Sogdian Wine-Merchant

Suzanne G. Valenstein
LA: Bridge21 Publications 2014
PB, 104 pp., US$44.95
ISBN: 9781626430358

Archaeological and Visual Sources of Meditation in the Ancient Monasteries of Kuča

Angela Howard and Giuseppe Vignato
Leiden: Brill 2014
HB, 214pp. €125
ISBN: 9789004278578

The Silk Road: Interwoven History Vol. 1: Long-distance Trade, Culture, and Society

Mariko N. Walter and James P. Ito-Adler (eds.)
Cambridge MA: Cambridge Institute Press ACANSRS 2015
HB. 374 pp. US$32
ISBN: 9780991042807

Tea In China: A Religious and Cultural History by James A. Benn, front cover.

Tea In China: A Religious and Cultural History

James A. Benn
Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press 2015
HB/PB. 204 pp. $65/24
ISBN: 9780824839635/9780824839642

Lady with the Phoenix Crown: Tang-period Grave Goods of the Noblewomen Li Chui (711-736)

Sonja Filip, Alexandra Hilgner (eds.)
Regensberg/Mainz: Schnell & Steiner and Verlag des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums 2014
HB. 144pp. €24.90
ISBN: 9783795429270

Sogdian Epigraphy of Central Asia and Semirech’e

V.A. Livshits, Tom Stableford (trans.), Nicholas Sims-Williams (ed.).
London: Corpus Inscriptionum
Iranicarum, 2015.
ISBN: 9780728604025
Email: mc54ATsoasDOTacDOTuk


Life Along the Silk Road by Susan Whitfield, second edition, front cover.

The revised edition of Susan Whitfield’s Life Along the Silk Road is available to IDP News readers at a 30% discount. Containing two additional chapters — on an Axumite sea merchant and a Persian travel writer — the book also has a new introduction and footnotes.

University of California Press 2015
PB, 312 pp., colour, B&W, line drawings
$29.95, £19.95
ISBN: 9780520280595
For the 30% discount use source code 15M4426 at checkout.


Bulletin of the Asia Institute 24

Carol A. Bromberg (ed.)
$80 ind., $95 inst. + shipping
ISSN: 08904460

The Silk Road 12

Daniel Waugh (ed.)
ISSN: 21527327/21532060

敦煌研究 2014: 3
Dunhuang Yanjiu 2014: 3

Special Issue on the 70th Anniversary of the Dunhuang Academy

Sino-Platonic Papers 257 The Terminology for Carpets in Ancient Central Asia

Zhang He


Xinjiang: A Travellers Guide to Far West China

Josh Summers
ebook, £7.99, $9.99

Dunhuang: A City on the Silk Road

Hong Kong: Make-Do Publishing 2015
ISBN: 9789881401514
The 150 page all colour guide includes an introduction to every cave that may be opened to the public (60+ caves), as well as sections on other attractions such as museums, sites such as Yumenguan, Yangguan and Suoyang and practical information.
Available for £4 + postage (RRP £7.99)
For delivery to a UK address, add £2.18, and £4.50 for overseas.
Pay by credit card — tel. +44 (0)1892 837171 quoting title and ISBN
OR Paypal (Paypal ID: hj1117solarAThotmailDOTcom) — include title and full delivery address in the buyer instructions.

Recent Publications from Germany

VOHD 5,2
Syrische Handschriften. Teil 2: Texte der Berliner Turfansammlung

Erica Hunter and Mark Dickens (eds.)
Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag 2014
HB, 505 pp., €84
ISBN: 9783515107129

VOHD 12,7
Chinesische und manjurische Handschriften und seltene Drucke. Teil 7: Chinesische Blockdrucke aus der Berliner Turfansammlung

Tsuneki Nishiwaki, Magnus Kriegeskorte and Christian Wittern (trans.)
Simone-Christiane Raschmann (ed.)

Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag 2014
HB, 448 pp., 8 b&w ill., €78
ISBN: 9783515108881

VOHD 13,27
Alttürkische Handschriften. Teil 19: Dokumente in Brāhmī und tibetischer Schrift. Teil 2

Dieter Maue
Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag 2015
HB, 658 pp., 32 b&w ill., €90
ISBN: 9783515109970

Berliner Turfantexte XXXI Miscellaneous Hymns. Middle Persian and Parthian Hymns in the Turfan Collection

Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst (ed.)
Turnhout: Brepols 2014
PB., 464 pp., 12 b&w ill., €80
ISBN: 9782503546285

Berliner Turfantexte XXXII Biblical and other Christian Sogdian texts from the Turfan Collection

Nicholas Sims-Williams (ed.) with contributions by Martin Schwartz and William J. Pittard
Turnhout: Brepols 2014
PB, 247 pp., 17 b&w ill., €70
ISBN: 9782503552385

Exhibitions and Conferences

Cosmopolitan Metropolis Along the Silk Road — Luoyang During Tang Dynasty China

Museums of World Culture
12 September 2015 – 28 February 2016
Further Info

In autumn 2015, the Museums of World Culture re-opens the doors to the Caverns on Skeppsholmen in Stockholm. Here the visitor will travel through the Chinese metropolis of Luoyang City — a trading centre on the Silk Road during the Tang dynasty (618–907) and one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan cities. During the founding of the small town of Birka in Viking Sweden, when Norsemen were travelling and trading across Europe and into Asia, China experienced a period of economic stability and cultural development. It was also the time when China’s only female emperor, Wu Zetian, came to power.

The exhibition is produced in collaboration with the Henan Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Asia and Scandinavia
New Perspectives on the Early Medieval Silk Road

11 September 2015

Parallel to the opening of the exhibition the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities is organizing a symposium together with the Swedish History Museum. Finds of ‘exotica’ in archaeological contexts in east Scandinavia dating to the late first millennium AD have been noted by archaeologists since the beginning of the twentieth century. The symposium takes these ‘exotica’ as a starting point and opens the road eastwards, across Central Asia to meet current Silk Road-related research in China. The aim is to enhance interest in the exchange of luxury goods and everyday technology over the Eurasian continent during the first millennium.

Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road

Getty Center, Los Angeles
May – September 2016

In the Gobi desert of northwest China, some 500 decorated Buddhist cave temples with spectacular wall paintings and sculpture bear witness to the intense religious, artistic and cultural exchanges along ancient trade routes. The in situ art and the dispered objects from the Library Cave, comprise the only complete artistic environment to survive from early medieval China. In addition to objects from the site, the exhibition features three full-scale replica caves by contemporary artists at the Dunhuang Academy. It celebrates nearly thirty years of collaboration between the Getty Conservation Institute and the Dunhuang Academy to conserve and protect this World Heritage site.


Composite image combining photographs of Aurel Stein and Sigmund Freud, both with dogs.
Stein with dogs, Spin Khan and Dash. Srinagar, 1928. Photo 392/33(6), The British Library.
Freud with dogs, Fo and Tattoun. Hohe Warte, 1933. 42*, Freud Museum London.

IDP Lecture and Reception 2015
Aurel Stein, Sigmund Freud and the Other

Professor Craig Clunas
The British Library, 6pm, 6 November 2015
Tickets: £10/£8/£7 ONLINE BOOKING OPENS JULY 2015

This lecture considers the shared intellectual interests and parallel activities of these two giant figures in their respective fields.

Although there is no evidence that they ever met, the careers of close contemporaries Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Sir Marc Aurel Stein (1862-1943) offer some intriguing parallels. Both were born as Jewish subjects of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, yet ended their lives as exiles from their homelands, on British (or imperial British) soil. Both were fascinated by the ancient world, and while Stein became one of the most famous archaeologists of his age, Freud was gripped by the extent to which archaeology provided a metaphor for the new practice of psychoanalysis. Both were collectors of Asian antiquities, and while Stein’s achievements are well known Freud’s significant Chinese collections have attracted much less attention than his Egyptian and Graeco-Roman objects. Both had significantly close relationships with their dogs. And both were and remain highly controversial figures, revered and occasionally reviled. This lecture will look at some of the shared intellectual interests and parallel activities of these two giant figures in their respective fields, considering what links as well as what separates them today.

Meeting attendees posed for a group photo outside a European building.
(From l. to r.), Liu Bo, Alla Sizova, Luo Huaqing, Viacheslav Zaystev, Susan Whitfield, Yukiyo Kasai, Birgit Schlyter, Ann Olsén, Patrick Hällzon, Sarah Mullan, Håkan Wahlquist, Laurent Héricher, Sam van Schaik, Simone-Christiane Raschmann, Emma Goodliffe, Sheng Yanhai.

IDP Worldwide

IDP Business Meeting

Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul
24-26 April 2015

The Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul kindly hosted the IDP Business Meeting, with support from Royal Swedish Academy of Letters and the Sino-British Fellowship Trust. Representatives from all IDP’s full partners attended, except for Japanese colleagues. We also missed colleagues from the Musée Guimet and the Museum of Asian Art although other colleagues from Paris and Berlin were present.

The first session consisted of short presentations by all attendees on their recent work. Highlights from these presentations are given below.

IDP Sweden

The Hedin Foundation

National Museum of World Culture

IDP Russia

IDP China

National Library of China

Dunhuang Academy

IDP Germany

Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

IDP France


The next session focused on the progress of redevelopment of the database and sharing of initial website designs. Susan Whitfield confirmed that the redevelopment would involve replacing the current database (4D) with a new open source database (MySQL) with PHP and JavaScript. The code will be made available on GitHub. A timetable for the work was discussed.

Attendees had the opportunity to look at the initial website designs and some improvements were suggested.


A roundtable with Turkish colleagues followed to discuss potential collaboration. The following colleagues attended:
Kazim Abdullaev, Mimar Sinan University
Erdal Kucukyalcin, Boğaziçi University
Emine Gürsoy Naskali, Mamara University
Betül Özbay, Yildiz Technical University
Sehnaz Özcan, Marmara University
Oya Pancaroglu, Boğaziçi University
Münevver Tekcan, Kocaeli University
Isenbike Togan, Boğaziçi University
Zeynep Pinar Can, Yildiz Tech. University
Ibru Zeren, PhD, Istanbul University
Several ideas for working more closely together were were discussed and will be explored further.

Colleagues looking at photographs displayed in an exhibition.

India Conference and Exhibition

Susan Whitfield attended the opening on 24 March 2015 of the exhibition ‘Fascinated by the Orient: Life and Works of Sir Aurel Stein’, held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi, in collaboration with the Library and Information Centre of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest (LHAS). Agnes Kelecsényi (pictured top-right at the opening), Keeper of the Oriental Collection at LHAS, curated the exhibition with Radha Banerjee Sarkar (pictured below-right), IGNCA cooordinator. Representatives from the Hungarian Embassy and the Hungarian Cultural Centre in India, leading Indian scholars and many others attended the opening ceremony.

Radha Banerjee Sarkar, photographed at the exhibition where she was co-curator.

A conference on Aurel Stein followed on 25–26 March at the IGNCA, organised by Radha Banerjee and attracting international participation. Dr Sahay, Curator of the Central Asian Collection at the National Museum (NM) gave an excellent presentation outlining the history of the collections in India and future plans. We hope to publish this in IDP News. The conference proceedings are also due to be published.

Susan Whitfield and Helen Wang, British Museum, also held discussions with the NM about collaboration on IDP. Material from the NM is now becoming available online on the Museum of India website with 997 objects from the Stein collection online as of May 2015.



We are delighted to welcome Dr Hans-Ulrich Seidt as a new IDP patron. Dr Seidt is currently Ambassador and Inspector General of the German Foreign Office.

Dr Seidt attended the launch of IDP Korea during his time as Ambassador there (2009-12). He had previously been Ambassador in Afghanistan (2006-8) and continues an interest in Central Asia and the Silk Road collections worldwide. Last year he contributed a blog post for IDP20.

Headshot of Feichi Gao.

Feichi Gao (pictured left), a student at Northumbria University studying for an MA in Preventative Conservation, joined IDP UK on a five-week internship in February-March 2015. Feichi gave invaluable help with preparation for the Tangut project (see below) and we hope to welcome him back in the summer. Read his blog post for IDP.


Among the recent visitors to IDP at the British Library were Mr Wang Yun of the Dunhuang Culture Promotion Foundation 敦煌文化弘扬基金会. One of the Foundation’s most recent initiatives is the establishment of an organic vineyard near Dunhuang and Mr Wang brought samples of raisins from his first crop of grapes.

IDP welcomed students for show and tell lectures at the British Library from SOAS, Goldsmiths College, London, King’s College, London and University College London, as well as many readers and other visitors.

Conferences and Papers

Sam van Schaik presented at the Critical Silk Road Seminar at Georgetown University in December 2014 and Susan Whitfield in April 2015. In addition, Susan Whitfield gave lectures on IDP and Silk Road research at the following places:

Belgian Institute for Advanced Chinese Studies (BIHCS/ IBHEC), Brussels; Williams College, USA; Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, USA University of California at Berkeley, USA; Conference on Stein, New Delhi, India ( Exhibitions); CEO Silk Road Seminar, Dunhuang, China.


IDP signed a Memorandum of Understanding in early February 2015 with Ningxia Archives for a collaborative project to conserve and digitise the Tangut (Xixia) manuscripts and blockprints in the British Library. The project started with the digitisaiton of previously conserved material and the first batch of images became available online and were sent to Ningxia Archives for their readers and for research at the end of May 2015.

Tangut writing, block print on paper.
Detail from Tangut blockprint, The British Library, Or.12380/224

The project is employing a digitisation conservator to work on the many fragments requiring conservation and the post was advertised in late May. Work will start on digitising the second batch of images in June.

Funding is being sought for the third stage of the project, for conservation and digitisation of the final set of newly-conserved material in late 2016. We need to find a minimum of £30,000. If you would like to make a donation towards this work then please contact IDP — any contribution will be very gratefully received and acknowledged online.

Download this newsletter as a PDF

This digital version of IDP News is based on the print version of the newsletter and some links and content may be out of date.

This issue, No. 45, was published Spring 2015.
Editor: Susan Whitfield
Picture Editor: Josef Konczak

ISSN 1354-5914

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