- Sinofilerna: Kinakunskap, samlande och politik från Sven Hedin till Jan Myrdal (The sinophiles: China studies, collecting and politics from Sven Hedin to Jan Myrdal)
This provocative book written by a Swedish sinologist of a new generation is a valuable contribution to what might be called a revisionist literature on the history of Western sinology, particularly that of Sweden. (Earlier histories and reviews of Swedish and European sinology include Wilson and Cayley 1995, Brødsgaard 1996, Lodén 1999, Kampen 2000, Falkenhausen 2001, and others).
Perry Johansson investigates the ways in which the infatuation with the object of their study came to overtake famous Swedish China scholars, including the archaeologist and geologist Johan Gunnar Andersson (1874-1960), who founded the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (MFEA) in Stockholm in 1925; Bernhard Karlgren (1889-1978), Andersson's successor as MFEA director and Sweden's internationally most famous sinologist; Sven Hedin (1865-1952), the famous explorer of central Asia; and the railway engineer and amateur collector and scholar Orvar Karlbeck (1879-1967), who, though less well known, supplied Chinese objects for the MFEA and the various benefactors associated with that remarkable museum's early history, including the late King Gustaf VI Adolf.
There is also a chapter on the prolific contemporary Swedish radical writer Jan Myrdal (1927-), a longtime supporter of China's (and Cambodia's) Communist revolution, who is known outside of Sweden perhaps, above all, for his Report from a Chinese Village (orig. 1963) and subsequent books on the transformations of a village in rural Shaanxi. Myrdal is intentionally included with the earlier scholars in order to link the criticism of Swedish sinology with the present-day uncritical reception, and even glorification, both in Sweden and abroad, of all these China experts. The author argues that all of them engaged in Chinese exploits and embraced elite Chinese culture not only to further their own careers as China experts at home, but also (whether their politics was left or right) to help build a new form of "Orientalism" that privileged Chinese "high culture" and nationalism against both Muslim and Tibetan opposition to the Chinese empire or modern state. This neo-Orientalism entailed a strong identification with modern China's nationalist cause and its leaders, whom these sinologists uncritically presented to Swedish audiences as worthy national heroes (including both Chiang Kaishek and Mao Zedong). This central thesis is amply documented with examples of Islamophobia and disdain for Tibetan national aspirations that the author uncovers in previously unexamined archival materials that cast new light on the works of these famous men. Whether or not one agrees with the deployment [End Page 216] of the theoretical apparatus of Orientalism, the book succeeds powerfully in highlighting how these scholars became willing captives of the China of their dreams—the sinophilia implied in the book's title.
One key figure is mentioned only in passing: the important art historian and collector Osvald Sirén. Perhaps this omission can be remedied in an expanded English edition (indeed, one is apparently forthcoming from Brill). Osvald Sirén (1879-1966), internationally perhaps best known for his books on Chinese gardens and architecture, was born and educated in Finland, but most of his career was made in Stockholm. There, he organized the early introduction to Asian or Oriental art as a subject and helped set up displays of Chinese paintings and sculpture at the Nationalmuseum. These displays were relocated to the MFEA in 1959. Sirén should not be overlooked in any discussion of the shaping of the kind of master imaginaries regarding Asia's "high civilizations," which Johansson investigates. Sirén was instrumental in identifying "art" as the privileged form that allowed such Asiatic civilizations to be ranked with their European peers, a move that delighted antiquities dealers and collectors but that also displaced the holistic anthropological-archaeological approaches originally pursued by Johan Gunnar Andersson, the original founder of the...