- China Before China: Johan Gunnar Andersson, Ding Wenjiang, and the Discovery of China’s Prehistory/Zhongguo zhi qian de Zhongguo: Antesheng, Ding Wenjiang he Zhongguo shiqianshi de faxian by Magnus Fiskesjo and Chen Xingcan, and: Kina före Kina by Eva Myrdal
These two books relate to the Kina före Kina (China before China) exhibit at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities (hereafter MFEA) in Stockholm, Sweden, which opened in September 2004. The Neolithic objects on display were collected by Johan Gunnar Andersson and his team in Central and Western China in the 1920s. Andersson’s discoveries depended not only on his personal interests, but also on the interest of others and on the political and economic realities in Europe and Asia at the time.
The first book discussed here is the exhibit companion volume, which tells the history of these discoveries with a special emphasis on the context of the events described. The book is a joint project by Magnus Fiskesjö, a former director of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, and Chen Xingcan, a prominent Chinese archaeologist. The authors did not mean this to be the ultimate study on Andersson and MFEA, but rather to provide a starting point for a more extensive investigation into the early years of archaeology in China as it relates to Andersson and the Museum.
The second chapter provides a chronological description of Johan Gunnar Andersson’s career, his discovery of Chinese Neolithic finds, and the birth of MFEA’s collections. It develops Andersson’s story in tandem with that of Ding Wenjiang, Andersson’s employer, collaborator, and friend. This joint treatment highlights the crucial role Ding Wenjiang played in Andersson’s discoveries, a role that is often left unmentioned. The chapter is packed with information and it is by far the most interesting part of the book. Nearly every sentence hints at additional avenues of research, although they are here left unexplored. Among the most important revelations this chapter provides is that Andersson’s Neolithic discoveries were the result of purposeful inquiry into China’s past fueled by nationalistic sentiments back in Sweden. According to the authors, the endorsement of another Swedish archaeologist, Oscar Montelius, partly accounts for the support Andersson received from the Swedish government and from the Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf. Interesting also is the description of the agreement between the Swedish and Chinese collaborators over the division of the collections and publication of the findings. This chapter also reveals connections between Andersson and the geographer Sven Hedin, and touches upon the history of MFEA’s bronze collections. The chapter ends with Andersson’s last trip to China when the location of the returned half of the collection was last documented, and with MFEA’s history since Andersson’s death.
In the third chapter, Chen examines Andersson’s changing fame within China since the start of his archaeological work until the present day. Chen notes that these changes are a reflection of the history of modern Chinese archaeology as the attitudes toward Andersson have changed according to the political climate of any given period. This same political climate determined how and why archaeology was supposed to be practiced. Chen divides his treatment of the subject into three periods: the first covering the years between 1921 and 1949, the second 1950–1985, and the third covering the post-1985 [End Page 333] era. According to Chen, during the first period Andersson’s work faced normal scholarly criticism focusing on his field methods and dating of archaeological cultures. During the second period, Andersson was treated as an accomplice of Western colonialism and imperialism mainly due to his initial hypothesis that Chinese Neolithic painted...