Sven Hedin

Sven Hedin

Hedin, an intrepid Swede and the first foreigner to explore the ancient cities and ruins of the Taklamakan, was a geographer and explorer whose discoveries won him two of the Royal Geographic Society's coveted gold medals, a knighthood from the British government, and honorary doctorates from Oxford and Cambridge. He was small in stature, an extremely determined man who published nearly 50 volumes of his travels and adventurous, and was well known and admired by kings of Central Asia and the world. Sadly, when he died in 1952 at age 87, he was forgotten by some and repudiated by others. During both World Wars, he had taken a strong and well-publicized pro-German stance that earned him the enmity of many former friends and colleagues.

Hedin studied physical geography in Berlin under Baron von Richthofen, a renowned Asian explorer. In 1890, at age 25, he made his first scouting trip to Central Asia, and four years later returned for the second of several expeditions that would last a total of 40 years. Hedin was a scientific explorer, and not an archeologist like Stein or von Le Coq. His interest in the Taklamakan and Tibet was in surveying and drawing maps of uncharted regions. His first near disastrous journey into the Taklamakan in 1895 was a landmark: it proved that, although it was hard going to travel into the Taklamakan, it was possible, thereby inspiring Aurel Stein and other archeologists and explorers to follow his example. Hedin's subsequent two expeditions into the Taklamakan, in 1896 and 1899/1900, led him to the cities of the southern Silk Road, where he made remarkable and archeological discoveries of an early Chinese garrison town, and charted the wandering Lop Nor Lake (before heading into Lhasa disguised as Buddhist pilgrim). Hedin's discoveries and maps proved invaluable to Stein, who followed in his tracks to Hetian and Loulan. Hedin's findings are displayed in Stockholm at the Ethnographical Museum.

In 1926, Hedin was invited by the Chinese government and German Lufthana Airlines to map a Berlin-Urumqi-Beijing air route. At this time the Chinese were extremely hostile to foreigners and Hedin's expedition faced numerous bureaucratic hassles, encouraged by rumours in the newspapers that he had come to air-lift art treasures out of China. The artefacts that were unearthed during this trip were all turned over to the Chinese authorities under new stringent policies regarding foreign excavations in the Taklamakan.

From Book "The Silk Road Xi'an to Kashgar"-Judy Bonavia


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