Friday, February 7, 2014

Sven Hedin and the Chinese-Swedish Expedition

Sven Hedin
(1865 – 1952)
On February 7, 1935, the Chinese-Swedish expedition lead by Swedish geographer, topographer, explorer, photographer, travel writer, and illustrator Sven Hedin after crossing Mongolia and the Gobi Dessert reaches Xi'an on the Southern route of the Silk Road.

To one of Hedin's early influences belonged the return of the Swedish polar explorers Adolf Nordenskiöld, who was the first to complete the crossing of the Northeast Passage, came back as a national hero, and became young Hedin's role model. After graduating from school, Hedin managed to travel to Baku as a private teacher. In the following period, he learned togography, drawing and numerous languages from across Europe and Asia. In 1886, Hedin left Baku to continue his travels to Teheran, Shiraz, he traveled along the Tigris River and visited Bagdad as well as Kermanshah.

Back in Sweden, Hedin studied in Stockholm and Uppsala geology, zoology and Latin. But, Hedin longed for another journey towards Persia and in 1890, he accompanied Swedish politicians as an interpreter to Persia. They visited Teheran where he continued the journey together with Nāser ad-Dīn Schah to the Alborz mountain range. During the jounrney, Hedin collected lots of material for his dissertation and after returning to Stockholm, he published several scientific works and books containing his experiences. However, Hedin could not imagine to study much longer, knowing that there was still much to discover and he decided to become full time explorer, starting his first expedition in 1893. He explored Pamir Mountains, visited Xinjiang and numerous previously unnknown places, which he drew on more than 500 pieces of paper.
The explorations of Sven Hedin
During his second expedition, Hedin was the first to publish works on yardangs in the Lop Nur, a former salt lake in China, which fascinated him for all his life. After his third expedition, Sven Hedin brought back lots of geological material, which he gave to the University of Munich.

Sven Hedin's presumably most important expedition was the Chinese-Swedish expedition from 1927 to 1935. During the journey though Mongolia, the Gobi desert, and Xinjiang, the meteorological, topographical and historical findings were researched. Hedin often talked of a traveling university when speaking of the expedition. Along with Hedin, the expedition's leader, numerous astronomers, archeologists, botanists, zoologists and many more from several European countries followed his way. In 1933, Hedin led the expedition towards the famous Silk Road. Chinese politicians asked the explorer to find ways for improving the watering situation as well as to make plans for building streets along the route. On his way back, Hedin chose to travel the south route of the Silk Road to Xi'an, where they arrived in February, 1935. Along the Silk Road, Hedin managed to create several maps, he explored numerous lost ruins, and found important manuskripts, which were later exhibited in European museums.

Sven Hedin was awarded numerous honors from universities across Europe. He passed away in November 1952.

If you want to learn more about the famous Silk Road, you may be interested in the talk titled 'Great Sites on the Silk Road' by Dr. Nancy S. Steinhardt.

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