A visit to Jingdezhen with Bo Gyllensvärd
4-24 September 1992

An invitation and journey to study the recent findings from the excavations of the Imperial Ming Kilns
at Zhushan, and other aspects of the ceramic history of China in and around the city of Jingdezhen.
Text and photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson 1992

Friday 4 September 1992
From Gothenburg to Shanghai via Stockholm and Beijing

Departure from Gothenburg Friday the 4th of September 1992, at 1:30 PM. Leaving with flight SK160 to arrive in Stockholm one hour later. Departure from Stockholm at 4:45 PM via Air China to Beijing. Arrived at 01:45 PM Swedish time. Local time in Beijing is 7.45 in the morning. The time difference is plus 6 hours so to me this is in the middle of the night. The Chinese are up bushy tailed and going. It's fun to be here again but honestly, personally I feel like someone has sat on me.

The flight from Stockholm to Beijing took about 9 hours. Walking to the domestic terminal, it is to the right from where I am standing and in the same building. I am pondering what the terminal actually looks like and it feels rough. It is huge, brutal and functional. More like a workshop, a hangar or a sports arena then a western airport. The priority is throughput, like a New York subway station. Some advertising has made it up on the walls.

Departs from Beijing to Shanghai with MU5144. Arrives at 1.10. PM. I take my chance by choosing a private taxi run by a bunch of students that after some adventures brings me to the iconic Peace Hotel at the Bund, Shanghai's famed waterfront just before 3 PM local time. I have not got much sleep and am beyond tired, in a confused way.

Anders i Shanghai 6-7 sept 1992 Scaffold

Shanghai is being modernized. It is impressive to see the scaffolds of bamboo being used for so high constructions.
Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson, Shanghai 5 Sept 1992.

East Indiaman Gotheborg Excavation exhibition at the Shanghai Museum, September 1992

After checking in, I take another cab to the Museum just to find it closed for the day.

The weather is warm and humid and the heat is numbing, the traffic is virtually at a standstill. Decides to just walk back to the hotel. The Bund is being renovated. The sidewalks are being dug up and given a new paving. New trees are being planted in advance of the historic visit of the Japanese Prime minister at the end of October. The whole city will be decorated. Considering the Japanese history with Shanghai it feels very strange with that visit, even to me as a European with no particular relation to Shanghai. It makes me ponder how much history the Chinese actually study and what kind of things that you might find yourself in need to get over to get on with life.

Sunday 6 September 1992 - Shanghai

Anders takes me on a tour through the exhibition halls where he is adding the last finishing touches to the East Indiaman Götheborg Excavation exhibition. It is strange that such a grand Swedish cultural venture is being held in China but remains virtually unknown and unmentioned in Sweden. Shanghai Museum is one of the best in China and certainly one of the most prestigious. Anders, here and now meaning 'Sweden', has got the large main hall right inside the entrance. On the main facade of the museum is right now being hung a 44-meter long banner advertising the exhibition. Nobody has ever done anything like this in Shanghai before.

Anders Wästfelt in Shanghai 6 sept 1992

Anders Wästfelt in front of the main facade of the Shanghai Museum
where right now a 44-meter long banner is being hung, advertising the 'Gotheborg 1745' exhibition.
Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson, Shanghai 6 Sept 1992.

The exhibition is one in a series of three where the two other museums are The Asian Civilisation's Museum in Singapore and Flagstaff Museum of Tea ware in Hong Kong. These exhibitions have come about thanks to and through the mediations of our friends Bengt Johansson, Swedish Consul General in Shanghai and Anita Johnsson, head of Sveriges Exportråd also in Shanghai.

This is part of the extensive ground work being made by Anders to make way for a much larger project that will soon start. The rebuilding of the an actual replica of the ship Gotheborg that we will try to sail to China and back.

Pretty much everything we have in sinologists and experts on Asian culture and trade in China and Sweden are somehow involved promoting and developing Sweden-China relations. We all all very aware of that China is up and coming, fast, and that Sweden have a unique and long lasting relation to build on for the future.

The exhibition being built. In the middle of the main exhibition hall, a big ship's anchor will be shown
under a Swedish East India Company flag. In the mid 18th century rope were used for the anchor, not chains.
Every ship carried several anchors. This would be one of the smaller.
Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson, Shanghai 6 Sept 1992.

It is only to congratulate the Swedish companies that have taken the opportunity to participate. Mats Sjölin at the Gothenburg City Museum has produced a really great slide show presenting the city of Gothenburg and the historical Swedish East India Company. It is set up to be shown in a venue adjacent to the main exhibition hall and is a bit romantic, but it seems to be appreciated by local audience nevertheless. It is shipbuilding mixed with nude children bathing in the sea, to the tune of "så skiftande var aldrig havet" ...

Bo Gyllensvärd, has already arrived to Shanghai to attend the opening ceremony of the exhibition.

In the evening we all met at Anders and Berit's hotel room. Peace Hotel is a bit old fashioned and the rooms are quite spacious. In one month when all this was over and we both would be back in Sweden again, Anders would officially present the idea of setting up a new shipyard and building a replica of the Old East Indiaman Gotheborg, and with this ship sail back to China again, and officially reopen the historical trade route between China and Sweden.

Gotheborg Exhibition in Shanghai

In the evening I caught up with Anders and Berit Wästfelt who are here to set up an exhibition about their excavation of the East Indiaman Gotheborg, at the Shanghai Museum. They will also guide Swedish sponsoring companies and their guests through the exhibition. They will only stay a few days and then return to Sweden. From left to right Jarl Vansvik, Jan-Erik Nilsson, Berit Wästfelt. Shanghai September 1992.

From here on Erik Engel and Jarl Vansvik, both knowledgeable China collectors, will travel together with me and Bo Gyllensvärd to Jingdezhen.

Bo Gyllensvärd and Anders Wästfelt, Shanghai 5 sept 1992

Professor Bo Gyllensvärd and Anders Wästfelt, studying a Chinese bowl found at a local street market.
Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson, Shanghai, September 1992.

I left with Anders two small beautiful tureen from the Ostindia service by Hackman-Rörstrand to be forwarded at his convenience to the head managers Mr. Ma and Mr. Wang of the Shanghai Museum. These are two important contacts that I wanted to show how we in Sweden were still keeping our love for the Chinese export porcelain alive. I am not even sure that the Chinese themselves recognizes their own export porcelain but the quality I felt would be impressive enough to seen though.

From the Swedish camera maker Hasselblad I had brought a nice gift to the Shanghai's Governor General Mr. Wan in the shape of a massive glass model of a camera. Since we had had such a good time when meeting in Gothenburg last I felt it was a good idea to stay in contact. I really felt that Hasselblad would have a great future in China if they would set up shop here.

We all lifted our cups and mugs with tax free Long John whiskey and cheered to our various upcoming adventures.

Text and photos on this web page are copyright as published © Jan-Erik Nilsson, Gotheborg.com, Sweden 2014