The Maritime Museum set sail against Canton

By on October 10, 2016

Honor, wealth, scientific discoveries, escape – the driving forces of the East India Company’s ships were once more the sails were set against China during the 1700s. Maritime Museum’s new exhibition, it is the people on board as the starting point. Join them on the trip to Canton and share their experiences of the environments and the meetings along the route. The exhibition Passengers – Swenska Ost-Indian Compagniet was inaugurated on 8 October.

People with diverse backgrounds thronged with goods and animals on board the ships to China: traders, scientists, ship officers, crew. The trips often took over 18 months. The primary objective was to buy and carry home the tea – it may be that generated the greatest profit to the company.

– Today’s trading in China is very comprehensive and when the world’s largest cargo ships are now adding to the Gothenburg harbor would be able to accommodate this year’s Christmas presents to the whole of Europe. The exhibition represents a historical perspective to this but most of all it takes a new approach to the story of the Swedish East India Company, says Hans-Lennart Ohlsson, head of the Maritime Museum.

The passengers experiences are the exhibition’s focus and sharpness given by historian Lisa Hellman’s research on the company employees’ lives in Canton. Letters, diaries and drawings allow us to get close.

During this time, China was a major economic power and dictated terms. There were few who were allowed to go ashore in Canton and no one was allowed to come inside the city walls. Foreign women were not welcome, foreign men did not meet with Chinese men and women were not allowed to learn each other’s languages.

There were very formal rules both within the company and in China. But they were not followed. What makes the story interesting is to see how the meetings and communications took place across cultural and linguistic barriers and how Swedish and Chinese people looked at each other. It can also be related to prejudices and stereotypes that still exist, says Johan Gustafsson, exhibition producer at the Maritime Museum.

The passengers experiences reflects not only Canton. The exhibition’s dramaturgy follows the route – the ships called at the ports and the meetings that took place there – Cadiz, Cape Town, Java. The shape is inspired by the load and hundreds of tea boxes both build up the rooms and serve as showcases. The exhibition follows a long list of unique items from both The Maritime Museum own collections and others. Here’s archives, art objects, appliances, preserved animals, china. And tea.
– It’s really a show to experience with all senses, here are the smells, sounds, video, interactivity and tactile elements, says Johan Gustafsson.

The exhibition fits a wide audience but is designed especially for families with children and to work in educational activities and programs for the school. The Maritime Museum is part of the National Maritime Museums, and has free admission for all.

Curator: Johan Gustafsson
Designer: Anna Asker

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