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||Sven Hedin (1865 - 1952)|
Swedish explorer of Asia, writer, and geographer, the last person to receive a Swedish knighthood (1902). From 1913 Sven Hedin was a member of the Swedish Academy. Of his journeys Hedin wrote several accounts, which became extremely popular; his fame never rested on "scientific" discoveries. Through Asia, Hedin's famous book, appeared in 1898, and was immediately translated into English. Due to his narrative skills and phenomenal memory, Hedin's works, with their vivid details, are still fascinating reading for anyone who is interested in Asian cultures.
"Din drömska färd över haven
Sven Hedin was born in Stockholm, the son of Ludwig Hedin,
Chief Architect of Stockholm, and Anna Berlin Hedin. About at the age of
twelve Hedin decided to pursue the life of an adventurer. He was greatly inspired by the books of James Fenimore Cooper and
Jules Verne, and the exploits of Livingstone and Erik Erik
Nordenskiöld, whose voyage on the "Vega" through the Bering Strait into
the Pacific aroused great enthusiasm in Sweden. "Happy is the
boy who discovers the bent of his life-work during childhood. That,
indeed, was my good fortune," Hedin later said of his choice of career.
Hedin attended the prestigious Beskowska school in
Stockholm, graduating in 1885. The first opportunity to follow his
calling opened up soon after graduation, but it was not Arctic
adventure of which he had dreamed.Hedin accepted work as a tutor in Baku, on the Caspian
Sea. "During the spring and
summer of 1885, I was consumed with impatience for the moment of
departure. Already, in imagination, I heard the roar of the waves of
the Caspian sea and the clangour of the caravan-bells. Soon the glamour
of the whole Orient was to unfold before me." (from My Life as an
Explorer, 1930) While
teaching his pupil French, German, and Latin, Hedin himself studied
Persian, Russian, English, and Tatar. His long rides on horseback led
to the travel book Genom Persien, Mesopotamien och Kaukasien: reseminnen
(1887, Through Persia, Mesopotamia and the Caucasus), published by
Bonnier. During these years he also learned to speak Tatar and
Persian. He even spoke Mongolian better than his interpreter, but he
later said that he never learned to write Chinese properly. Hedin's
grave-robbery began in his second trip through Persia, when he brought
skulls to Stockholm. They were displayed at the Ethnographie Museum.
After returning to Sweden, Hedin started his studies of
geography at Stockholms högskola (Stockholm University College) under
the Norwegian Professor Waldermar Brøgger, becaming a doctoral
candidate in 1888. A parft of his education was done in Berlin. In 1890
briefly as an interpreter with the Swedish/Norwegian embassy to the
Shah of Persia and started a 3 600 mile long journey through Asia.
Hedin was blinded in the early 1890s in one eye, and suffered from it
until he was 82 – after an operation the sight was restored. Hedin
returned home in 1891. He published in the same year Konung Oscars
beskicking till schahed ac Persien år 1890.
In 1892 Hedin received his PhD – at the age of 27. Hedin's doctoral thesis was entitled Der Demavend nach eigener Beobachtung. (The Demavend through Personal Observations). Before setting out on his first real expedition, Hedin met Maria "Mille" Broman, his great love. On the edge of the Taklamakan Desert he received a letter telling that she was engaged to someone else. Mille eventually married Albert Lindström, a successful horse breeder. She died in 1928. "Asia became my cold bride," Hedin wrote – he never stopped loving her, although in 1922 he forgot Mille for a period, when he fell in love, at the age of 57, with "Schwester" Elizabeth. She was 31-years-old and married to Count Fugger.
Hedin began in October 1893 a journey that lasted three
"The whole of Asia was open before me. I felt that I had been called to
make discoveries without limits – they just waited for me in the middle
of the deserts and mountain peaks. During those three years, that my
journey took, my first guiding principle was to explore only such
regions, where nobody else had been earlier." In his account of his
famous journey through Asia (1898) Hedin described how he saved one of
his servants, named Kasim, by bringing him water in his boots. Later he
this episode several times in his drawings and writings. Two servants
died in the desert of Takla Makan. Hedin's attempts to climb the
Mustagh Ata, called "the father of ice mountains," failed, three of his
native guides died.
Between the years 1893 and 1935 Hedin made four expeditions to Central Asia. Sleeping on the ground gave him a certain satisfaction, an intimate connection with the soil of Asia. He charted maps of significant areas in Pamir, Taklamakan, Tibet, Transhimalaya (also called Hedin Mountains). In 1900-01 he made two attempts to reach Lhasa, but the race was won by a Japanese scholar Ekai Kawaquchi, who was a genuine Buddhist monk. However, Hedin met in 1906 Taši Lama, to whom he gave a medicine box made of aluminum. The Dalai Lama had fled in 1904 when the British troops entered Llhasa, and Taši Lama became the most powerful man in Tibet. In 1909 Hedin returned to Stockholm to his family as a celebrated figure. August Strindberg's sudden attack in 1910 was a deep blow to Hedin. The writer called him – unjustly – "an ordinary land surveyor," and considered Hedin's scientific achievements "humbug." As a writer Hedin was more lively and able than most of the novelists of the time.
In 1913 Hedin became a member of the Swedish Academy. During World War I Hedin was on Germany's side, expressing his views in Från fronten i väster (1914). In Kriget mot Ryssland (1915) he depicted enthusiastically the war on the Eastern front. The war prevented further journeys but in 1923 he travelled round the world. American women Hedin called spoilt and uneducated. In Moscow and St. Petersburg he was celebrated by Communist commissars as a guest of honor, although they knew his opinions about Bolshevism. From Peking to Moscow he traveled by Dodge and by train.
With German, Danish, Chinese, and Swedish scientists he
travelled in the Gobi Desert and Turkestan between the years 1927 and
1935. During this period Hedin met Chiang-Kai-shek, head of the
Nationalist government and generalissimo of all Chinese Nationalist
forces, of whom he also published in 1939 an admiring book.
When the American writer Pearl S. Buck
was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1938, she met Hedin
during her stay in Stockholm. "While walking about in my Asiatic
library, we did not lack for topics, and they all circled round China.
We spoke not least of Chiang Kai-shek, his heroic defense of his
country, and his admirable ability to gather, educate, and inspire his
people." (Chiang Kai-shek: Marshal of China by Svenb Hedin, translated by Bernard Norbelie, 1940, p. xiii)
Hedin helped the Chinese government retain control of the Sinkiang
province, by mapping out the old Silk Road of Marco Polo so that it
could be motorized. Hedin's China expeditions provided material for
three books, The Flight of Big Horse (1936), The Silk Road (1936)
and The Wandering Lake (1940). In 1930 Hedin received the first
Hedin medal, which was founded the same year for significant
geographic, especially cartographic research of less known areas. From
1937 to 1949 he worked on the thirty-five volumes which detailed his
expedition to Northern China.
Hedin was also politically active. In one of his books he
warned of Russian expansion and spoke for strong military defence and a
political orientation towards Germany. He kept warm relations with
Germany all his life, and was a supporter of the Nazis. In 1929 the
German optical company Ernst Leitz in Wetzlar presented a Leica camera
to him with the serial number 25000.
Like a number of Hedin's books, Amerika i kontinenternas kamp (1941/1944) was also translated into
German (Amerika im Kampf der Kontinente,
1943). Hedin argued in
it, that if Hitler's various peace offers had been accepted, the
ongoing World War II could have been avoided. Hedin also met Hitler and
Göring a few times and in 1940 he had long discussions with Führer
about politics. At that time the explorer was 75 but still appeared
youthful and vigorous. When Hitler wanted to know his secret, Hedin
recommended yoghurt. Behind Hedin's visits to Berlin was his fear that
the Soviet Union would again start a war against Finland. It could lead
to the situation, where the Red Army would stand on the border of
Sweden. To his disappointment, Hitler had his own plans. In 1940 he
confessed in a letter: "Även med risk av Hitlers vrede står jag med liv
och själ på Finlands sida, ty Finlands undergång betyder ett dödlingt
hot mot Sverige och för mig är Sveriges välfärd dyrbarare än vänskapen
med Tyskland." There is a street named in 1927 after Sven Hedin in the
Zehlendorf district of Berlin. The Sven-Hedin-Platz was added by the
Nazi regime in 1939.
In 1945 Hedin wrote to one of his German friends: "Im dritten
Reich ist alles schief gegangen. Hitler ist allmählich verrückt
geworden." (Everything has gone wrong in the Third Reich. Hitler has
gradually become mad.) After the war Hedin remained unapologetic about his Nazi sympathies. He denied that he knew the
truth about concentration camps. Hedin was not the only prominent figure
who supported Germany – the Nobel writer Knut Hamsun was arrested for
some time and placed on trial for his opinions. Hedin continued to
follow world politics and in 1949 prophesied: "Mao is the best thing
that has happened to China in a thousand years." For the younger
Swedish writers he was an easy target – the Nobel writer Harry
Martinson said that Hedin was an imperialist who happened to be born in
a small country. However, he managed to overcome with his natural charm
Per Lagerkvist's negative attitude towards him.
When Sven Hedin died in Stockholm on
November 26, 1952, he was almost forgotten. On his table he still had a photograph of Mille
Lindström, stuck inside a small religious calendar. Hedin's excellent
panoramic drawings have been of significant help, even up to the latest
decades, in interpreting satellite photographs. Hedin was buried in the cemetery of Adolf Fredrik church. Tommy Lundmark's book Sven Hedin-institutet - En nationalhjältes fall
(2022) brought Hedin's Nazi sympathies back to the spotlight. As a
result, the Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm removed part of Sven Hedin
For further reading: Sven Hedin-institutet - En nationalhjältes fall by Tommy Lundmark (2022); The Explorer Sven Hedin and Kyoto University: Central Asia Fosters East-West Cultural Exchange, edited by Tanaka Kazuko; photography by Satō Ken'ei (2019); 'Sven Hedin,' in The Great Horizon: 50 Tales of Exploration by Jo Woolf (2017) ; Explorers' Sketchbooks: the Art of Discovery & Adventure by Huw Lewis-Jones, Kari Herbert; foreword by Robert Macfarlane (2016); 'Flandern, Polen och Mesopotamien genom kamerans lins: Sven Hedin som fotograf under första världskriget' by Björn Gäfvert, in Årsbok för Riksarkivet och landsarkiven (2014); Med kungen som verktyg: historien om försvarsstriden, borggårdskrisen & Sven Hedin by Axel Odelberg (2014); Sven Hedin-institutet: en rasbiologisk upptäcktsresa i Tredje riket by Tommy Lundmark (2014); The Explorer's Roadmap to National-Socialism: Sven Hedin, Geography and the Path to Genocide by Sarah K. Danielsson (2012); Äventyr på riktigt: berättelsen om upptäckaren Sven Hedin by Axel Odelberg (2009); The Intellectual Unmasked: Sven Hedin's Political Life from Pan-Germanism to National Socialism: a Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Minnesota by Sarah Kristina Danielsson (2005); Southern Silk Road: In the Footsteps of Sir Auriel Stein and Sven Hedin by Christopher Baumer (2000); World Authors 1900-1950, volume 2, ed. by Martin Seumour-Smith and Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); To the Heart of Asia: The Life of Sven Hedin by George Kish (1984); Sven Hedin: en biografi by Eric Wennerholm (1978); The Great Explorers by P. Pennington (1974); 100 Great Adventures, ed. by J. Canning (1969); Sven Hedin as Artist by G. Montell (1964); Vad fann Sven Hedin? by J.G. Andersson (1935); Sven Hedinin seikkailut Aasiassa by F. V. Härmä (1910) - Note: Sven Hedin appeared in Göran Tunström's novel Juloratoriet (1983).