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Friday, September 07, 2018, 11:57
A millennium of anchoring sea trade
By Rebecca Lo
Friday, September 07, 2018, 11:57 By Rebecca Lo

The East Meets West display at Hong Kong Maritime Museum includes a celadon dish fragment from Zhejiang province (left), and Ming Dynasty ewer. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

More than a millennium before Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, intrepid traders from Europe were plying the Asian waters. Hong Kong Maritime Museum’s latest exhibition, “East Meets West: Maritime Silk Routes from the 13th to 18th Centuries”, substantiates that claim with empirical evidence gleaned from buried treasure dives.

Its key artifact is an innocent-looking piece of rock. Found near High Island in 2016 by local divers, led by Bill Jeffery under license from the Antiquities and Monuments Office (AMO), the stone forms part of an anchor that dates to the Song Dynasty (960-1279). It took two years to restore and is exhibited for the first time at the East Meets West display. 

“Although it may not be glamorous, the anchor stock is our most important artifact at East Meets West,” says Libby Chan, exhibition curator and assistant director of the museum. “It has special meaning because it pinpoints Hong Kong’s importance with evidence that dates back a millennium. It shows that Hong Kong was already an important trading port city during the Song Dynasty.”

The anchor stock found near Hong Kong’s High Island in 2016 proves Hong Kong was a trading port as early as the Song Dynasty (960-1279). (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

“East Meets West allows us to explore the theme of Belt and Road, with Hong Kong as a customs hub connected to Greater Bay Area,” notes Richard Wesley, museum director. “The anchor stock, for example, is tangible evidence of this. I believe that each artifact tells individual stories, such as what sailors used to consume, or the design of Song Dynasty ships. And collectors will be interested in specific areas, such as ceramics or metal ware or maps.” 

Other exhibits include detailed Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) maps indicating sheltered bays in the Pearl River Delta and Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279)-era gold jewelry found inside shipwreck Nanhai No. 1. Together they paint a picture of Hong Kong as part of a vast network of trading ports.

Curator Libby Chan says the East Meets West show is meant to connect visitors to maritime sea routes on a personal level. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

“If people cannot find enough sustenance from their land, they will take to the seas,” notes Billy Tang Ka-jau, director of Society of Hong Kong History, at a talk held on Aug 13. “DNA evidence of Westerners were found on board Nan Hai No. 1. We can see that food stuff such as salt was traded.” 

East Meets West took a year to plan, says Chan.  The exhibition builds upon traveling shows presented last year by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage at Internationales Maritimes Museum in Hamburg and Museum Palazzo Venezia in Rome. This time it has a distinctly Hong Kong focus. 

“We want to give audiences a bigger picture of Hong Kong,” Chan explains. “We hope that both locals and tourists will realize the richness of the material on display and come to understand how maritime sea routes relate to them personally. Although the story starts in Hong Kong, it ends as a link to a wider picture of the route through southern China, Asia and onward to the rest of world.” 

Richard Wesley, director of Hong Kong Maritime Museum, suggests the East Meets West show could be of interest to both history buffs and collectors. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Approximately two-thirds of the exhibits are loaned from Guangdong Museum and Guangdong Antique Archaeology Institute. “Wen Jin, Guangdong Museum’s director, suggested that we borrow some of their artifacts for this exhibition,” Chan recalls. The rest come from AMO, Hubei Provincial Museum, Maritime Silk Route Museum, and private collectors.

“Guangdong Museum has its own team of conservators who checked everything before lending the artifacts to us,” Chan says. “Some pieces, such as lacquers, were considered too delicate to move. Every piece was chosen and assessed by lenders before passing along to us. And private collectors understand that this is an important venue to show their treasures; their items are on long-time loan to us.”

If you go

East Meets West: Maritime Silk Routes from the 13th to 18th Centuries

Venue: Hong Kong Maritime Museum

Central Pier No 8, Central

Dates: Through Nov 11

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