At work in the field in Inner Mongolia, 1927. The geologist and archaeologist Yuan Fuli (???, 1893–1987) of Tsinghua University, the Swedish expedition leader Sven Hedin, and the Chinese expedition leader, Xu Bingchang of Peking University. From Sven Hedin’s Across the Gobi Desert (1931). WITH PERMISSION OF THE SVEN HEDIN FOUNDATION, STOCKHOLM.

The Sino-Swedish Expedition conducted scientific surveys of China’s northwestern provinces from 1927 to 1935. The expedition research program covered many disciplines, including cartography, geography, geology, hydrology, and archaeology, as it made a topographical survey for future roads and railway construction in the region.

The Sino-Swedish expedition (SSE), which lasted from 1927 to 1935, was a major scientific joint undertaking of Republican China (1912–1949) and Sweden. It surveyed most of Gansu Province, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang, as well as areas in Tibet and Qinghai, Yunnan, and Hebei provinces. The two leaders were the geographer Sven Hedin (????, 1865–1952) and the archaeologist Xu Bingchang (???, 1888–1976).

Their scientific and technical staff was truly international, with sixteen Chinese, fifteen Swedes, twelve Germans, two Danes, one Estonian, and one Russian. Geography, geology, geodesy, hydrology, paleontology, paleobotany, botany, zoology, meteorology, archaeology, and ethnology were among the disciplines involved. The participants called the expedition a “travelling university” because it was so interdisciplinary. It was the first scientific collaboration between China and Europe of its kind and scale. According to the agreement on the joint research program, paleontological, paleobotanical, and archaeological items found in the field would be examined in Europe before their return to China, a promise that was fulfilled in the 1950s.

On 20 May 1927 the expedition left Baotou in Inner Mongolia with a caravan of 289 camels to survey China’s northwestern provinces, locate possible landing sites, and establish weather stations. One of the initial goals was to establish a network of airfields that would link Shanghai to Berlin via Kabul. Air connections were later made, but the project sponsor, the German airline Lufthansa, soon withdrew its support when the local authorities forbade flying by foreigners. The expeditions other scientific undertakings continued with additional support from the Swedish government and Vincent Bendix, a Swedish-U.S. industrialist from Chicago. During this second phase from late 1928 to 1933, the area covered by interdisciplinary fieldwork expanded greatly. In 1933 Sven Hedin proposed to the Nationalist (Guomindang) government in Nanjing the building of motor roads to Xinjiang to help restore in the then-province the rule of the central administration—which eventually happened in 1950. The government agreed to fund the third phase of the expedition. After preparations in Beijing, Sven Hedin, with a team of four Swedish and three Chinese academics and technicians, left the city by car in October 1933, entered Xinjiang in February 1934, and returned to give their report to Nanjing twelve months later. Apart from the topographical survey for future motor roads and railways, they did extensive research in the geography, geology, hydrology, and archaeology of the region.

The work on the collected scientific data began in 1937 and still continues. The results have been published in fifty-six volumes in the series Reports from the Scientific Expedition to the Northwestern Provinces of China, under the Leadership of Dr. Sven HedinThe Sino-Swedish Expedition. The archaeological and geographical survey of the Edsina ??? area resulted in the discovery by the Swedish archaeologist Folke Bergman (???, 1902–1946) of more than ten thousand wooden strips, mostly in Chinese, dating between 102 BCE and 95 CE. One of the Chinese archaeologists, Huang Wenbi (???, 1893–1966), published books on the archaeological work done in the Lop Nor ??? area and the ancient city of Gaochang ??. The expedition has had a significant influence on the development of science in China because the students who joined the expedition later occupied high positions in the Chinese scientific community. Researchers today are, among other things, interested in the meteorological and climatic data that the expedition collected in the desert because the data provide information on desertification and climate change.

Further Reading

Bergman, F. (1945). History of the expedition in Asia 1927–1935: Part 4, general reports of travels and fieldwork. Stockholm: Statens etnografiska museum.

Hedin, S. (1931). Across the Gobi Desert. London: Routledge.

Hedin, S. (1933). Riddles of the Gobi Desert. London: Routledge.

Hedin, S. (1936). Big Horse’s flight. London: Macmillan and Co.

Hedin, S. (1938). The Silk Road. London: Routledge.

Hedin, S. (1940). The wandering lake. London: Routledge.

Hedin, S., & Bergman, F. (1943–1944). History of the expedition in Asia 1927–1935: Part 1, 1927–1928, part 2, 1928–1933, part 3, 1933–1935. Stockholm: Statens etnografiska museum.

Source: Romgard, Jan. (2009). Sino-Swedish Expedition. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1991–1992. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Sino-Swedish Expedition (Zh?ng-Ruì X?b?i K?xué K?ochátuán ?????????)|Zh?ng-Ruì X?b?i K?xué K?ochátuán ????????? (Sino-Swedish Expedition)

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