Hedin, Sven Anders

views updated May 21 2018

Hedin, Sven Anders

(b. Stockholm, Sweden, 19 February 1865; d. Stockholm, 26 November 1952)


Hedin was the son of Abraham Ludvig Hedin, town architect in Stockholm, and the former Anna Sofia Berlin. He completed his secondary education at Stockholm in 1885, received the B.S. at Uppsala in 1888, and was awarded the Ph.D. at Halle in 1892. Honorary degrees were conferred upon him by Oxford and Cambridge in 1909, Heidelberg in 1928, Uppsala in 1935, and Munich in 1943. Hedin was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Science in 1905 and became one of the eighteen members of the Swedish Academy in 1913; he was also an honorary member of many learned societies and holder of forty-two gold medals. He was ennobled by the king of Sweden in 1902.

In 1885 Hedin spent six months in Baku as tutor to the children of a Swedish family, acquiring a fair knowledge of Russian, Persian, and Turkish. His savings enabled him to make a four-month journey across Persia to Bushire (Bander e Būshehr), then up the Tigris to Baghdad and Kirmanshah. In 1887 he published Genom Persien, Mesopotamien och Kaukasus, richly illustrated with his own drawings.

In 1889 Hedin began advanced studies in geography at Berlin under the guidance of Ferdinand von Richthofen, then the foremost expert on the geology and geography of eastern Asia. Richthofen greatly influenced the future trend of Hedin’s explorations, and a lifelong friendship developed between them. Hedin interrupted his studies for a year beginning in October 1890, when he served as interpreter for an embassy from the king of Sweden to the shah of Persia; he described his experiences in Konung Oscars beskickning till Shahen af Persien ar 1890. Afterward, Hedin journeyed through the desert of Khurasan and across the Pamir to Kashgar in Chinese Turkistan, ending with a pilgrimage to the tomb of N. M. Przhevalsky on the shore of Issyk Kul. He recounted his travels in Genom Khorasan och Turkestan (1892–1893).

In 1892 Hedin resumed his studies in Berlin. His dissertation, entitled “Der Demavend nach eigener Beobachtung,” concerned a volcano in Persia that he had ascended in 1890. His first expedition into central Asia (1894–1897) was devoted mainly to the Tarim basin and the region surrounding the source of the Tarim in the Chinese Pamir. His principal destination was the great desert of Taklamakan, a region in which (according to ancient Chinese chronicles and local folklore) there had been rich communities, now buried under masses of sand. During his crossing of the broadest part of the desert in 1896, Hedin discovered the ruins of the town of Li Hsieh on the desiccated delta of the Chira River and other ruins farther east, which had been invaded by the steadily expanding desert in the first millennium of the Christian era. The expedition ended with a journey through northernmost Tibet, Tsaidam, Ala Shan, and Inner Mongolia to Peking. The scientific results were presented in 1900 as special publication 131 of Petermanns Mitteilungen with a six-sheet atlas on the scale 1:1,000,000, drawn by B. Hassenstein. A popular account, En färd genom Asien 1893–1897, appeared in 1898.

During Hedin’s second expedition (1899–1902) the exploration of the Tarim basin was continued with a detailed survey of the upper and middle course of the Tarim and its hydrology over a distance of some 340 miles (this figure is based on a straight-line route, while the actual distance along the river is three times that) down to Chong Köl, a region of large swamps and lakes where the greater part of the sedimentary load of the river was deposited. Hedin showed how this deposition of silt had subjected the course of the river below Chong Köl to great changes within historical time. As late as the fourth century the river flowed along the northern edge of the basin, where Hedin mapped its desiccated bed, to its ancient delta in Lob Nor, the P’u-ch’ang Hai of the Chinese chronicles. He discovered here the ruins of the town of Lou-Lan, or Kroraina, founded by the Chinese in 260 on the ancient Middle Road. A rich treasure of manuscripts collected from the ruins showed that about 330 the lower Tarim shifted into a southeasterly course, forming a new terminal lake in the southern part of the basin: Kara Koshun, discovered by Przhevalsky in 1876.

Having concluded these researches, Hedin turned to the realization of a boyhood dream, exploration of the Tibetan highland, relating the results achieved by Przhevalsky and his co-workers in eastern Tibet to those of other European explorers in western Tibet. From Charchan in the Tarim basin he ascended the Tibetan plateau and proceeded due south, with Lhasa as his goal. He did not reach Lhasa, being stopped by the Tibetans (foreigners were not allowed to enter Tibet) north of the city and forced to turn west, under military guard, toward the Ladakh frontier. But the route taken on the northern side of the great range, to which he later gave the name Transhimalaya, passed along the “Valley of the Great Lakes” and revealed the nature of this great depression, more than 600 miles in length, which in the distant past probably constituted the extension of the Indus. The personal narrative Asien, Tusen mil pa okända vägar appeared in 1903; the monumental Scientific Results of a Journey in Central Asia 1899–1902, with an atlas of eighty-four map sheets, followed in 1904–1907.

The third expedition to central Asia (1906–1908) began with a four-month comparative study of the great salt desert Dasht-i-Kavir in eastern Persia, the results of which were published in 1918–1927 as Eine Routenaufnahme durch Ostpersien. When Hedin turned to his main task, the exploration of Transhimalaya, he met with great difficulties and the opposition of three governments (Britain, China, and Tibet). Nonetheless, he succeeded in placing a network of route surveys all along the great mountain barrier constituting the watershed between the oceanic drainage and the drainageless Tibetan plateau. Its eastern part was known already as Nien Ch’en T’ang La, and its western part as the Kailas Range. Hedin explored and mapped the unknown middle part of the range. During his crossings, eight in all, he determined the altitudes of the principal passes and revealed fundamental features of its geological structure. These explorations also took him to the source regions of the Indus, the Sutlej, and the Brahmaputra (Tsangpo), and he located the sources of their main branches. Popular narratives of this expedition are Overland to India (1910) and Trans-Himalaya (1909–1913); the scientific results are incorporated in Southern Tibet (1916–1922).

On all his lone journeys Hedin carried out continuous route mapping by means of carefully measured compass traverses with astronomic control. From points along the route line he sketched panoramas of the landscape with remarkable accuracy, often taking in the whole horizon. Together the route maps and panoramas give a very clear picture of the topography. This method enabled Hedin to produce, unassisted, a picture of the geomorphology of vast areas of Tibet which would otherwise have required an elaborate topographical survey.

Hedin combined his route mapping with a systematic collection of rock specimens along all routes where rocks were exposed and made notes on their appearance in the field. Therefore the geological results of his journeys in Tibet were also pioneering. He made available the first knowledge of the widespread marine transgression over the Tibetan plateau during the later part of the Cretaceous, when the plateau was reduced to low relief. Very thick marine sedimentary sequences were deposited on the plateau. After its upheaval in post-Cretaceous time, from sea level to a height of more than 23,000 feet, large parts of this sedimentary cover were removed by erosion; but there still remain fantastically sculptured ridges and imposing massifs, the multicolored layers of which are the most beautiful element in the Tibetan landscape.

In 1926, with Hedin’s organization of a scientific expedition to the northwestern provinces of China, a new epoch in the history of exploration in central Asia began, not only because of the scope of the researches by a staff of experts representing most branches of geoscience but especially because of the close cooperation with Chinese scientists and scientific institutions. How this was accomplished is recounted in History of the Expedition in Asia 1927–1935, I–III (Sino-Swedish Expedition publications 23–25 [1943]). The expedition was originally financed by the German Lufthansa Corporation for the ground survey of a projected air route between Berlin and Peking along the central Asiatic desert belt, to be followed by flights for scientific purposes. Unfortunately, after a year and a half Lufthansa had to withdraw for political reasons. Generous grants from the Swedish government enabled the expedition to continue its work with an enlarged scientific staff for another six and a half years, two years of which were in the service and at the expense of the Chinese government—the Suiyuan–Sinkiang highway expedition (1933–1935). Although each member of the scientific staff had great freedom in choosing his field of research and usually worked independently of the others, the expedition remained an organic and effective unit in which the task allotted to each group by Hedin was defined after careful planning with the group leaders.

Now the great central Asia desert belt had been explored from Kashgar eastward to the farthest border of the Gobi. Extensive topographical surveys based on triangulation were carried out in Inner Mongolia, eastern T’ien Shan, middle K’unlun, and northwestern Tibet. This material and all other data available were brought together in Sven Hedin Central Asia Atlas, issued by the U.S. Army Map Service. The archaeological researches greatly increased knowledge of the extinct cultures in the eastern part of the Tarim basin and the last shifting of the Tarim back into its ancient bed at Lou Lan in 1921 and its consequences. Most important is the detailed investigation of the ruins of Kü Yen and its extensive suburbs in the delta of Edsen Gol; with its elaborate defense system, it was the northernmost outpost of the Chinese empire in the middle of the Gobi Desert during the first centuries of the Christian era. The finding of some 10,000 bamboo manuscripts there shed much light on the organization of early Chinese colonization along the ancient “silk roads.” During the Suiyuan–Sinkiang highway expedition Hedin discovered the intervening link of the ancient Middle Road between Kü Yen and Lou Lan.

By 1972 fifty-one Sino-Swedish Expedition publications had appeared: nine on geography and geodesy, nineteen on geology and paleontology, nine on archaeology, two on meteorology, four on botany, and eight on ethnography.

During the two world wars Hedin’s political activities drew severe criticism from many quarters. The desire of the Russian empire for access to the Atlantic was, in his opinion, a deadly threat to the Scandinavian countries; Germany, being in a geographically similar position, seemed to him Sweden’s natural ally. Hedin’s pamphlet Ett varningsord (1912) contributed to convincing the Swedish people of the necessity for a strong defense. Subsequent political developments led to implementation of many of the causes for which Hedin had become a spokesman, such as adequate armament, prolonged military service, and winter training.

Hedin combined the qualities of a great explorer, a great writer, and a skillful artist; his vigorous health, physical endurance, powerful will, endless patience, and apparently reckless courage many times brought him through seemingly hopeless situations. Using only simple means, he blazed trails through vast unknown areas, preparing the way for trained scientists. Hedin was the last of the classical explorers of the nineteenth century, but as leader of the Sino-Swedish expedition he became one of the most active representatives of the modern trend in regional geographic research.

Hedin bequethed his entire estate to the Sven Hedin Foundation, which is affiliated with the Ethnographic Museum, Stockholm, and is sponsored by the Royal Academy of Science.


I. Original Works. A practically complete list of Hedin’s publications is in W. Hess, “Die Werke Sven Hedin’s,” in Sven Hedin—Life and Letters, I (Stockholm, 1962).

Among his writings are Genom Persien, Mesopotamien och Kaukasus (Stockholm, 1887); the Swedish trans. of General Prschevalskij’s forskningsresor i Centralasien (“General Przhevalsky’s Explorations in Central Asia”; Stockholm, 1889–1891), with intro.; Konung Oscars beskickning till Shahen af Persien ar 1890 (“King Oscar’s Embassy to the Shah of Persia, 1890”; Stockholm, 1891); Genom Khorasan och Turkestan, 2 vols. (Stockholm, 1892–1893); “Der Demavend nach eigener Beobachtung,” in Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin, 19 (1892), 304–332; Through Asia, translated by J. T. Bealby, 2 vols. (London–New York, 1898); “Die geographisch-wissenschaftlichen Ergebnisse meiner Reisen in Zentralasien 1894–1897,” A. Petermanns Mitteilungen aus J. Perthes Geographischer Anstalt, spec. pub. no. 131 (Gotha, 1900); Central Asia and Tibet, translated by J. T. Bealby, 2 vols. (London, 1903); Scientific Results of a Journey in Central Asia 1899–1902, 6 vols, and 2-vol. atlas (Stockholm, 1904–1907); Trans-Himalaya, Discoveries and Adventures in Tibet, 3 vols. (London, 1909–1913); Overland to India, 2 vols. (London, 1910); Fran pol till pol, 2 vols. (Stockholm, 1911), abbrev. English translation, From Pole to Pole (London, 1912); Southern Tibet. Discoveries in Former Times Compared With My Own Researches in 1906–1908, 9 vols, plus 2–vol. atlas of maps and an atlas of Tibetan panoramas (Stockholm, 1916–1922); Bagdad, Babylon, Nineve (Stockholm, 1917); Eine Routenaufnahme durch Ostpersien, 2 vols. plus atlas (Stockholm, 1918, 1927); Tsangpo Lamas vallfärd, 2 vols. (Stockholm, 1920–1922); Mount Everest och andra asiatiska problem (Stockholm, 1922); My Life as an Explorer, translated by A. Huebsch (New York, 1925); Across the Gobi Desert, translated by H. J. Cant (London, 1931); Big Horse’s Flight, translated by F. H. Lyon (London, 1936); The Silk Road, translated by F. H. Lyon (London, 1938); The Wandering Lake, translated by F. H. Lyon (London, 1940); and Sven Hedin Central Asia Atlas (Washington, D.C., 1952–1959; Stockholm, 1969).

So far 51 Reports From the Scientific Expedition to the North-Western Provinces of China Under the Leadership of Dr. Sven Hedin (the Sino-Swedish expedition) have appeared (1937–1971).

Hedin’s political writings include Ett varningsord (“A Word of Warning”; Stockholm, 1912); Germany and the World Peace, translated by G. Griffin (London, 1937); and Sven Hedin’s German Diary 1935–1942, translated by J. Bulman (Dublin, 1951).

II. Secondary Literature. See N. Ambolt and E. Norin, “Sven Hedin’s Explorations in Central Asia 1893–1908 and 1927–1935,” in Memoir on Maps, I, Report from the Scientific Expedition to the North-Western Provinces of China no. 48 (Stockholm, 1967), 14–51; a congratulatory volume on the occasion of Hedin’s seventieth birthday, Geografiska annaler, 17 (1935); Alma Hedin, Mein Bruder Sven (Leipzig, 1925); W. Hess, “Die Werke Sven Hedin’s” (see above); S. Linné, “Sven Hedin and the Ethnographical Museum of Sweden, Stockholm,” in Ethnos, 30 (1965), 25–38; G. Montell, “Sven Hedin—the Explorer.” ibid, 1 –24; E. Norin, “Sven Hedins forskningsresor i Centralasien och Tibet” (“Sven Hedin’s Explorations in Central Asia and Tibet”), in Geografiska annaler, 36 (1954), 9–39; and S. Selander, Sven Hedin. Inträdestal i Svenska Akademien (Stockholm, 1953); and Sven Hedin. En äventyrsberättelse (“Sven Hedin. A Tale of Adventure”; Stockholm, 1957).

Erik Norin

Sven Anders Hedin

views updated Jun 08 2018

Sven Anders Hedin

Sven Anders Hedin (1865-1952) was a Swedish explorer and geographer whose investigations in Tibet and western China make him one of the most eminent explorers of Asia.

Sven Hedin was born on Feb. 19, 1865, in Stockholm to professional, middle-class parents. He received his undergraduate education at Uppsala and in 1881-1883 studied at Berlin and Halle. In Germany he became a staunch admirer of Prussian ways and culture and continued so throughout his life. Also, he came under the influence of the distinguished explorer of China, F. P. W. von Richthofen, and decided to devote his career to opening up unexplored areas of the map of Asia.

Hedin's first chance came in 1885, when he became a private tutor in Baku, a post that allowed him to travel in Mesopotamia and Persia. In 1890 he was appointed Sweden's ambassador to Persia and received support from King Oscar II for a trip to the Chinese border. Starting in 1891 from Teheran, he crossed the Khurasan region and Bukhara to Samarkand, reaching Kashgar in Sinkiang.

Early Explorations

Between 1893 and 1932 Hedin led five major expeditions and several lesser ones. The first (1893-1897) started from Orenburg, crossed the Ural and Pamir mountains, went over the Takla Maklan Desert twice, the second trip nearly proving fatal, and reached Lop Nor, the great salt lake of the ancient Chinese geographers. From kashgar he visited the Pamirs again and then made his first entry into Tibet. After returning to Khotan, he followed the Tarim River to Lop Nor, crossed Inner Mongolia, and arrived at Peking. He had covered 6,300 miles in 1,300 days.

On the second journey (1899-1902) Hedin followed the Tarim River, crossed the desert, visited Lop Nor, and discovered the ruins of the archeologically important ancient city Loulan. The Lama turned the expedition back before they reach Lhasa, and they had to cross the Karakoram Range to kashgar in order to return to Europe. The main achievement was to study the mystery of the "wandering" lake, Lop Nor. It had been visited first by Nikolai Przhevalsky and later by four other expeditions before Hedin offered his solution, now accepted, that the ancient lake had not changed its location but had dried up and been replaced by new, small lakes.

On Hedin's greatest journey (1906-1908) he crossed Persia and Afghanistan, entered Tibet, and identified the true sources of the Indus, Sutlej, and Brahmaputra rivers. He discovered and mapped the Transhimalayan Mountains, crossing the range eight times and overcoming formidable obstacles of winter weather, mountain passes never crossed before, and hostile local tribesmen, who kept Hedin prisoner for a time.

Travel was not easy during World War I, but Hedin did make short trips in the Middle East. His vigorous support of the German cause lost him the confidence of the governments of India, Russia, and China and hampered his exploration for some years.

Last Travels

Hedin's fourth journey (1923-1924) was a trip around the world, through the United States, Mongolia, and the Soviet Union.

Hedin's last big expedition (1928-1932) was a joint Swedish-Chinese-German effort. It made surveys in Mongolia, western kansu, Sinkiang, and the Gobi Desert, making extensive use of motor vehicles. His last trip (1934, aged 69) was to retrace some of the old silk-caravan routes in China.

After 1934 Hedin ceased traveling in order to write. He also became involved politically in support of Germany and in 1944 traveled to Munich to receive an honorary doctorate. During his lifetime Hedin was recognized as a great explorer. He was given their highest awards by leading geographical societies; made a Swedish noble (1902); elected one of the 18 members of the Swedish Academy; and knighted by India (1909).

Hedin's style of travel was to rely on small parties assisted by well-chosen natives. He had great physical strength and moral courage, with the originality to recognize great problems and the ingenuity to solve them. He never married, and he died in Stockholm on Nov. 26, 1952.

Further Reading

Hedin's autobiography is My Life as an Explorer (1925). A biographical study of Hedin appears in John L. Cook, Six Great Travellers: Smith, Anson, Stanhope, Stanley, Fawcett, Hedin (1960). Charles E. Key, The Story of Twentieth-Century Exploration (1938), has a section of Hedin's Tibetan adventures.

Additional Sources

Hedin, Sven Anders, My life as an explorer, Hong Kong; New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Hedin, Sven Anders, Sven Hedin as artist: for the centenary of Sven Hedin's birth, Stockholm: Sven Hedins Stiftelse: Statens Etnografiska Museum, 1964.

Hedin, Sven Anders, Trans-Himalaya; discoveries and adventures in Tibet, New York, Greenwood Press 1968.

Kish, George, To the heart of Asia: the life of Sven Hedin, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1984. □

Sven Anders Hedin

views updated May 29 2018

Sven Anders Hedin


Swedish Explorer

Swedish explorer Sven Hedin enjoyed a life of adventure that many would have envied. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, at a time when to some it seemed that all the frontiers of terrestrial exploration had been crossed, he added greatly to the knowledge of the mysterious region known as Central Asia.

Born in Stockholm on February 19, 1865, Hedin showed an early interest in geography and map making. As a teen, he was commissioned by the Swedish Geographical Society to prepare a map showing the Central Asian journeys of Russian explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky (1839-1888). The map received the praise of Arctic explorer Nils Adolf Erik Nordenskjöld (1832-1901).

Hedin took his first trip east at age 20, when he accepted a job tutoring the son of a Swedish engineer working in the Azerbaijan oil fields. He lived in Baku, on the Caspian Sea, in 1885 and 1886, during which time he learned Farsi, or Persian, as well as Turkish—indispensable languages for the study of the region. He then traveled with a merchants' caravan in Iran (Persia at the time) and Iraq before returning to Sweden, where he wrote the first of many books about his adventures.

In 1889 Hedin attended the University of Berlin, before serving as interpreter for a diplomatic mission to Persia. Afterward, he traveled east as far as Kashgar, the westernmost city of the Chinese Empire. In 1891 he returned to Sweden, where he published another book, and the following year he earned his doctorate in geography at the University of Halle in Germany.

Plagued with a problem that caused him to lose vision in one eye, Hedin nonetheless embarked on his first scientific expedition, funded in part by Sweden's King Oscar II, in 1893. He traveled through Tashkent and western China before winding up at the forbidding Taklamakan Desert—once visited by Marco Polo—in early 1895. One of his guides died in crossing the Taklamakan, and, indeed, Hedin's entire party might have died as well had they not finally found a well at the desert's edge.

After recovering in Kashgar, he crossed another major desert, the Tarim Basin, and near the city of Khotan found the remains of ancient cities that showed the influence of faraway Persia and India. This discovery sparked a great deal of interest among archeologists and historians. He also studied the desert lake of Lop Nor, seeking to solve the mystery of why it constantly shifts in size and location. Heading on to the capital at Beijing, he crossed the Gobi Desert's eastern end and wound up at the Trans-Siberian Railroad, which he took west to St. Petersburg and an audience with the czar.

On his next journey, Hedin had the backing of the Russian monarch, who provided him with a Cossack escort. He explored the Tarim River and Lop Nor and entered Tibet, where he hoped to travel under disguise to the capital in Lhasa—off limits to Westerners. Tibetan officials discovered him and he had to turn back. He made his way to Calcutta, where he met with Lord Curzon, the viceroy, then traveled north to Russia. Upon returning to Sweden, he became the last person in that country's history to receive a title of nobility.

In 1905 Hedin set out once more, and by 1906 he was back in Tibet. He mapped much previously unexplored territory; visited the country's second-largest city, Shigatse; and discovered the source of the Brahmaputra River. Returning to India in 1908, he moved northward to Russia, heading east on the Trans-Siberian Railway. In Japan, he met with the emperor and then returned to Sweden, where the royal family and prime minister greeted his boat in the harbor.

During the 1920s, Hedin directed explorations of Asia at the behest of German aircraft-magnate Hugo Junkers, who wanted to set up weather stations in the region. Working with the Chinese government in what was dubbed the Sino-Swedish Scientific Expedition, he directed groups of scientists who explored Inner Mongolia and other vaguely defined regions. The expedition produced 54 volumes of findings, the last being published in 1982.

Hedin supported the Nazis and was the only foreigner to deliver one of the opening speeches at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He used his influence, however, to save the lives of 13 Norwegian resistance fighters and that of a Jewish friend in Germany. A prolific writer during the 1930s and 1940s, Hedin remained active throughout his life. In later years, an operation restored the sight that he had lost in one eye six decades earlier. He died on November 26, 1952.