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Peeking into the Empires: Dutch Embassies to the Courts of China and Japan

  • Leonard Blussé


In the 1660s the renowned publishing company of Jacob van Meurs in Amsterdam published three richly illustrated monographs that fundamentally changed the European perceptions of the empires of China and Japan. It all started with the publication in 1665 of the travel notes and sketches that Joan Nieuhof had made ten years earlier, while travelling in the retinue of two Dutch envoys to the Manchu court in Peking. With no less than 150 copper prints, this book aroused so much interest in travel topics—it was published in Dutch, French, German, Latin, and English—that Van Meurs did not hesitate to launch a whole series of illustrated volumes about faraway countries. To keep the China lovers happy, he published a reprint of the richly illustrated China Monumentis by the German Jesuit Athanasius Kircher. In 1668, another monumental illustrated work appeared in Dutch (and later also German, English and French editions) time about Africa written by the Amsterdam physician Olfert Dapper, and shortly afterwards, when that publication also proved to be a smashing success, Van Meurs asked for the right to publish two more works, one on Japan and one on China. That privilege was obtained on March 1669. The book on Japan, Gedenkwaerdige Gesantschappen der Oost-Indische Maetschappij aen de Kaisaren van Japan, or “Memorable embassies of the (Dutch) East India Company to the Emperors of Japan,” was compiled by Arnoldus Montanus, a learned Dutch clergyman, who according to the preface had already published fifty-three monographs. The book on China was authored by Olfert Dapper, who this time edited the travelogues of the second and third Dutch embassies to China. What made these books so interesting is that they all were based on eyewitness accounts of the interior of the widely known but little explored empires of China and Japan by servants of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The reason why it was possible for the Dutch merchants to travel where few other westerners had gone before was that they had been sent by the directors of the company as envoys bearing tribute presents to the rulers of both realms to secure privileged trading rights.



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Peeking into the Empires: Dutch Embassies to the Courts of China and Japan

  • Leonard Blussé


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