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Harm Stevens, Gepeperd verleden. Indonesie en Nederland sinds 1600.

Harm Stevens, Gepeperdverleden. Indonesie en Nederland sinds 1600. Nijmegen: Vantilt, 2015,180 pp. ISBN 9789460041570. Price: eur 24.50 (hardback).

Tristan Mostert and Jan van Campen, Zijden draad China en Nederland sinds 1600. Nijmegen: Vantilt, 2015, 248 pp. ISBN 9789460042294. Price: EUR 24.50 (hardback).

The History Department of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has embarked on an ambitious eight-volume project in which it describes and analyzes its relationship, since colonial times, with eight countries in South America, Africa, and Asia. The first volume on Ghana is now followed by the volumes on Indonesia and China. The books are not catalogues, but contain accounts of the fate of selected artefacts in the collection of the Rijksmuseum. In the Indonesia volume seven chapters show how a one-dimensional colonial view has changed to become a balanced recognition of the interaction between the Netherlands and Indonesia. In an imaginary trip through time and place these shifting perspectives are shown, discussed, and explained. The artefacts selected cover a wide range. A colonial painting of the Banda Islands introduces the 1621 voc massacre. The Pieneman painting of the surrender of Diponegoro (1825) is followed through the years. Unfortunately the painting of Raden Saleh of the same event is not discussed, although mentioned as a counterpart in the foreword by Ayu Utami. The gallery of 67 portraits of governor generals, once a Batavia symbol of Dutch rule, ended ingloriously in 1949 in shipment to Rijksmuseum storage. Portraits of the queens Wilhelmina and Juliana in a 1960 raid on the Dutch diplomatic representation in Jakarta were heavily damaged and are as such revealing historical documents. The provenance of a flag and a shield, possibly from the Indonesian opponents in the nineteenth-century Aceh War, are examined. The model of an imposing iron lighthouse serves to illustrate the role of technology in the colonial world. The official robes of Dutch and Indonesian officials, prescribed in detailed rules, served to maintain a static colonial order. All these case studies also make present a formerly hidden content, which is new and surprising. Harm Stevens, a curator with the Rijksmuseum History Department, admirably enlightens these histories of the Museum artefacts, in a well-researched volume. As is to be expected, about half of the book is adorned with full color illustrations.

The same high standards are upheld in the China volume, for which a curator Jan van Campen and a former junior curator Tristan Mostert are responsible. Their approach is different from Harm Stevens'--not selected case studies but a more conventional and chronological account of the relations between China and the Netherlands since 1600, continuously coupled to artefacts as kept by the Rijksmuseum and other collections. These reflect the changing interest, often even fascination, with China. In this respect, of course, financial considerations were preponderant. Trade with China looked to be a profitable enterprise as was clear to the Dutch from the successful commercial endeavors of Spain and Portugal. The voc was keen to break their monopoly and soon extended its activities, in the well-known mixture of military force and trade prospects, to gain a foothold on the Chinese shore. It was not a success: the Portuguese could not be ousted, and the official Chinese interest in a voc contact was only slight. The voc was successful in building a stronghold on the island of Formosa, which slowly became the capital of a territorial voc colony that lasted till 1662. After the voc was ousted it gave up its territorial ambitions, and contented itself with the promotion of the junk trade, with Batavia as its staple market. In this way the highly praised silk ware, porcelain, lacquer goods, and tea were brought into the European market. Chinese porcelain was very popular and became a common part of the Dutch household--and were even made according to Dutch orders by Chinese craftsmen. Luxury products were made for collectors and these became part of the 'chinoiserie' trend, popular among the rich, especially in the nineteenth century. As for trade Dutch firms kept offices and warehouses in Canton, including the voc even after its demise. In the meantime many Chinese had settled in the Indies, especially in Batavia, and were essential in keeping its economy running. The relations between Dutch and Chinese were endurable, except for the stain of a bloody massacre in Batavia in 1740. Real knowledge about China, its language, and culture only was gained in the nineteenth century, with the first scholarly sinology studies, to replace the unspecified awe and stereotypes for the beauty and opulence of China's culture. The Netherlands were involved, but only for a small part, in the opening-up of China and were represented in the extraterritorial treaty ports. Private collectors visited China and bought antiquities. In 1918 they organized in the Vereniging van Vrienden der Aziatische Kunst, from which quite a few members enriched the present Rijksmuseum collection by their donations. The book closes with the travels of filmmakers Joris Ivens and John Fernhout during the Civil War of the 1930s, making rare recordings of a country in deep turmoil. It is all well-done by the authors, and beautifully illustrated.

doi: 10.1163/22134379-17201019

Harry A. Poeze

KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies
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Author:Poeze, Harry A.
Publication:Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia and Oceania
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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