Dr. Gesterkamp’s research topic for the project The Chinese Impact is titled “Red-Haired Barbarians: Images and Ideas of the Dutch in China, 1601-1739”. The Dutch encounter with China is well-known and well-researched, which mostly focuses and the multiple attempts of the Dutch to establish trade contact with the Chinese in the seventeenth-century, but all to no avail. Because these studies relied heavily on western sources, the research will by contrast focus on the Chinese view on the Dutch as evinced in Chinese sources, both textual and visual. Because the failure of the Dutch expedition has been ascribed since early times to Portuguese and Jesuit meddling, as one of the main causes, the research will also attempt the shed new light on the Chinese motives behind the refusal to establish trade relations with the Dutch, rather arguing that the Dutch were fitted into ancient-old views of foreigners held by the Chinese.

From the very first encounter between the Dutch and Chinese in Macao in 1601 until the publication of the official History of the Ming in 1739, the Dutch have consistently been described as well as depicted as “red-haired barbarians” (hongmao fan or hongmao yi), which obviously is not a very positive name. Why were the Dutch named “red-haired barbarians”? Was it based on a real-life description or was it influenced by Chinese cultural and historical views on foreigners as well? Why was it impossible for the Dutch to establish trade relations while the Portuguese and other European nations could, before and after them, even though at the time the Dutch were the greatest sea-faring nation on the planet?

In order to answer these questions, the research investigates several Chinese texts describing the Dutch, tracing the evolution of the image of the “red-haired barbarian” and revealing the possible motivations for the Chinese refusal. The findings of the research, albeit dealing with the seventeenth century, should also contain valuable lessons for modern times during which trade relations between China and the Netherlands, as well as other countries, are similarly sought after, and often similarly met with failure.

Other research interests include the collection of Chinese paintings, prints, and books by the Dutch in the seventeenth century; Chinese costume as depicted in Dutch and other European images of China; the introduction of Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian images in Dutch art and books; and the Dutch and European interpretation of Chinese religion and philosophy in the seventeenth century and the role of the Netherlands in its dissemination and understanding in Europe.

Lennert Gesterkamp is a Chinese art historian and sinologist specializing in Chinese painting, Daoist art, and East-West cultural interactions. He began his studies at Leiden University graduating on Daoist texts, did another MA at SOAS, London, on Chinese art and archaeology, and completed a PhD dissertation on Daoist temple painting, which was published by Brill in 2011. He further specialized in Chinese landscape during two postdoc researches at the Academia Sinica, Taipei, and Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, and currently broadens his expertise further with a postdoc research on East-West relations at Utrecht University in the project of The Chinese Impact.