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A selection of comments made

Trading places with empire of the east
'Nothing really changes, does it? In a month where the World Cup is being held in Asia and the new face of an old empire is celebrated with a carnival procession and a pop concert, Trading Places is both timely and pertinent…. While this is not strictly an "art" exhibition , it is illustrated with some good and sometimes curious examples of paintings, engravings and objects, some drawn from the Library's own huge archive of the company. If you are a fan of nautical history or cartography it is also worthwhile…This historically rich show demonstrates that , between Queen Elizabeth I and II, globalisation has apparently come full circle'

Ham & High 14 June 2002

"Sorry - we cannot do justice on 24 HM to the exceptional beauty of much of the work on display in Trading Places. For this reason, I've put up detailed, cropped versions of some of the pictures, instead of whole images. You'll have to visit the show!"

Jon Pratty, Editor, 24 Hour Museum.

No musty documents
' a story of trade, war, politics and crime in the Far East…..an exhibition about the doings of the East India Company in Asia. It sounds boring but it is not. This is not a display of musty documents but of paintings and pots, of prints and textiles, complete with 18th century tea still in its container, muslin dresses and the Spanish silver coins which were used in the East'.

Financial Times 1 June 2002

Asian Influence

'there are some beautiful watercolours to be viewed… the message is clear, don't worry about meeting a Marx equivalent- get along to the exhibition, which is free and take a friend with you'.

Lloyds List 27 May 2002

Small world isn't it?

'Trading Places positions the East India Company as pioneers of globalisation, their boats bringing spices, textiles and furniture from Asia to Europe's affluent consumer classes. Plus Va change?'

Financial Times 25 May 2002

Tea, chutney and drunken sailors

'For an island race the British are anything but insular. If you've ever wondered about the roots of Britain's enthusiasms for other cultures, [Trading Places is] devoted to one of the most influential organisations in the making of modern British taste'

Daily Telegraph 25 May 2002

Whitewashing the past

'The exhibition has attracted criticism for downplaying the company's role as the biggest drug trafficker of all time, and its responsibility for the deaths of 17 million Chinese from opium addiction. The British Library insists it has offered a balanced account , and the exhibition does acknowledge the 'vicious' opium trade and the deleterious effect of Company rule on both China and India. But overall it handles the Company with kid gloves……

The most arresting item in this exhibition is an enormous chintz from South India painted with Japanese-style flowers and birds, bamboo tracery and erotic motifs. Amid this elegant luxuriance a harsher note is struck by a rectangular strip depicting an endless file of musket toting Europeans. Centuries ago the East India Company drew a lesson similar to the one recently drawn by the New York Times laureate of globalisation, Thomas Friedman: "You can't have McDonalds without McDonnell Douglas".

The Guardian 24 May 2002

All the Raj

'an interesting exhibition and programme of events……The East India Company was set up to exploit ..markets. In the end exploitation became the operative word. In time the Company, a commercial company driven by profit, not only controlled half the world's trade but administered an embryonic empire. In the process it initiated and displayed some of the worst aspects of colonialism, evidenced by the human costs of realising its grand dream of a global market. The exhibition closes on what they regard as a positive note, a 400-year cultural exchange between Europe and Asia... See it, and make up your own mind'

Asian Times 24 May 2002 and Caribbean Times 31 May 2002

Trade secrets

'The dearly departed Queen Mum was this country's last Empress of India. Now the British Library marks the 400th anniversary of the East India Company with an exhibition of porcelain, textiles and furniture along with contemporary documents and maps. It's a fascinating display of how these trade links brought changes in diet, fashion and lifestyle and eventually produced a very familiar British Citizen - a tea drinking, chintz-loving, bungalow dweller'

Evening Standard Hot Tickets 24 May 2002

Spice games

'[the exhibition] shows how the work of eleven men four centuries ago paved the way for what we now call globalisation. Left to establish a trade network in Bantam - a thriving port where the Muslim faith ensured a warm welcome and consistent weights and measures- they encountered merchants from the whole of the Asian continent…Yet the East India Company was to explore -and exploit - those markets in the name first of profit , then of dominion, to a degree none could have expected. Trading Places examines the balance of trade at a time when two worlds collided'.

Whats On 22 May 2002

Indian Summer

[the exhibition] reveals the hazards of the long sea journey;look out for the 17th century amputation saw and bullet extractor) and the rewards; the company's accounts show how vast profits were made through the exploitation of Eastern craftmanship and civilisation, laying the foundations for the British Empire in Asia and paving the way for globalisation'

Time Out 22 May 2002

Coverage of the Opium Wars

The Library’s new exhibition, ‘Trading Places’, has attracted the criticism that it does not cover the Opium Wars in China of 1839-42 and 1856-60. The BL's response is as follows:

The British Library exhibition 'Trading Places' does not set out in any way to be an apologist for the opium trade initiated by the East India Company which led, through the excesses of free trade, to the Opium wars. The Library's exhibition sets out to make available material in its collections, which illustrate the history of the company (whose records we have) and the resulting trade with Asia.

The sub-title of the exhibition is 'The East India Company and Asia 1600 - 1834' and defines both the vast geographical as well as chronological scope of the exhibition. It deals not only with China but Indonesia, India, Japan, and Iran.

The beginnings of the East India Company are told and its activities in various markets, right down to the cut-off date of 1834 when the Company's trading monopoly was abolished, ushering in a 'market free-for-all'. The extent to which the Company's relations with any one area in any one time period can be covered in detail are naturally limited by the space available for the exhibition, but we have tried to produce a balanced view of its relations with Asia as a whole over two and a half centuries.

The exhibition describes the whole range of the trade with China from 1670 onwards focussing initially on silk, next porcelain and then tea. The Company's role in exporting opium to China from the 1770s for commercial gain without regard to the social or economic consequences for China is dealt with in both the exhibition and also within the accompanying catalogue - it states that "the trade to China had begun to fall victim to a 'vicious' traffic in opium". This is a frank statement of the way the Company cynically introduced the opium factor into its trade with China. Indeed, the abuse of power by The East India Company was a major factor in the Company's loss of trading monopoly in India and China and in its eventual demise.

The Opium Wars occurred after the East India Company had ceased trading. The Opium Wars were not fought by the East India Company but by the British Government and its French allies and it is right that this history is properly debated but they fall outside the scope of this current exhibition.

The Library hopes that visitors will judge the actual exhibition as a whole when they see it and realise that we are trying to present material and open up the issue of the positive and negative influences of global trade for public debate.

Email: trading-places-comments@bl.uk

 
 

 

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