Johan Nieuhof

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Joan Nieuhof

Johan Nieuhoff (Uelsen, 22 July 1618 - Madagascar, 8 October 1672) was a Dutch traveler who wrote about his journeys to Brazil, China and India. The most famous of these was a trip of 2,400 km from Canton to Peking in 1655-1657, which enabled him to become an authoritative Western writer on China.


Johan Nieuhoff was born in Uelsen, of which his father (originally from Zwolle) was mayor. Nieuhoff left for Brazil in 1640 as a reserve officer-candidate - from then on, barring two short family visits in 1658 and 1671, he spent all the rest of his life abroad. Nieuhoff was employed in Brazil to explore the regions between Maranhão and the São Francisco Rivers, made a particular study of the neighborhood of Pernambuco. He left Brazil in 1649, after the Portuguese victory in the Second Battle of Guararapes, and joined the service of the Dutch East India Company (or "VOC"). He resided several years in Batavia, and then was appointed in 1654 steward of a mission to China under Peter van Goyer and Jacob van Keyser.

He remained in China until 1657. In 1663 he operated as an ambassador in Quilon, after the occupation of the Malabar Coast by Rijckloff van Goens.[1][2] Then he was offered a post on Ceylon where he was imprisoned for seven months because of illegal trade in pearls.[3] Nieuhoff was sent to Batavia by Hendrik van Rheede and fired by the Dutch East India Company. On returning to the Indies from a trip home in 1672, he disappeared without trace on Madagascar, after landing from a sloop in order to seek drinking water.

China memoirs[edit]

The "Old Viceroy" of Guangdong, Shang Kexi, probably drawn by Johan Nieuhoff himself in Guangzhou in 1655.

In the first half of the 17th century, the VOC tried to break the Portuguese monopoly position on trade to Macau. When they did not succeed, they sent four embassies to Beijing between 1655 and 1685. The reports from these embassies and the reports of the Jesuits formed the only reliable source of information on China available in Western Europe. As purser of the VOC embassy to Peking, Johan Nieuhof in 1655 had special instructions to observe all "farms, towns, palaces, rivers, ... [and other] buildings" that he might pass by, drawing them "in straight form and figure", as well as remains of the historical victory of the "Tartars" (Manchus) that brought an end to the reign of the Ming dynasty.

At his homecoming in 1658, he had entrusted his notes and annotations to his brother Hendrik, whom Johan thanked when finally (in 1665) Hendrik produced an ample study of China, with many images, text and explanation of the latest events. Hendrik dedicated the work to Hendrik Spiegel and Cornelis Jan Witsen (Nicolaes Witsen's father), administrators of the East and West India Companies respectively. Translations into French (1665), German (1666), Latin (1668) and English (1669) were also published, each going into at least two editions. More of Nieuhoff's material, on Chinese ships, appeared in Nicolaes Witsen's "Scheepsbouw" (1671).

The 150 illustrations of the Nieuhoffs' book were one inspiration for chinoiserie, which became especially popular in the 18th century. Many artists and architects based their designs on the pictures in the book. The original drawings were rediscovered in 1984 in the collection of prince Roland Bonaparte, an anthropologist who collected material about Madagascar, Lapland and the Native Americans.


A drawing depicting the city of Kochi published in 1682.
  • Johannes Nieuhof (1668), Legatio batavica ad magnum Tartariæ chamum Sungteium, modernum Sinæ imperatorem; Historiarum narratione, quæ legatis in provinciis Quantung, Kiangsi, Nanking, Xantung, Peking, & aula imperatoriâ ab anno 1665 ad annum 1657 obtigerunt ..., Amstelodami: Jacobum Meursium, OCLC 2134985 
  • Het Gezandtschap der Neêrlandtsche Oost-Indische Compagnie, aan den grooten Tartarischen Cham, den tegenwoordigen Keizer van China: Waarin de gedenkwaerdigste Geschiedenissen, die onder het reizen door de Sineesche landtschappen, Quantung, Kiangsi, Nanking, Xantung en Peking, en aan het Keizerlijke Hof te Peking, sedert den jaren 1655 tot 1657 zijn voorgevallen, op het bondigste verhandelt worden. Beneffens een Naukeurige Beschrijvinge der Sineesche Steden, Dorpen, Regeering, Weetenschappen, Hantwerken, Zeden, Godsdiensten, Gebouwen, Drachten, Schepen, Bergen, Gewassen, Dieren, etcetera en oorlogen tegen de Tartars. 5th edition, Amsterdam: Wolfgang, Waasberge, Boom, van Somerten, and Goethals, 1693.
  • Zee- en Lant-Reise door verscheide Gewesten van Oostindien, behelzende veele zeldzaame en wonderlijke voorvallen en geschiedenissen. Beneffens een beschrijving van lantschappen, dieren, gewassen, draghten, zeden en godsdienst der inwoonders: En inzonderheit een wijtloopig verhael der Stad Batavia. Amsterdam: de Weduwe van Jacob van Meurs, 1682.
  • Gedenkweerdige Brasiliaense Zee- en Lant-Reise und Zee- en Lant-Reize door verscheide Gewesten van Oostindien. Amsterdam: de Weduwe van Jacob van Meurs, 1682.


  1. ^ "The second siege of Cochin". VOC Warfare. Retrieved 2012-02-01. 
  2. ^ Wouter Schouten (1676) Oost-Indische voyagie; vervattende veel voorname voorvallen en ongemeene oreemde geschiedenissen, bloedige zee- en landtgevechten tegen de Portugeesen en Makassaren, p. 201, 310.
  3. ^ Heniger, J. (1986) Hendrik Adriaan van Reede tot Drakenstein (1636--1691) and Hortus Malabaricus -- A contribution to the history of Dutch colonial botany, p. 22.


  • Blussé, L. & R. Falkenburg (1987) Johan Nieuwhofs beelden van een Chinareis, 1655-1657. Middelburg.
  • Nieuhof, J. (1988) Voyages & Travels to the East Indies 1653-1670. Oxford University Press (facsimile reprint).
  • Ulrichs. F. (2003) Johan Nieuhofs Blick auf China (1655-1657). Wiesbaden. ISBN 3-447-04708-9
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Nieuwhof, Johann Jacob". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 

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