Setting Sail : From Ancient Maritime Trade to Modern Maritime Shipping

Updated: Mar 14

On 23 October 2021, the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, in collaboration with the Blanc Art Group, brought the exhibition "Setting Sail: From Ancient Maritime Trade to Modern Maritime Shipping" to the 2021 International Antique Art Fair at the Building A1 of the National Foreign Cultural Trade Base (Beijing).

The exhibition is in three sections, namely “Underwater Archaeology and the Ancient Maritime Trade”, “Finding the way: Navigation and Communication” and “The Voice of Titanic: Safety of Life at Sea”, displaying more than 130 pieces of exhibits including ship models, nautical instruments, antique porcelain, trade paintings, and old photographs.

Exhibition view

With the themes of "Maritime Technology" and "Maritime Silk Road Trade", the exhibition focuses on creating an immersive experience that brings cultural relics to life. The exhibition hopes to bridge the dialogue between the museum and the public through the artefacts, and to recreate the splendid maritime culture and the important role of the Maritime Silk Roads from ancient times to the present day.

Section 1. Underwater Archaeology and the Ancient Maritime Trade

Our underwater heritage encompasses the rich cultural relics of humankind. Such heritage, discovered through underwater archaeological investigations, provides testimony to our shared history and the Maritime Silk Routes which Chinese, Arab, Asian and Western traders followed for over 2000 years.

The term, “die Seidenstraße” (The Silk Routes), was first coined by the German geologist Ferdinand Von Richthofen in 1877. The name was given to the ancient and extensive transcontinental trade network connecting the East and the West. In the second century BCE, the imperial envoy Zhang Qian was dispatched to Central Asia during the time of the Han dynasty. Maritime trade starting from South China towards Central and West Asia was developed and commercial relations between the East and the West began to flourish.

Coral encrusted ceramic cluster of Chinese export porcelain, late 17th century, HKMM2004.0210.0001

The spread of culture, decorative style and religious ideas came as a result of centuries of maritime trade between China and the world. The artefacts on display include materials from different cultures such as export ceramics from China and Southeast Asia and gemstones from Southeast and Central Asia. Some relics were even recovered through local underwater archaeological investigations. They all reflect trade development and cultural interactions between China and other countries. Recent underwater archaeological discoveries and topics related to High Island and the Sai Kung Sea, help visitors to understand Hong Kong's role in the ancient maritime trade network that stretched across the Pearl Delta River Region, Southern China, Asia and beyond.