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Sarah Kenderdine. Pacifying the South China Sea: A Digital Narrative of Annihilation and Appeasement

The handscroll Pacifying the South China Sea, painted by an anonymous Qing dynasty painter almost 200 years ago in the early 19th century, is considered one of the jewels of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum collection. The scroll chronicles the suppression of piracy by the forces of the Jiaqing Emperor (r. 1796-1820). The events of the period are illustrated in twenty different scenes, each abundant with detail depicting the ‘annihilation and appeasement’ (jiaofu) of the pirates by government forces, allowing free trade to flourish again throughout the region.

In 1809, the three sea trade passages of Guangdong province were under the control of ruthless bands of sea-faring bandits, with coastal villages held to ransom. The official Bai Ling, who appears nine times in the handscroll, was central to forcibly pacifying this dangerous situation. A former judicial commissioner in Fujian in 1807 and subsequently Governor of the Three Jiangs (Northern Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Jiangxi provinces) Bai Ling was appointed Governor General of Liangguang (Guangdong and Guangxi provinces) in 1809. Painted years after the events, the historic scroll sheds light on how his arduous task was accomplished.

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