A Chinese physician accidentally ending up in Amsterdam in 1861
[A photographic portrait of Chinese medical doctor Lau Noni, or Liu Noni sinsiang (劉奴年先生)].
[Amsterdam or Leiden?], 1861.
Oval albumen print (26,3 x 20,2 cm), mounted on card (42 x 32,1 cm). At the back the sitter is identified in pen: “Lau Noni / v. Soa tau, an̄. 26. / 1861”. And in Chinese Characters (an autograph signature?): 劉 / 奴 / 年. Some typical fading and highlight yellowing, otherwise in very good condition.
An impressive and large albumen print showing Chinese medical doctor Liu Noni, who visited the Netherlands in 1861.
Noni’s visit to Holland was the result of an interesting turn of events. He had served as a doctor on a ship to Cuba, presumably in late 1860. However, after his arrival in Havana, he failed to find a ship back to China. He was making a living selling dried fruit when he happened to meet a Dutch captain who invited him to join his ship to The Netherlands.
Working on the ship as a steward, Noni arrived in Amsterdam in April 1861, where he stayed for over six months. He was the first Chinese visitor to the Netherlands in 30 years, and news of his arrival spread quickly. The Leiden scholar Johann Joseph Hoffmann (1805-1878), who studied Japanese and Chinese, was keen to meet him.
Interestingly, Hoffmann did not speak Chinese, but could write it. When the two met in Leiden, Hoffmann wrote down a Chinese greeting, whereupon Noni, who had been unable to communicate in Chinese for months, nearly cried with joy. Two of Hoffmann’s students later accompanied Noni on a ship to Batavia, from where he embarked for China.
Noni's visit was reported in several Dutch newspapers. The most extensive article was by the popular writer Pieter Harmen Witkamp, who met Noni briefly and wrote about him in the Nederlandsch Magazijn. Witkamp's article is still the most comprehensive source about Noni's visit to the Netherlands.
The present photograph was most likely taken in Amsterdam or Leiden. It appears to be listed in Frederik Muller's 1882 sales catalogue Les Indes Orientales under number 3398. Muller notes "avec signature autogr., en Chinois", which suggests that Noni's name in Chinese characters is indeed an autograph. Number 3399 in Muller's catalogue is the same photograph, but reduced in size. It is possible that the present photograph is the only surviving image of Noni.