Culture Article

Zhou Fang / CGTN Reporter
/ Categories: News, Culture

Six Decades of Cultural Crossroads: China-France people-to-people exchanges yield fruitful results

China and France have achieved fruitful results in cultural exchanges over the past sixty years. These cultural exchanges have enriched not only the cultural and artistic lives of both peoples but also greatly promoted mutual understanding and friendship. The exchanges in the field of literature and art have been particularly active. China's traditional culture, such as Peking Opera, calligraphy and traditional musical instruments, has garnered widespread attention and appreciation in France. At the same time, French literary and theatrical works are also popular among the Chinese for their outstanding quality and unique charm.

Over the past six decades, Chinese and French artists, translators and educators from different times have played essential roles in cultural exchanges. Artists have promoted deep exchanges and mutual understanding between Chinese and French cultures through art instruction and creation. Educators and translators have dedicated themselves to translating and disseminating literary works, educational resources, languages and cultures of both countries.

Chinese writers and translators Shen Dali and Dong Chun were among the earliest cultural ambassadors dedicated to Sino-French cultural exchanges. The couple has written and translated in Chinese and French since the 1960s. They have both been honoured with the Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government.

Dong Chun (L) and Shen Dali (R) attend exhibition Friendship Through Sixty Years: Exhibition of Chinese-French People's Stories held in Paris.

The two have translated several French plays such as “Monselet,” “Erzebeth,” and “The Man Who Laughs”  into Chinese. They also made great efforts to stage some of these plays in China, such as “Erzebeth,” and “The Man Who Laughs," receiving enthusiastic responses from the audience.

Excerpts from Shen Dali and Dong Chun’s translation scripts of French plays are on display at the exhibition. 

Former French Ambassador to China Sylvie Bermann once said, “Dong Chun and Shen Dali are both seasoned translators of French works and tireless conveyors of culture between France and China."

Shen and Dong witnessed Paul Belmondo sculpting the statue of Premier Zhou Enlai. The idea of erecting the statue of Premier Zhou in Paris was first proposed in the 1970s and Dong Chun helped to push it forward through the then-mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac. The French authorities entrusted sculptor Paul Belmondo with the task of creating the statue. Since Shen Dali was a good friend of Belmondo, Shen and his wife also contributed to the whole process. The challenges and difficulties encountered in creating the statue, especially how to successfully overcome these challenges, are still vivid in the memory of the couple.

Dong Chun also assisted in inviting Paul Belmondo's son, the famous French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, to participate in shooting a retrospective of his father's “China complex” with a Chinese media production team, and she served as an interpreter during the filming process.

These two cultural ambassadors of Sino-French exchanges say that decades of cultural exchange work have enabled them to meet many French friends from various walks of life, including diplomats, writers, and artists. Every one of them hopes to enhance understanding between the two cultures and promote people-to-people connectivity as well as facilitate grassroots exchanges between the two countries.

Chinese literature has also attracted the attention of the French people with its rich content and unique style. The renowned Chinese writer Ba Jin is one of the most beloved authors in France. Many of his works have been translated into French and published and distributed in the country.

Tony Legendre attends exhibition Friendship Through Sixty Years: Exhibition of Chinese-French People's Stories held in Paris.

In 1991, Tony Legendre, a retired French English teacher interested in China, learned that Ba Jin had studied in France and was even his alumnus. He decided to write to Ba Jin and received his reply, in which the writer described his study and life in Château-Thierry.

A handwritten letter from the famous Chinese writer Ba Jin to French teacher Tony Legendre is on display at the exhibition.

Since then, Legendre has continued to follow Ba Jin's work. With his initiative, in 2009, the town of Château-Thierry organized a series of "Ba Jin Year" activities, introducing the writer and Chinese culture through various events. They also established bilingual memorial plaques in the school where Ba Jin once studied. Consequently, the La Fontaine Museum in Château-Thierry also compiled a collection of essays titled "Ba Jin, A People's Writer from La Fontaine”, which contains many precious materials and images related to the writer.

Besides literary exchanges, artistic exchanges between the two sides over the past decades have also been vibrant, covering multiple fields such as music, dance, and drama. Just one month after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, a Chinese art delegation was invited to visit France and was warmly welcomed by the French people, laying the foundation for further in-depth artistic exchanges between both sides.

François Picard, a professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris, has dedicated many years to the study of Chinese traditional folk music. He has published numerous works on Chinese music. In 1986, Picard went to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music to study traditional Chinese musical instruments, such as the sheng, the xiao, and the guanzi.

A traditional Chinese musical instrument, the xiao, from François Picard is on display at the exhibition.

Driven by his deep love for Chinese folk music, he traveled throughout China, conducting interviews and collecting folk music. Nowadays, Picard still regularly participates in Chinese cultural activities, performing Chinese pieces for audiences using traditional Chinese instruments such as the guqin and the xiao.

Meanwhile, many Chinese artists have been committed to showcasing the charm of traditional Chinese art in France. Their efforts have deepened the understanding of Chinese art among the French people while promoting cultural exchanges and understanding between the two countries.

Renowned Chinese guqin player Yang Lining established the Ningxin Guqin Academy in Paris to promote and propagate the art of guqin overseas. The guqin, with its rich and profound cultural connotations, has a history of over 3000 years.

Renowned Chinese guqin player Yang Lining performs at the exhibition.

Yang guides beginners on the path of the guqin and helps them appreciate the unique charm of traditional Chinese music while also assisting more advanced players in delving deeper into the essence of traditional Chinese art.

Yang has released albums such as “China Roots” and ”Three Stanzas of Plum-blossoms” in France and received the prestigious Golden Tuning Fork Award. In particular, former French President Jacques Chirac expressed great interest in the guqin after watching Yang's performance and wrote to Yang to express his delight in hearing the marvelous Chinese music.

The letter that former French President Jacques Chirac wrote to Yang Lining is on display at the exhibition.

The individuals aforementioned are merely a selection of representatives from various sectors who have been committed to fostering people-to-people exchanges between China and France.

Since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1964, friendly exchanges facilitated by cultural and educational exchanges have seen rapid development.

The two sides have signed a series of agreements since 1980 in the field of cultural exchange and cooperation, educational cooperation, youth cooperation, etc.

In 2014, the two countries established and began implementing the China-France High-Level Mechanism for People-to-People Exchanges. This group covers pragmatic cooperation in various fields, including education, culture, tourism, youth, and women. The sixth meeting was held at the end of 2023, during which both sides pledged to further enhance mutual understanding and achieve more results in people-to-people exchanges.

Over the past six decades, people from different generations in both China and France have enthusiastically engaged in learning, exploring, and disseminating each other's outstanding cultural works, values, and ways of life, thereby enhancing mutual understanding, trust, and friendship. Such mutual learning and integration has not only contributed to the development of the two countries' cultures but also played a crucial role in promoting the exchange, integration, mutual learning and advancement of world civilizations.

Zhou Fang / CGTN ReporterKailun Sui

Other posts by Zhou Fang / CGTN Reporter
Contact author
blog comments powered by Disqus

Contact author