Sino-French Soliloquies

Word counts don’t mean so much at the end of the day, the release of a big article manuscript into the hands of a capable editor should always be grounds for a minor celebration.   It also seems clear that in writing as in life it is good to have a little bit too much of everything — of friendship, of commitments, of food, of music, and of words.

So this morning I woke up and decided to shave — that is, to shave three thousand words off of the end of a piece I have been writing about Sino-French relations in the 1950s and to put it over there. Yes, to submit it, to rend one’s work into the thresher that is the academic journal publishing forum.  Rather than ruminate on word counts though, for fear of disturbing readers who see such statistics as meaningless (another 11,000 words under review? who cares?), I thought some further thinking about the subject and the content might be nice before the prospect of publication of manuscript turns into die ferne Geliebte, which is to say, unattainable.

On Sino-French Dynamics

Why is it that the European press – and particularly the French press – retains such a deep ambivalence toward China?  Since even before the French recognition of the PRC in 1964, China been portrayed as a dangerous violator of human rights, but also as a promised land of perfect socialism and future human development.  If we dig a bit deeper, we can see how the roots of several themes present in contemporary reportage regarding China today in the French press stem from the 1950s.  The individuals who wrote about China in the 1950s in France were an interesting bunch, and understanding their outlooks and their foundational role aids us today in understanding the multiplicity of voices within France, and can help us to trace back these strands of often cacophonous French public opinion today towards China.

One of the most famous depictions of China in France in the 1950s emerged from the studio of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.  This work strongly influenced French views of the founding of the PRC and the end of the old order, and remains an important historical source.  Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre wrote an introduction to the publication of Cartier Bresson’s photographs in 1954, crafting a spirited defense of China as a normal country.  Sartre deconstructed the exoticization of previous images of the Chinese in France, and going on to declare, in essence, that the new China was bringing about the end of mankind’s history of poverty.

[See Sartre, preface to CB, D’une Chine a’ l’autre (Paris: Del Pire, 1954); reprinted and translated in JP Sartre, “Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism,” (Routledge, 2006), pp. 22-25.  Interestingly enough, the Sartre compilation is now promoted by the Foreign Languages Press Bookstore in Beijing. ]

That the CCP was being rendered aid by such a distinguished public figure must have come to the attention of the Party, but no documents on him or his visit are as yet available.  He became an increasingly active voice in terms of critiques of French foreign policy in the late 1950s, and the decolonization debate.  He was well disposed to discuss it.  In a short but penetrating essay that appeared as a preface to the text and was often reprinted thereafter, Sartre deconstructed the French image of China.

It seems that French intellectuals were unable to disconnect their support of the PRC, vague though it might have been, with their own desire to end or modify colonialism.  Whether it was looking at the Algeria problem or critiquing French intervention in the Suez Crisis, French leftists could look to the PRC as a bastion of reliably anti-colonial rhetoric and inspiration.  Chinese publications in French (Mao’s Works, etc.) began to trickle into French bookstores and libraries, but such Asian liberation stuff was (likely) seen as anathema by local officials in French cities.  Nevertheless consciousness was expanding in the universities of China and elsewhere.

French journalists and leftists would go to China in larger numbers in the early 1960s.  One, Jacques Jacquet-Francillon, traveled there with his wife to Beijing in 1960, meeting with Deng Yingchao and seeing a parade to welcome Kim Il Sung to the Chinese capital.  [See Jacques Jacquet-Francillon, Chine: A Huis Clos (Presses de la Cité, 1960).]

Jean Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir at a rally in Cuba with Che Guevara, et al, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Today, new sources help us to better pinpoint how the Chinese regime viewed these efforts and the role they played in furthering Sino-French relations (or, one might say more critically, dispersing a sanitized and purely positive picture of China) on multiple levels.  The holdings on PRC relations with France are, in comparison to previously published primary sources in Chinese, vast in the Chinese Foreign Ministry Archive.  (The years 1953-1964 encompass 1226 documents directly on the subject of France.)

Tibet in Sino-French Relations

One last subject I wish to examine here has to do with Tibet, a very sore spot in Sino-French relations today.  Paris mayor Bernard Delanoe, a senior Socialist Party member with aspirations to run for President himself from the left in 2012, meets almost every year with the Dalai Lama in visits that invariably bring stern condemnations (are there any other kind?) from the Chinese side.

To what extent did the French give a damn about Tibet in the 1950s?  What was Tibet consciousness like in France prior to, say, the Dalai Lama’s “Strasbourg” speech in the late 1980s?  Certainly there were few French citizens in Tibet in the early 1950s.  One document in the archives from the PRC in 1952 describes the numbers of foreigners in Tibet, indicating that there were more Swiss than any other nationality, and just a handful of French and Germans, hardly enough to constitute a core of any kind of “counter-revolutionary rebellion.”

[See PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs Archive, Beijing, Document # 105-00233-02, 西藏和平解放后英国,法国,印度,德国人在西藏边界活动情况 [Xizang heping jiefang hou Yingguo, Faguo, Yindu, Deguo ren zai Xizang bianjie huodong qingkuang / “Situation of Activities of British, French, Indians, and German people inside the borders of Tibet after Tibet’s Peaceful Liberation”], 1952 [undated]- 31 May 1953, 8 pages.]

The Chinese were far more worried about the Indians, and remain so, when it comes to Tibet, and in the 1950s, to my knowledge, no European countries were actively aiding the Tibetan resistance movement, much less doing so with anywhere near the arms and funds flowing out of Washington into the exile movement and into Tibet itself.  Nowhere yet in my own research – tho I have yet to do a really thorough reading through of, say, Le Monde for 1951 – have I found some alarm bell of an article in the French press calling attention to imperiled Tibetan culture.  In the mid-late 1950s with France, even though the French had nothing to lose, as relations had yet to be achieved during a slight warming trend, no French Prime Minister or President stood up to denounce Chinese “repression” in Tibet.  On the other hand, it seemed, starting in 1955, French leaders were seeking to remove any obstacle they could to reaching the Chinese market.  However, it may be worth investigating further the 1959 Tibet uprising as it was reflected in the French media or among French politicians interested in China.  In other words, if Sino-French relations are going to continue to threaten to tailspin every time the Dalai Lama hits the continent, perhaps an earnest look at the origins of the Tibet problem so far as the French public is concerned might be useful.

Little Tremors in Sino-French Relations: Violence in 19th Arrondissement

[Update: Liberation has the most comprehensive overview so far available (in French, bien sûr).]

Like me, you might have thought that you could just forget for a while about Sino-French relations.  After all, hadn’t lovely first lady Carli Bruni silenced all the domestic critics and seduced the entire nation of China with her sashaying ways in Shanghai, her thoughtful entwinement with the little President under the trees in Beijing, her having been serenaded by a Chinese ensemble with songs from her enrapturing “Quel’quun ma dit” album?

Well, things have a way of remaining unsettled when you’re dealing with two societies that are, at their very respective cores, revolutionary.

I don’t have all the data necessary (or the time, to be honest, nor the proper Francophone mindset amid my Teutons) to lay out a complete narrative of the origin of the protests here, but here are the pieces that might allow one to do that:

Rue89’s photo gallery and fresh-from-the-street story about how today’s demonstrations became violent;

This excellent photo gallery from Le Monde;

Background from Huanqiu Shibao [法国将上演历史最大规模华人游行 抗议华人遭抢];

And coverage of today’s events by Huanqiu Shibao.

Basically this all goes back to June 1, when a Chinese wedding party was interrupted by some banlieu thugs, prompting one of the Chinese males at the party to produce a weapon and fire some shots in the air; apparently tensions have been building for three weeks now.

This is one of those stories that is rather important, as it impacts Chinese views of France (and vice versa) but I’d be surprised to see it picked up in, say, the New York Times.  One of the things I’ve learned in the last ten years of studying Chinese history is the power of a single incident to really lock in declines of Chinese perceptions of Western countries.  We’ll see what actually happens, to what extent Huanqiu Shibao plays the whole thing up as a challenge to Chinese prestige and as an opportunity for mainland compatriots to (rather uselessly) offer aid and nationalistic slogans, which is what’s going on presently on the BBS boards.

And, oh yes, musn’t forget: Viva les allemands francophone!

Perhaps these are problems that not even the Monkey King can fix -- photo by Adam Cathcart, Paris, Feb. 2009

法国最大规模华人游行今日举行 希拉克养女声援

This Ain’t Dallas: NYT on Seattle Teriyaki

This is, sadly, no food blog, but the following article from the New York Times has been giving me a great deal of joy lately and I thought I’d share:

“Seattle has a thousand teriyakis,” Mrs. Ko said one afternoon. Her tone was dismissive, as if explaining the looming presence of the Space Needle to a not particularly bright child. “No Americans do the cooking. Koreans do.”

“This is Seattle food,” she said, extending her argument. “For Seattle people. This is what we eat here. Seattle people eat teriyaki. This isn’t Dallas.”

It has occurred to me that the cost of a newspaper like the New York Times can be worth it if one bumps into an article like this.  Or today’s missive from Paris in the same paper:

Mr. Simon [a club owner] has considered moving his operation to Berlin: the authorities there are less stringent and the public is more accepting, he said. The recent report on the night life economy ranked Paris well behind Berlin — as well as London, Amsterdam and Barcelona, Spain — in terms of “nocturnal attractiveness.”

For that reason, party-seekers, D.J.’s and musicians have been fleeing Paris for years.

“The migratory movement toward Berlin is absolutely colossal,” said Éric Labbé, a concert organizer and record store owner who was a co-author of the nightlife petition. With unpredictable police closings and increasingly stringent sound restrictions on music locales, Mr. Labbé said, “it’s incredibly complicated to find places to play.”

Hooray!  Confirmation that Paris, while still great, can be a little stifling and that real artists and writers and entertainers are moving to Berlin.  Let’s hope they don’t raise the rents in eastern Germany.  And, as long as we’re doing comparative cities here, come to think of it, Berlin would be so much better with teriyaki places everywhere…

More Photos of North Korean Life

Alain Nogues, photojournalist, has a smorgasbord of images of North Korea on his homepage (click on the “2000s”) in anticipation of an exhibition this month in Paris.

Here’s part of the press release:

Du 11 au 29 janvier 2010, le comité régional Ile-de-France de l’Association d’amitié franco-coréenne vous présente “Visages de la Corée” à la Maison des associations du 16ème arrondissement de Paris (14, avenue René Boylesve, 75016 Paris), siège du comité régional francilien : une manifestation exceptionnelle pour mieux connaître l’histoire et la culture de la Corée, avec une exposition de photos d’Alain Noguès sur la vie quotidienne en République populaire démocratique de Corée (RPDC, Corée du Nord) et un cycle de conférences les 14, 21 et 28 janvier. Entrée gratuite!


From January 11-29, 2010, the Ile-de-France Regional Committee of the Association for French-Korean Friendship presents to you “Faces of Korea,” at the Association headquarters in the 16th arrondissement in Paris, seat of the francilien committee, consisting of an exceptional demonstration of Korean history and culture, an exhibition of photos by Alain Nogues about daily life in the DPRK, and a cycle of conferences.  Admission free.

There will also be three lectures associated with the exhibition, including one by Simon Besse, who appears to be a specialist of nothing other than the Koreas and the 2010 World Cup competition.

How does the French right wing feel about their country’s expanding ties with the DPRK?  Hard to say.  The center-right Le Figaro seems to be fairly supportive, at least as long as their man Sarkozy is behind the push.

Finally, as the blog of the French-Korea Friendship Association has been in overdrive, one final excerpt of their summary of Che Guevara’s 1965 meeting with Kim Il-Song.  Does Charles Armstrong know about this?

University of Miami Libraries, via French-Korean Friendship Association

Du 11 au 29 janvier 2010, le comité régional Ile-de-France de l’Association d’amitié franco-coréenne vous présente “Visages de la Corée” à la Maison des associations du 16ème arrondissement de Paris (14, avenue René Boylesve, 75016 Paris), siège du comité régional francilien : une manifestation exceptionnelle pour mieux connaître l’histoire et la culture de la Corée, avec une exposition de photos d’Alain Noguès sur la vie quotidienne en République populaire démocratique de Corée (RPDC, Corée du Nord) et un cycle de conférences les 14, 21 et 28 janvier. Entrée gratuite

Bismarckian Musical Nationalism: Modern Fallout

On a day when the Chinese Vice-Premier is meeting with the Japanese leadership, it seems appropriate to think about reconciling remaining differences from the Second World War.

From my perspective as a sometime scholar of the Chinese past and its depiction in CCP propaganda, I view France and Germany as among the most active societies and governments on earth in coming to terms with the past.   Yet there is still plenty to argue about.

These differences often reach most emotionally down to the level of art and music.

This article from Le Figaro’s Paris-Berlin blog details one such misunderstanding about that famous prior German national anthem, “Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles,” a song and its harmonization brought into being via “Papa” Franz Joseph Hadyn and amped up by the Nazi Party in 1933.  Apparently the French Ministry of Defense, unaware that the Germans had discontinued using the anthem in 1991 (and had cleansed its more militant verses since 1950), put the selection on a program for a French military choir to be sung under the Arc d’Triumphe on November 11, 2009 in honor of Franco-German reconciliation.

German soldiers tread the Champs-Elysees on 14 June 1994 (Bastille Day) for the first time since 1945 -- photo via Le Figaro's "Big Steps to Franco-German Reconciliation" photoblog -- click for link

This very much reminds me of the flap when George W. Bush’s protocol master shouted out “the Premier of the Republic of China!” in the White House red-carpet ceremony just before the U.S. Army Band launched into a version of the “Song of the People’s Volunteers.”

In any case, the comments on the above article indicate there is still plenty of work to do in Franco-German relations.  Once Chinese and Japanese get to debate and discuss face-to-face the meaning of “Kimigayo” and the PRC’s stridently anti-Japanese national anthem, perhaps, we will be getting somewhere.

Rebiya Khadeer in Western Europe

Ribiya Khadeer may have been rejected from a visit to the isle of Taiwan, but she continues to move internationally and stir discussion of Chinese policies in Xinjiang.

This past week she has been in Paris, which I suppose can be considered, in its own fashion, and with apologies to San Francisco and New York, the center of the world.

Rebiya Khadeer in Paris -- via a wild and beautiful hagiographical essay on Le Monde's Central Asia blog -- click image for the essay and more photos

In Paris, Khadeer met with the French Ambassador for Human Rights, Francois Zimeray, with whom she pressed the case for “hundreds of Uighur students in France” who have been unable to return home for fear of political oppression.  A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry confirmed that Khadeer was not granted a meeting with Foreign Minister Bernhard Kouchner, likely to the pleasure of the Chinese Ambassador to France, but to the evident consternation of Amnesty International France.  Amnesty’s spokesperson in Paris demanded “bilateral talks at the soonest possible time” with China over the question of human rights in Xinjiang, a demand which Sarkozy is sure not to consider for fear of taking yet another bruising in the area of huge contracts which French companies are trying to reap in China.

Some commentary on the snub and a longer story about Khadeer in Paris can be found on Rue89’s fantastic “Chinatown” blog.

The intriguing Association France-Tibet also carries a short item on the visit.

Excerpts from her interview with Amnesty International are available here, in French.

Liberation carries an extensive profile/interview with the Uighur exile leader by Philippe Grangereau, the paper’s able East Asia correspondent.

Here’s the opening salvo from that article:

«Séparatiste», «extrémiste», «terroriste», trois épithètes qui riment avec Rebiya Kadeer, si l’on en croit le gouvernement chinois, qui n’en finit pas de diaboliser cette grand-mère de 62 ans. «Le label “terroriste” est un outil très utile à la Chine pour persécuter les Ouïghours… Vous savez, le gouvernement chinois considère maintenant la plupart des Ouïghours comme des terroristes», réplique la femme d’affaires et politicienne, tout en caressant la longue natte de cheveux qui descend sur son ventre.

0r, in my primitive rendering:

“Separatist,” “extremist,” and “terrorist” are three epithets which rhyme with Rebiya Kadeer, if one believes the Chinese government, which itself has not finished demonizing this 62-year-old grandmother.   “The label ‘terrorist’ is a tool which is often used in China to persecute the Uighurs…You know, the Chinese government currently considers most Uighurs to be like terrorists,” protests this knowledgeable woman [femme d’affaires] and politician, while caressing her long braid of hair which descends into her lap.

The article goes on to recount her travels to Japan, Australia, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Austria — anywhere she can create good relations between her turkophone constituents and the world beyond.

Khadeer explains that Xinjiang is distinct from “East Turkestan” –a label with  which China seems eager to paste her as a separatist — distinct from Tibet and Inner Mongolia.  What the Uighurs want, she describes, is real autonomy.  The article concludes with lengthy discussion of her family remaining in Xinjiang and her views of the July “massacre” in Urumqi.

In an accompanying article, Grangereau goes on to explain the strategic value of, and historical issues with, Xinjiang.  He also reveals that we have a disagreement between PRC statistics and Khadeer’s interpretation of something as simple as Xinjiang’s demographics in the period of the CCP takeover of the region in 1949.  (The CCP says that in 1949, 6% of the population in Xinjiang was Han, while Khadeer argues that downwards to 2%.)  As in the case of the Dalai Lama, both sides still have a ways to go until agreement is reached on basic facts.

A little sidebar reminds us that the Uighurs are spread all over Central Asia, with a total demographic of 11.2 million, 500,000 of whom live in one of the world’s most multi-ethnic states, and wonderfully so, Kazakhstan.

The Chinese Embassy in Paris seems to be staying quiet about the visit, preferring instead to celebrate the opening of another Confucius Institute (this one in Angers, the Loire), or commemorating the victims of the Rape of Nanking.  But most of all, it appears that the CCP is firmly focused insofar as Europe is concerned this week with the goings-on in Copenhagen.   Not so much as an update to that enlivening source of PRC-Xinjiang propaganda, True Xinjiang!  Occasionally Beijing does do something right.

“Red Princess” at the Debutante Ball, Paris

Le Figaro‘s always-divergent China blog carries a high-society/CCP mash-up with a recent entry regarding Jasmine Li, the youngest daughter of Jia Qinglin,  No. 4 in the Party hierarchy and one of the nine permanent members of the CCP Politburo.

"Jia Qinglin urges ethnic unity in Inner Mongolia" - courtesy Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center


Jasmine Li, following in the footsteps of other “red princes” (wealthy scions of the revolutionary elite), spent last weekend at the Bal du Debutantes in the Hôtel de Crillon, on the rue Royale in Paris. (En plein coeur du Paris! the hotel website reminds us.)

For Jasmine Li, such fêtes are a far cry from her dad’s work as a machinist in Shijiazhuang in the late 1950s or his efforts to lift steel companies in moribund Taiyuan into profitability, but sometimes one has to make sacrifices for the sake of international relations.

Entraînée par Stéphane Bern, la Chinoise Jasmine Li a fait ses premiers pas de danse sur le sol parisien. Etudiante à New York, celle-ci porte une robe Carolina Herrera. © Jean-Luce Huré, courtesy Le Journal de FEMMES


Her date was the omnipresent Stéphane Bern, a Lyonese media personality and writer who has, among other things, published a couple of books about Princess Diana.  (Perhaps his work made for interesting conversation with Diana’s niece, who also attended the ball?)   Le Figaro doesn’t make much of the pairing, but in some ways it is nice to see a daughter of the Party elite take some time off from school in New York, hop on that direct flight to 戴高尔 (De Gaulle), and mix in a little bit of dancing with a well-connected expert on royal blood.  Certainly the Dalai Lama has friends in Paris, but even his would-be successors were left, like Cinderella, to stare at their shoes and think of the muddy earth of Shijiazhuang.

Bern's new novel: "Forget Me" -- perhaps she will


[Coup d'chapeau/hat tip to the inepuissable Arnaud de la Grange!]