Tagore legacy fuels China-India cultural ties

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

It was barely my second month in China. Everything was new, and I was still trying to grasp the rhythms and nuances of this unfamiliar country. Over the weekend, a colleague invited me to a cafe to join a group of Chinese university freshmen for an informal English corner. The idea was simple yet intriguing: to have casual conversations that would help the students practice their spoken English while allowing expats like me to socialize and make new friends.

As we began with the usual round of introductions, one student, upon learning that I was originally from India, exclaimed with excitement, “It’s so cool to know you are from India. I love ‘tiger.’ Do you also love his work?” Fresh to the country and the culture, I was puzzled by his reference to “tiger.” It was only when he showed me a photo that I realized he was talking about Rabindranath Tagore, the great literary polymath. Due to the Chinese pinyin
Taige’er, he had pronounced Tagore as “tiger.”

After residing in China for over eight years now, a place that has truly become my second home, I’ve grown to understand the profound reverence for Tagore here and his enduring relevance to India-China cultural exchanges.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Tagore’s first visit to China, and his teachings and relationship with the country have only grown more significant. In today’s world, marked by deep divides, polarization and geopolitical challenges, Tagore’s legacy serves as a bridge, fostering understanding and mutual respect between India and China.

Already a Nobel laureate by the time he visited China in 1924, Tagore embarked on a journey that would lay the foundation for a rich cultural exchange between two ancient civilizations. His visit came at a time when China was undergoing significant political and social transformation. Amidst this backdrop, Tagore’s message of universal humanism, spiritual unity, and cultural synthesis resonated deeply with the Chinese intellectuals and artists of the era. 

During his lectures and interactions, Tagore emphasized the importance of cultural dialogue and mutual respect. He saw the rich cultural heritage of both India and China as pivotal in fostering global peace and understanding. Tagore’s poetry, philosophy, and ideals were embraced by Chinese scholars, and his works were translated into Chinese, further cementing his influence.

Fast forward to the present day, the dynamic between India and China is intricate, characterized by a mix of cooperation and contention. Geopolitical tensions, border disputes and economic rivalries frequently grab headlines. Nevertheless, cultural diplomacy stands out as a potent means to bridge divides and nurture mutual understanding among nations, with Tagore’s legacy serving as a testament to the lasting influence of cultural ties. 

In contemporary times, Tagore’s philosophy of mutual respect and cultural exchange is more relevant than ever. His belief in the intrinsic value of different cultures and his efforts to promote dialogue can help navigate the intricacies of modern India-China relations. By revisiting Tagore’s contributions, both nations can find common ground in their shared cultural heritage.

Tagore’s influence in China extends beyond literature, penetrating the realm of philosophy and education. Xu Zhimo, a renowned poet, translated many of Tagore’s works and actively promoted his ideas. This intellectual exchange enriched Chinese literature and opened new avenues for philosophical discourse.

Besides this, Tagore’s holistic approach to education, which integrates arts, humanities and sciences, resonates with contemporary educational reforms aiming to produce well-rounded global citizens. In today’s globalized world, where divisive politics and cultural misunderstandings often overshadow dialogue, Tagore’s vision offers a beacon of hope. His advocacy for cultural understanding and cooperation is a reminder of the potential for harmony between India and China.

This 100th anniversary of Tagore’s visit to China can be deemed a poignant reaffirmation of the enduring principles he championed. It offers an opportunity to revisit his teachings and apply them to contemporary issues. Academic exchanges, cultural festivals, and joint literary initiatives inspired by Tagore’s legacy can serve as platforms for deeper engagement between the two nations.

Engaging the youth in both countries is crucial for sustaining Tagore’s legacy. Educational programs that promote the study of Tagore’s works can help cultivate a new generation of thinkers who appreciate the shared cultural heritage of India and China. Universities and cultural institutions can also play a crucial role in keeping the spirit of Tagore’s vision alive, thus, laying the groundwork for future collaborations.

Tagore’s legacy is a powerful reminder of the potential for cultural diplomacy to bridge divides and foster mutual respect. His teachings continue to inspire and offer valuable lessons for navigating the complexities of modern bilateral relations.

In an era rife with geopolitical tensions, Tagore’s vision of universal humanism and cultural synthesis shines as a guiding beacon. By embracing his legacy, India and China can certainly strengthen their ties and pave the way for a more harmonious tomorrow, thereby building a community with a shared future for all of humanity.

Looking back on Tagore’s journey, let us also look ahead, drawing inspiration from his ideals, toward a world where cultural exchange and mutual respect underpin international relations.

The author is a media professional based in Beijing. [email protected]

MNCs seek fresh growth points in China

A view of the booth of Schneider Electric SE during an expo in Shanghai. PHOTO/CHINA DAILY

In China, Covestro AG, a German chemicals manufacturer, is setting up a new plant in Zhuhai, Guangdong province; Schneider Electric SE, a French industrial conglomerate, will build an industrial park in Xiamen, Fujian province; and Bridgestone Corp, a Japanese tire company, has announced it will invest 562 million yuan ($77.6 million) in China over the next three years.

These seemingly unconnected corporate developments have one thing in common: they represent a trend of multinational corporations seeking fresh growth points in China’s green transformation and rapid development of its high-end manufacturing sector.

Against the backdrop of global economic uncertainties, the idea of ensuring secure and sustainable investments has gained traction worldwide. MNCs, particularly those dealing in high-end materials, industrial parts and components, and green-related industries, are prioritizing long-term returns.

To this end, they are establishing more innovation centers and advanced factories in China to sustain competitiveness while navigating future challenges.

For example, Marelli Holdings Co Ltd, an Italian-Japanese mobility product supplier to the automotive industry, will expand its engineering team in China from 800 to 1,000 soon to meet surging demand for innovation.

David Slump, the group’s president and CEO, said Marelli will ride China’s electric vehicle wave by supplying products ranging from automotive lighting and electronics to software solutions to its partners in the country.

Dismissing some Western nations’ “China overcapacity” narrative, especially in the areas of new energy industries, Slump said that China, recognized globally as a major EV market and home to some of the world’s leading EV manufacturers, will create substantial opportunities for global companies aiming to sustain robust growth in this burgeoning sector.

Eager to cut carbon emissions, many countries are building infrastructure like charging facilities, battery swap stations and capable grid systems to facilitate their consumers driving EVs on the road, he said.

With around 50,000 employees and 170 plants and research and development centers across the world, Marelli also ships products manufactured at its plants in China to other parts of the world, including Mexico, Thailand and Germany.

Markus Steilemann, CEO of Covestro, said he opposes the “China has overcapacity” narrative and is not a fan of excessive regulations, especially in markets where free trade is essential.

Excessively prohibitive measures and restrictions may not effectively boost productivity, and criticizing perceived overcapacity is not the right way to global cooperation, said Steilemann, adding that about 75 percent of Covestro’s planned investment in the Asia-Pacific region will be in China over the next three years.

Museum unveils rich tapestry of Sichuan artistry through three exhibitions

[Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

On Friday, the Guang Hui Art Museum, a distinguished nonprofit private art gallery in Chengdu, Sichuan province, unveiled a trio of exhibitions designed to offer a comprehensive exploration of modern and contemporary art evolution since the 20th century, spotlighting artists native to the vibrant Sichuan region.

The museum, situated in Chengdu — renowned for its pandas and hot pots — opened its doors to the public on Friday, presenting a diverse array of artistic expressions. The first exhibition, a collection showcase, features masterful ink paintings by luminaries like Zhang Daqian, Qi Baishi, Lin Fengmian, and Xu Beihong, influential figures who have significantly shaped the landscape of Chinese art.

Donation ceremony held at Beijing Dance Academy

Ancient Chinese music and dance pottery figurines.

Ancient Chinese music and dance pottery figurines.Photo: Screenshot from the 70th anniversary of the founding of Beijing Dance Academy.

 
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the founding of Beijing Dance Academy, Wang Qian, a master of art and crafts from Shaanxi, donated to the academy hundreds of replicas of ancient Chinese music and dance pottery figurines made by Wang and her father. On the morning of May 14, the college held a donation ceremony. Guests attending the ceremony included Wang Qian, her daughter Sun Jin, assistant Xu Yan, and dance research scholar Wu Yunming.

The music and dance figurines span from the Warring States Period to the Ming Dynasty, showing the development history of ancient Chinese music. The donation adds valuable resources for teaching and scientific research by the Beijing Dance Academy. Secretary of the Party committee of the college, Batu, accepted the donation and issued a donation certificate to Wang. Dean Xu Rui also gave her a distinguished professor certificate.

Wang reviewed in detail her experience in restoring pottery figurines, emphasizing the importance of these works to the development of ancient Chinese music. She said that these pottery figurines are not only a form of cultural heritage, but also an interpretation of the history of Chinese music.

“The music and dance figurines will inspire dance students and promote the inheritance and innovation of Chinese dance culture,” said Xu Rui.

Professor Wu Yunming affirmed the important value of these music and dance figurines in the fields of dance choreography, painting and other fields. “These musical and dance pottery figurines vividly reproduce the style of ancient Chinese dance through superb reproduction techniques,” Wu noted.

Global Times

Exhibition of ancient bronzes in Hong Kong illuminates culture, history

A bronze zun, a drinking vessel, exhibited at the Hong Kong Museum of History. ZHU WEI/XINHUA

During her five-day study trip to Central China’s Henan province in April last year, Chun Wai-wa marveled at the high degree of development of ancient Chinese civilization while exploring the ruins of cities dating back 2,000 to 4,000 years.

“How can I pass on my deep feeling to the audience in Hong Kong?” pondered Chun, assistant curator of the Hong Kong Museum of History, as she and her colleagues crafted plans for the first exhibition of the General History of China Series.

One year later, more than 150 sets of cultural relics from 15 institutions in eight cities in Henan have been transported south to Hong Kong and are on display in the museum of history from April 3 to July 8, telling the story of Chinese civilization in this international metropolis.

Central plains origins

Titled Center of the World, the exhibition aims to trace the origin of Chinese civilization, focusing on the Xia (c.21st century-16th century BC), Shang (c.16th century-11th century BC) and Zhou (c.11th century-256BC), the three earliest dynasties in Chinese history, which are collectively referred to as the Bronze Age.

But why Henan? According to Hui Siu-mui, curator of the HKMH, Henan houses the ruins of the capitals of all three dynasties, and numerous cultural relics have been unearthed in the region.

The Hong Kong curators’ idea was echoed by their Henan counterparts as soon as the latter was contacted.

“We have always paid great attention to cultural exchanges via relics, as it is a good way to vividly tell the story of Chinese civilization,” said Ren Wei, director of the Henan Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage.

Cultural relics from Henan embodied the essence of Chinese civilization and could definitely unleash unique charm in Hong Kong, where diversified cultures exchange and blend with one another, Ren added.

Upon returning to Hong Kong, Chun and her colleagues started going through a large amount of photos, videos and documents collected during their trip to Henan and picked out the most representative relics to piece together a holistic picture of China’s Bronze Age.

A total of 15 institutions coordinated, and finally agreed to offer collections, including large and complete sets of bronze, jade and bone wares, pottery, and oracle bones. It’s noteworthy that 33 items are grade-one national treasures and about 40 items are on display outside Henan for the first time.

As both the Hong Kong and Henan teams aimed to display more of the latest achievements in Chinese archaeology, there are also 44 items unearthed after the year 2000.

A lot of details of the exhibition also demonstrate the joint efforts made by the two sides during a year of intensive cooperation. For instance, to provide high-definition pictures for the catalog, the Henan team made efforts to find a venue suitable to take a group photo of a huge set of bronze ritual objects.

Chinese eVTOL firms speed UAE deployment, seeking new opportunities

Chinese electric aerial vehicle start-up Autoflight Aviation Technology conducts trial flights of its eVTOL aircraft

Chinese electric aerial vehicle start-up Autoflight Aviation Technology conducts trial flights of its eVTOL aircraft “CarryAll” in Ai Ain, the United Arabic Emirate on May 6, 2024. Photo: Courtesy of Autoflight

Multiple Chinese enterprises related to the low-altitude economy are ramping up trial flights of their electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as they move to explore international business opportunities following the nation’s development plan for the sector. 

The low-altitude economy can be seen as an unexplored market, with huge domestic and international potential, industry observers said.

Chinese electric aerial vehicle start-up Autoflight Aviation Technology (Autoflight) has completed trial flights of its eVTOL aircraft “CarryAll” in the city of Al Ain, the UAE, the company told the Global Times on Thursday. 

The CarryAll aircraft has a total takeoff weight of two tons, and it has completed a 123-kilometer flight with a duration of 41 minutes. This is the world’s first ton-plus eVTOL to complete a long-distance flight in the Middle East region, according to Autoflight.

Another Chinese eVTOL company, EHang Holdings, held a demonstration flight with passengers via its EH216-S aircraft in Abu Dhabi on Monday, said to be the first of its kind in the UAE and the Middle East region. 

Xie Jia, senior vice president of Autoflight, told the Global Times on Thursday that enterprises from various countries are investing more in low-altitude aircraft, and Chinese companies are taking the lead in some core technical fields. 

“China’s complete supply chain and operating experience in the new-energy vehicle field are accelerating the development of eVTOLs and the low-altitude economy, and the nation’s huge consumption market has provided enterprises with a positive environment of sustainable development,” said Xie.

The 2024 Government Work Reportstated that development of the low-altitude economy is one of the new growth engines. Local governments in many Chinese cities have taken measures to establish testing sites and routes for related aircraft and technologies. 

The first low-altitude drone logistics route in North China’s Hebei Province with a total length of 12.5 kilometers completed trial operations on Tuesday at the Xiong’an New Area, according to the local government. 

Global Times

China’s cultural resilience, spiritual outlook inspire Serbia to firmly choose closer ties: director Emir Kusturica

A still from the film Black Cat, White Cat directed by Emir Kusturica Photo: AFP

A still from the film Black Cat, White Cat directed by Emir Kusturica Photo: AFP

Although Serbia and China are geographically thousands of miles apart, the distance between the hearts of the two peoples is close. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the Chinese people have always cherished a special bond of friendship with Serbia, when attending a welcome banquet held by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, on Wednesday, noting that Serbian athletes Novak Djokovic and Nikola Jokic, and movie director Emir Kusturica are household names in China.

Although films like
The Bridge, Walter Defends Sarajevo, and
Underground are beloved by Chinese audiences, who draw inspiration and spiritual strength from them, for Kusturica, affectionately known as “Uncle Ku” by Chinese movie fans, his connection with China goes beyond the passion for and emotion evoked by movies themselves.  

In June 2016, the internationally recognized film director appeared in China as the Jury President for the Golden Goblet Award’s main competition at the 19th Shanghai International Film Festival, coinciding with President Xi’s historic visit to his homeland. In 2024, before Xi’s second visit to Serbia, Kusturica returned to China as the Jury President for the Tiantan Award at the 14th Beijing International Film Festival (BJIFF). 

In a recent exclusive interview with the Global Times, Kusturica expressed his firm belief in the friendship between China and Serbia. 

“I think President Xi’s visit will bring us more opportunity to develop cooperation between the two countries… I hope that this brotherhood friendship will continue,” he told the Global Times.

Bright future 

Kusturica has always been pleased that the movie
Walter Defends Sarajevo, in which he made his debut on the big screen when he was  just 18 years old, “had been seen by almost all Chinese people.”

Born in 1954 in Sarajevo, former Yugoslavia, Kusturica has witnessed significant historical events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of Yugoslavia. Known for his films’ revelry, absurdity, and dark ­humor, Kusturica incorporates ­carnival-style performances and vibrant colors that evoke nostalgia. His works, offering a balm for emotional wounds and sparking contemplation on Serbia’s grounding, also make him one of the few cinematic masters to have won awards at all of Europe’s three top events – the Venice Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, and the Cannes Film Festival.

He believes that the “Slavs seal” on his movies serves to make difficult subjects more poetic and humorous than in other meticulously crafted films. 

And when discussing crafted movies with the Global Times, Kusturica also openly expressed his confidence in Chinese cinema, praising the quality and popularity of Chinese films and foreseeing a bright future for the industry.

Serbian director Emir Kusturica?during an exclusive interview with the Global Times Photo: Lin Xiaoyi/GT

Serbian director Emir Kusturica?during an exclusive interview with the Global Times Photo: Lin Xiaoyi/GT

Kusturica has also visited local film schools and witnessed the abundance of talented filmmakers and well-equipped facilities. 

“I believe that in China, you will have a chance to develop your stories with these talented people,” he said.

“The civilization of China is different from Europe, but it has a lot in common with other civilizations,” Kusturica said, noting that “seeking common ground while preserving differences” has been well represented by China’s film industry, 

According to his observation, in China, people are increasingly realizing that culture is actually at the forefront of civilization, and Chinese films have successfully defended their own culture. 

“It is very wise to tell Chinese people’s own story, and develop China’s own film industry, rather than blindly imitating Europe and America,” Kusturica said, adding that American movies, in many cases, “[their high box office] comes together with the military power.”

Against the backdrop of a tumultuous history and a reality intertwined with joy and sorrow, Kusturica has always used movies to contemplate grander themes such as politics, war, nationality, and history. 

Solidarity in new ‘bombardment’

In Kusturica’s view, China can present the world with different philosophical reflections.

Making a movie is not like making an atomic bomb and then throwing it into the world causing harm to many people, but it is about observing people’s behavior and caring for the public, Kusturica said at the film master class held at the BJIFF on April 24.

“Twenty five years ago today, NATO flagrantly bombed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia, killing three Chinese journalists. Shao Yunhuan, Xu Xinghu, and his wife Zhu Ying… The China-Serbia friendship, forged with the blood of our compatriots, will stay in the shared memory of the Chinese and Serbian peoples, and will inspire us to march forward with big strides,” President Xi wrote in his signed article prior to his arrival in Serbia.

During the interview with the ­Global Times, Kusturica also mentioned this “very dramatic moment.” 

“Currently, China’s development scale is huge and has gained discourse power in many fields. Some countries try to suppress China’s development. However, in this context, I still see China persisting in defending its cultural traditions and see Chinese movies expressing the cultural perseverance and spiritual outlook of the Chinese people,” Kusturica emphasized. 

Kusturica believes that China’s economic scale and soft power are the country’s most powerful defenses, and are continuously demonstrating positivity on the global stage. 

During the master class, Kusturica said he saw Chinese people traveling around the world, and “they did not bring gunfire and bullets; they brought peace, and brought a continuous potential for development to other countries.”  

In 1999, NATO bombed Yugoslavia. Then, the relations between China and Serbia continued to move forward due to the deep intersection and resonance of historical destiny, political ideals, and national emotions.

Twenty five years later, Kusturica believes that the friendship between China and Serbia can still bravely bear a new form of “bombardment” together.

Kusturica said he hopes China will get stronger, noting that Serbia “could certainly be closer to you” than it is now. 

A special journey to memorable sites that bond China to France, Serbia, Hungary

An aerial view of the HBIS Serbia Photo: Courtesy of HBIS Serbia

An aerial view of the HBIS Serbia Photo: Courtesy of HBIS Serbia

Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron had an in-depth engagement during a restricted meeting at Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees mountains in southwestern France, an area dear to Macron for being the birthplace of his maternal grandmother. The special arrangement allowed the two leaders to establish a more direct dialogue in a personal and friendly atmosphere. 

Holding a meeting in the tranquil southern French mountains is also viewed a continuation of the pleasant memory when Xi and Macron held an informal talk in April 2023 in Guangzhou, the capital of South China’s Guangdong Province. At that time, the two leaders listened to a live performance of the ancient Chinese music piece “High Mountains and Flowing Water” in the Pine Garden, which represents cherished friendship in Chinese culture.

Besides France, there are also many representative buildings and sites in Serbia and Hungary that have witnessed and serve as testimonies to their friendship with China. 

After Xi embarked on a state visit to France, Serbia, and Hungary on May 5 – his first overseas trip of the year – these significant locations have once again captured people’s attention.

The former site of the Lyon Sino-French Institute is located on a hill in Fourvière in the city of Lyon, France. After 100 years of wind and rain, the towering stone gate at the old site still bears a clear inscription of the institute’s name in both Chinese and French.

The only overseas university that China founded in modern times, the Lyon Sino-French Institute was established in July 1921. It trained many Chinese who later became crucial leaders in the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), including Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping. Since its resumption in the 1980s, the institute has continued to educate various talents for China’s reform and opening-up.

During his first visit to France in March 2014, President Xi visited the Charles de Gaulle Foundation in Paris. He visited the office of General Charles de Gaulle, laid a wreath at his bronze statue and wrote “Paying Tribute to the Great Man and Composing a New Chapter in Chinese and French History” in the guest book. 

In Serbia’s capital Belgrade, people are easily captivated by a unique modern building – the China Cultural Center – that looks like a beautiful ancient Chinese landscape painting drawn along the banks of the Danube River.

What you cannot tell from the design is that the edifice was built on the site of the former Chinese embassy that was destroyed by a NATO bomb in May 1999 in what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This special history makes the center not only an important bridge and bond for cultural exchanges between the two countries, but also a seal of approval for the ironclad friendship between China and Serbia amid the development of the times.

At the hot mill at HBIS Smederevo steel plant, or Hesteel Serbia, Nenad Cvetanovic and his colleagues were thrilled to get a reply letter from Xi at the end of April, a few days before the Chinese president’s second state visit to Serbia after eight years.  

Established in 1913, the steel plant used to be a pillar of former Yugoslavia’s metal industry, but was on the verge of closure in the 1990s. It struggled for about two decades until China’s Hesteel Group purchased it in 2016. President Xi made a trip to the steel plant in June 2016 and interacted with workers in the dining room, encouraging them to work hard to bring benefits to local residents.

In Budapest, the capital of Hungary that is dubbed the “Pearl of the Danube,” nine unique bridges connect Buda and Pest across the river, enhancing the accessibility and charm of the city.

With a total length of 341.7 kilometers, the Hungary-Serbia railway, a flagship project of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, is now bridging Budapest and Belgrade closer together, injecting new impetus into the economies of the two countries.

The special  significance of bridges was also noted by President Xi during his first visit to Europe. “A bridge not only makes life more convenient, it can also be a symbol of communication, understanding and friendship,” Xi said. 

With President Xi’s visit, the friendship between China and Europe is also warming up again. People on both sides hope that this visit will build more bridges of friendship and cooperation between China and France, Serbia and Hungary, and even the whole of Europe.

Global Times

People gather on the streets of Paris waving Chinese and French national ffags to welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 5, 2024. Photo: cnsphoto

People gather on the streets of Paris waving Chinese and French national ffags to welcome Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 5, 2024. Photo: cnsphoto

Picture shows a statue of the Charles de Gaulle at the Charles de Gaulle Foundation in Paris. Photo: He Zhuoqian/GT

Picture shows a statue of the Charles de Gaulle at the Charles de Gaulle Foundation in Paris. Photo: He Zhuoqian/GT

A Serbian worker of HBIS Serbia, wearing protective masks, make steel in the plant. Photo: Courtesy of HBIS Serbia

A Serbian worker of HBIS Serbia, wearing protective masks, make steel in the plant. Photo: Courtesy of HBIS Serbia

Visitors sit near a statue of Confucius in front of the Chinese Cultural Center in Belgrade, capital of Serbia, on May 7, 2024. Photo: VCG

Visitors sit near a statue of Confucius in front of the Chinese Cultural Center in Belgrade, capital of Serbia, on May 7, 2024. Photo: VCG

 

A worker rests between billboards that read

A worker rests between billboards that read “Serbian-Hungarian railway” in Belgrade, Serbia, on September 4, 2020. Photo: VCG

The Szechenyi Chain Bridge spans the Danube River in Hungary's capital Budapest. Photo: VCG

The Szechenyi Chain Bridge spans the Danube River in Hungary’s capital Budapest. Photo: VCG

Testimony of Friendship

Testimony of Friendship

 

 

 

 

 

 

A closer look at the China Cultural Center in Paris

China-France Photo: VCG

The Global Times recently visited the China Cultural Center in Paris, France to listen to the stories of staff and learn how they fell in love with Chinese culture.

The China Cultural Center in Paris, opened in November 2002, was the first cultural center established by the Chinese government in Europe. Over the years, it became known as the “Chinese cultural salon of Paris.” The center has held a series of training courses, lectures, forums, exhibitions and performances, becoming a bridge for Chinese-French people-to-people cultural exchanges and cooperation.

The year 2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of ­China-France diplomatic ties. It is also the ­China-France Year of Culture and Tourism.

When the Global Times reporter visited the Chinese Cultural Center in Paris, it was a Saturday, the center’s busiest day. In a building primarily used for teaching, nearly every room was filled with local youth attending classes.

The center is an embodiment of the exchanges and mutual appreciation of the cultures of China and France. It is located on the left bank of the Seine River, adjacent to renowned cultural and artistic landmarks such as Les Invalides, the Rodin Museum, and the Musée d’Orsay. The building housing the center was once owned by a descendant of Napoleon. 

Upon entering the center, historical architecture and modern design intertwine. The green spaces between buildings feature panda sculptures, lamps inspired by China’s nine-colored deer, and a sculpture titled Seeking the Way by Wu Weishan, a world-renowned Chinese artist and the director of the National Art Museum of China.

As a “salon,” the center frequently hosts various Chinese cultural exchange events and exhibitions. Currently, the second floor of the center is exhibiting Chinese calligraphy works. Besides calligraphy, the China Cultural Center in Paris also offers courses in Chinese language, traditional painting and traditional Chinese musical instruments such as guzheng. Many French teenagers who love Chinese culture study here.

“I have been learning Chinese for six years. I like China and I like speaking Chinese. My mother is Chinese,” said 11-year-old Elsa, whose Chinese name is Tianyu.

While a crowd was drawn by a beautiful guzheng performance, the Global Times reporter noticed that a French girl was among the performers.

“I started three years ago, and I’ve played with the same teacher here in this school. I learned about guzheng when I was young. And I have watched Chinese movies. I wondered what this instrument was, because you couldn’t see it [around here]. My French friends think it’s very mysterious,” Marie-Ange Boyomo told the Global Times.   

“It’s so huge and it’s a whole other universe. There are so many things you have to do and it’s very complex sometimes, because you can play several melodies even with one hand. And it’s a lot of things to learn, so even in the third year, you’re still learning a lot of things,” added Boyomo, reflecting upon her experience of practicing guzheng. 

Liu Hongge, director of the China Cultural Center in Paris, told the Global Times that the center is dedicated to promoting in-depth exchanges between China and France. 

“Our ultimate goal is to promote exchanges and mutual learning between civilizations, so that the friendship between the people of China and France will continue to deepen.”

Diplomatic Channel: Former French PM Raffarin signals high hopes for President Xi’s visit, emphasizes respect for civilizations, frank dialogue

Editor’s Note:

Chinese President Xi Jinping left Beijing on Sunday morning for state visits to France, Serbia and Hungary at the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron of the Republic of France, President Aleksandar Vucic of the Republic of Serbia, and President Tamás Sulyok and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary. Ahead of his visit to France, Global Times reporters Chen Qingqing and Bai Yunyi
(GT) interviewed former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin
(Raffarin), talking about the significance of the state visit for China-France relations, reviewing the future development of bilateral ties, and discussing the role of China-France relations in China-EU relations.

Former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin Photo: Courtesy of Raffarin

Former French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin Photo: Courtesy of Raffarin

GT:  This year marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and France. Could you share some important historical moments and achievements from these 60 years of China-France relations?

Raffarin: First of all, General de Gaulle’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with China in 1964 is itself historic. France’s support for the Chinese authorities in their fight against the SARS pandemic in 2003 was a major act, as were the opening of the Airbus factory in North China’s Tianjin and the commissioning of the first Franco-Chinese nuclear reactor in South China’s Guangdong Province. I am also very struck by the beauty of the Beijing Opera House designed by French architect Paul Andreu. There have been many joint creations across numerous fields. In 60 years, I have made more than 100 trips to China; 100 opportunities for very fruitful sharing.

GT: Over the last 60 years, what have been the changes and constants in China-France relations?

Raffarin: The constant is France’s desire for independence in its policy with China. The change has been the development of the European Union, which has made diplomatic work more complex. All French presidents have followed, in relation to China, Charles de Gaulle’s major orientations: Respect for civilizations, frank discussions, and co-responsibility for the future.

GT: In your opinion, what is the core element that has allowed these relations to withstand tests and continue to progress?

Raffarin: The central core is the mutual cultural appetite. 

Analyzing the differences in our two civilizations is particularly fruitful as demonstrated by the philosopher François Jullien. 

Culture is the heart of our relationship. The joint curiosity has been intact for centuries. This is the source of the respect that allows us to live with deep differences.

 

GT: How do you assess the current relations between China and France? Given the challenges of globalization and changes in the international political and economic situation, in which areas can China and France strengthen cooperation?


Raffarin: France has stable relations with China unlike many other countries, including in Europe. Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron are two leading figures who know each other very well. They have spent hours and hours in discussion together. 

The priority of our future relations, in my opinion, is building peace. In the short term, it is to act together for peace in Ukraine. In the medium term, it is to build a new multilateralism capable of allowing peace and development on our common planet.

GT: In your opinion, what role do China-France relations play within the framework of China-Europe relations? How will Europe’s position in Chinese foreign policy evolve?

Raffarin: France’s role in Europe is very active. We defend our ideas vigorously in all European forums. Our vision for Europe’s strategic independence is gaining ground. 

We are allies of the US, but do not want to be aligned with their interests. Donald Trump’s place in the American debate convinced many European leaders that it is urgent to promote our sovereignty. 

I think that the China-France dialogue is the best way to bring about peaceful solutions.

GT:  2024 is the year of China-France culture and tourism, as well as the Olympic year for France. Could you present the plans for cultural cooperation and exchanges between China and France for this year?

Raffarin: Many public and private initiatives will mark this year. For example, the exhibition on Versailles and the Forbidden City are particularly creative. A cultural forum bringing together Chinese and French artists will take place in November in Deauville. France will be the guest of honor at the Shanghai Expo. And More than 100 initiatives are already being programmed. 

Cultural exchanges are the best medium for fostering mutual understanding and reciprocal respect.

GT:  What role do cultural and human exchanges play in China-France relations?

Raffarin: We will prioritize student exchanges because they are the best vectors for promoting joint projects and creating deep and authentic ties between the two countries.

GT: In the fields of emerging technologies, sustainable development, and green energy, how can China and France seek new opportunities for cooperation?

Raffarin: I think we need to work together on the theme that is very popular among young Chinese and French people, which I call “the Planetization of politics.” 

Only recently has the Planet become a political object. There is a shared conviction among the world’s youth: We must protect the Planet to protect Humanity. 

Global governance needs consensus to progress. It is around this theme that it should be possible to invent a new multilateralism that will correct the current multilateralism’s impotence.

GT:  Given the current uncertainty of the international commercial environment, what are the challenges and opportunities facing China-France economic cooperation? How do you view 2023’s debates in Europe on “de-risking” and this year’s on “over capacity” in China? 

Raffarin: We must understand our differences to avoid misunderstandings. There is a real consensus in Europe that public money should be used to help Europeans, for example, buy electric vehicles. But these subsidies are not intended to assist the production of foreign industries. 

Since the WTO is currently partially blocked, trade regulation should proceed through bilateral agreements. The only real way to cooperate sustainably is to balance concessions.

GT:  What are your expectations regarding the visit of the Chinese top leader to France?

Raffarin: Peace in Europe. Let’s remain faithful to the spirit of General de Gaulle when, 60 years ago, he decided to establish diplomatic relations with China. The differences were probably greater then than now, but the central idea was that our destinies are linked and thus the path of cooperation is more fruitful than confrontation. For this, direct and frank dialogue, understanding of each other’s interests and values, and respect for sovereignty are necessary.

GT