BEIJING, Jan. 31, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — “It is a pleasure to have friends coming from afar,” ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius said in The Analects of Confucius, a collection of his ideas and sayings.
The original French version of An Introduction to The Analects of Confucius, published in 1688, was presented to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a national gift by his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, when they met in 2019 in France. Xi said he would take the precious gift back to China.
The early translations of The Analects of Confucius inspired French thinkers Montesquieu and Voltaire, said Macron. France is also one of the earliest Western countries to include Chinese language teaching into the national educational system under a teaching syllabus designed by its education authorities.
On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of China-French diplomatic relations, the Global Times interviewed two French scholars dedicated to the Confucianism and Chinese culture, Rémi Mathieu, director of the Research Institution of East Asian Culture of CNRS (The French National Center for Scientific Research), and Yvan Daniel, a professor at Universite Clermont Auvergne in France, to learn how they were introduced to Chinese culture and how they view the future of the China–France friendship.
Cohabitation of thoughts
Born in 1948, Mathieu studied at the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations, majoring in Russian and Chinese language and culture. Since 1973, he has been engaged in ancient Chinese literature research at the CNRS.
For every Sinologist, language could be an undeniable challenge. Mathieu has acknowledged the Chinese language’s complexity, but, in his view, the language is also a “unique example of cultural longevity,” boasting thousands of years of history.
“Its beauty is incomparable and its use combines aesthetics,” Mathieu told the Global Times.
It is these complex words, with each having multiple meanings, that have become the basis of China’s literate culture, and “a lifetime is not enough to go around them, let alone to claim to have penetrated all their mysteries.”
Since his early years as a young researcher, Mathieu has been interested in Chinese culture, and has translated classics such as the Shanhaijing, or The Classic of Mountains and Seas, a major source of Chinese mythology that dates back more than 2,000 years.
“Myth allows us to appropriate the world,” Mathieu said, adding that myths helped the ancient Chinese to understand how the world worked, albeit not in an intellectual, scientific way, but by understanding it with symbols and creative imagination. With myths, the world becomes something worth contemplating.
According to Mathieu, from the earliest days of the construction of schools of thought, under the Warring States Period, thinkers borrowed ideas from each other, exchanged them… and then quarreled. The quarrels hardly concerned anyone else outside of the intellectuals themselves. Apart from Qin Shihuang, (China’s first emperor in the Qin Dynasty, who burned books and buried scholars to control intellectual discourse during his reign), anti-intellectualism was not commonplace.
“China is therefore almost naturally tolerant, as history tends to show. (Chinese) traditions are, in essence, more tolerant and fluctuating than dogmas,” Mathieu said.
As China and France have enjoyed decades of friendship since 1964, he was hopeful that “the future looks brighter, as the quantity and quality of Chinese tourist sites (landscapes and museums, ancient cities and mountain and desert sites) are strong arguments in the future choices of French visitors.”
Appreciation for classical works
Yvan Daniel has had an interest in the Chinese language and culture from a very early age, made his foray into Chinese literature at the Confucius Institute in La Rochelle.
With a profound appreciation for classical works, including Tang poetry, Confucian texts and iconic novels, he draws a captivating parallel between his literary interests and the discoveries made by French writers in the 19th and 20th centuries.
While his enthusiasm for modern literature shines through, with a particular fondness for key authors like Lu Xun and Ba Jin, Daniel, a stalwart in comparative literature, underscores the significance of literary exchanges in unraveling the intellectual and artistic ties between China and France.
As a scholar in comparative literature, Daniel believes that literary exchanges are essential for understanding and studying the intellectual and artistic relations between China and France.
“Literature allows us to tackle all kinds of subjects, from the broadest social issues to more personal or intimate themes. Through reading, French and Chinese readers can discover each other and get to know each other better,” he told the Global Times.
Having worked in and taught literary relations between China and France for more than 30 years, including the history of cultural relations between the two countries, Daniel said these subjects have inspired his whole life.
“I’m a long way from knowing the whole of China. But there are certainly a number of points in common between China and France. For example, the interest in fashion and the arts, in books and written culture in general, but also in gastronomy.”
As France and China commemorate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations, Daniel applauds the diverse cultural and tourism activities planned for the France-China Cultural Tourism Year. He believes that these initiatives breathe life into the cultural exchanges, fostering mutual understanding and appreciation. The concept of “cultural tourism” resonates with him as a means to reach a wider audience, both in China and France.
Reflecting on the remarkable development of exchanges between the two nations, Daniel notes the impressive growth since the 1980s. Increased university exchanges, a surge in cultural tourism and a proliferation of translations have forged numerous direct and indirect links.
Daniel emphasizes the necessity for continued collaboration, particularly in education, advocating for an increase in the number of students engaged in linguistic and cultural exchanges. He sees great potential in training translators and mediators to bridge the cultural gap between the two nations.
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