Global Times: Two heads of state witness ‘two-way efforts’ to promote China-France friendship

BEIJING, May 13, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Chinese President Xi Jinping said on May 5 that he hopes China and France will light their way forward with the torch of history, open a brighter future in ChinaFrance relations and make new contributions to world peace, stability and development. Xi made the remarks in a written speech upon his arrival at Paris Orly airport for a state visit to France. 

From the “Nice Talk” and “Yuyuan Garden visit” in 2019 to the “Pine Garden meeting” in 2023, and now the just-concluded discussion in the Hautes-Pyrenees Department, the top leaders of China and France have spent many memorable moments together. Their interactions have become a fine story on everyone’s lips in both countries and the international community, perfectly exemplifying the meaning of “two-way efforts,” which literally means “meeting each other half way.”

In this article, Global Times reporters Xu Liuliu, Chen Xi, Li Yuche and Wu Jie talked with artists, experts and scholars from both China and France who shared their stories and understanding of the two countries’ friendship.

Amid falling snow on the picturesque mountains in the Hautes-Pyrenees Department in southwestern France on May 7, 2024, ­Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan were warmly received by French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron. 

Conducting unique interactions outside the capital cities has recently become a characteristic arrangement for the exchanges between Xi and Macron. The heartwarming scene of the two heads of state and their spouses gathering in the Hautes-Pyrenees Department inscribed a new chapter in the history of ChinaFrance exchanges, fully demonstrating the warmth, depth, and breadth of the relationship between the two countries.

During Macron’s visit to China in April 2023, Xi met him in Guangzhou’s Pine Garden, South China’s Guangdong Province, where they appreciated a performance of the guqin melody “High Mountain and Flowing Water.” 

This time, the meeting in the beautiful mountains of southern France, with their babbling brooks, is a continuation of the good memories associated with “High Mountain and Flowing Water.”

During the visit, Xi pointed out that although the Chinese civilization and French civilization, one in the East and the other in the West, have different values and social systems, both are committed to inter-civilization exchanges and mutual learning.

The two sides can coexist in harmony without seeking uniformity, Xi said, adding that through dialogue and cooperation, they can both make new contributions to human progress and world peace and development.

Deepening bilateral cultural exchanges

During the two leaders’ discussion at the Elysee Palace on May 6, the two leaders gifted books to each other. Macron gave Xi rare volumes by Victor Hugo, and a copy of Linguae Sinarum Mandarinicae hieroglyphicae grammatica duplex, a Chinese language grammar book published in 1742 by French scholar and Orientalist Etienne Fourmont. 

President Xi smiled and said, “I have read almost all of his [Hugo’s] books.” He noted that his memory of reading Hugo’s novel Les Miserables during his youth remains fresh in his mind.

Millions of Chinese people have read Les ­Miserables and how Monseigneur Bienvenu influenced Jean Valjean, gaining inspiration from this great literary work. Chinese actor Liu Ye is one of them. At the age of 8 or 9, Liu read the graphic novel version of Les Miserables. He even dreamed of playing the role of Jean Valjean while in college. Now he finally realized his dream by acting in the Chinese stage play version of the work, a ­China-France co-production by French producer Anais Martane and Chinese artistic director Wang Keran

With the linguistic beauty of such literary works, Les Miserables shows the truth and goodness of human nature.

“This is why we are still rehearing this work today, and why we stage it to commemorate the great occasion that is the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France,” French director Jean Bellorini told the Global Times.

At the welcoming banquet hosted by Macron on the evening on May 6, Xi underscored the significance of cross-cultural ­exchanges in fostering mutual respect and understanding between China and France. 

“The ChinaFrance relationship is special in that we appreciate each other. Representing Eastern and Western civilizations, China and France have a fine tradition of mutual appreciation and mutual attraction,” Xi said.

French writer and philosopher Christine Cayol, also French vice chairman of the China-France Culture Forum, attended the banquet. 

She echoed this opinion, noting that China and France appreciate each other’s rich culture and history. 

Having lived in China for years, Cayol founded the Yishu 8 gallery in Beijing to foster cultural exchanges between French and Chinese artists.

After being introduced to Xi by Macron, Cayol sent her book about her life in China to Xi, who encouraged her to continue to promote cultural exchanges, she told the Global Times on Thursday.

Xi used the term “two-way efforts” to describe the cultural exchanges between the two countries. He pointed out that efforts should continue to be made to organize various activities during the China-France Year of Culture and Tourism, actively promote joint protection and restoration of cultural relics and the pairing of World Heritage Sites, among other cooperation efforts.

The year 2024 marks the China-France Year of Culture and Tourism, and a variety of cultural exchange activities are constantly being staged in both countries. 

During Xi’s visit to France, the two sides signed a total of 18 agreements to expand cooperation in areas such as manufacturing, green development, new energy and cultural relics protection and exhibition exchanges. 

Tan Ping, director of Art Exhibitions China, told the Global Times on Sunday that the company will collaborate with the Guimet Museum to hold a cultural relics exhibition featuring China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907) in France as part of the signed agreement between Art Exhibitions China and the Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts in Paris. 

Yannick Lintz, president of the Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts in Paris, France, told the Global Times that she had been following the news of President Xi’s visit to France. On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of ChinaFrance diplomatic relations, the Guimet Museum will host cultural activities related to Chinese culture throughout the year.

Chinese digital artwork An Era in Jinling, which enables visitors to physically immerse themselves in the dynamic cityscape of Jinling, the ancient name of Nanjing (currently capital city of East China’s Jiangshu Province), and wander in real time through the historical city from China’s Song Dynasty (960-1279), will be exhibited in Paris from May 16 to 18. 

Ai Lin, the director of the Deji Art Museum in Nanjing, told the Global Times that building upon feedback from US ­audiences during an exhibition of the work in Boston in November 2023, the team has upgraded the work to better suit French audiences. 

Promoting mutual cultural ­communication has become a ­consensus between China and France. It has also shed light on the artistic sector, in which both classic and contemporary ­artists in France have established ties with China. 

French artist Anne-Marie Laffont, who is in her 80s, told the Global Times that she took her first teaching job in China in 2018 and was immediately charmed by traditional Chinese dance. 

Laffont has noticed many aesthetic similarities between French ballet and traditional Chinese dance.  

China and France are both civilizations of profound indigenous cultures. Because we are different civilizations, it is very interesting to have mutual learning,” Laffont emphasized.

Progressing from exchanges of classic works, French creative artistic workers like Gwenael Allan are promoting cutting-edge digital art exchanges between China and France. 

In May, he brought his new immersive digital art exhibition to Beijing. Through projecting real footage of nature on screen while wet and fresh scents designed by Allan’s team float through the air, the show calls for audiences to value the conservation of nature. 

He told the Global Times that he will continue launching high-tech art shows in China because the historical exchanges between the two countries are meant to be continued in the modern era.

Holding the Olympic torches together

In the brightly lit Portrait Room at the Elysee Palace, three Olympic torches were particularly eye-catching as they stood side by side on an off-white marble table.

This was some of the gifts exchanged between the two heads of state before their meeting. Xi presented Macron with the Olympic torches of the Beijing 2008 Olympics and the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, while Macron gifted Xi an Olympic torch for the upcoming Paris Olympic Games.

France is a sports power and China will send a high-level delegation to France to participate in the Paris Games, Xi said with a smile, wishing the Paris Olympic Games every success.

In just over two months, the beautiful banks of the Seine will welcome the grand Paris Olympic Games. The Olympic Games are a symbol of cultural exchanges, unity and friendship. From Beijing to Paris, from the world’s first “dual Olympics city” to the centennial return of the Olympics, the Olympic spirit resonates across time and space. Previously Paris hosted the Olympic Games in 1900 and 1924. Holding the Olympic torches together, China and France add luster to their exchanges through sports.

After the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France, the two countries’ sports sectors have maintained close contacts. Both sides have sent coaches specializing in their respective advantageous disciplines to each other’s countries to train athletes. 

Coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the ChinaFrance diplomatic relations and the Paris Olympics, 2024 is an important year in ChinaFrance relations. For this reason, the two countries hope to make sports, especially youth athlete exchanges, the development of sports infrastructure, and sharing of sports industry experience, an integral part of bilateral relations, creating a new height in ChinaFrance cultural exchanges.

Lu Shaye, Chinese Ambassador to France, said that Paris hosting the Summer Olympics again after a span of 100 years provides more possibilities and greater opportunities for China and France to strengthen sports cooperation. It is hoped that ChinaFrance sports exchanges and cooperation will deepen and solidify the Games, driving greater development in bilateral relations, according to China News Service.

Sports serve as a bridge, as China and France jointly pursue the sporting goals of “faster, higher, stronger,” and also embody the Olympic values of “greater unity.” 

During his visit to France, Xi once again expressed China’s support for France hosting a successful Paris Olympic Games.

Xi also pointed out that as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a responsible major country, China is ready to launch an initiative with France calling for a worldwide truce during the Games.

Zhang Zheng, an associate professor at the School of Journalism and Communication of Tsinghua University, told the Global Times that the joint efforts made by China and France will serve as a model for global cultural and sports collaboration, paving the way for humanity’s pursuit of higher levels of physical and spiritual development after economic progress.

China is proving with practical action that the Chinese people love, embrace and promote peace. As the only city in the world to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics, Beijing also demonstrates the Chinese people’s passion for sportsmanship and support for the Olympic spirit, Zhang said.

With the Paris Games approaching, France, as a global cultural center with a splendid civilization, has been cooperating with China in the fields of culture and sports, which will deepen mutual learning and communication among different civilizations, promote mutual understanding, and strengthen bonds among people, Zhang noted.

On the evening of May 6, before the banquet of the two leaders, a rainbow appeared over the Elysee Palace, connecting the East and the West. Along the banks of the Seine, a new story of “two-way efforts” between China and France was also written into the history books.

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