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【共生传媒】Thoughts Along the Seine I Came, I Saw, I Was Conquered

来源: 加拿大共生国际传媒  日期:2022-07-17 00:06:04  点击:9936  属于:News


【加拿大共生国际传媒讯】By HK Chang (张信刚)

I was eleven years old when I first developed an interest in France. In a civics lesson in my grade school in Taipei, the teacher asked us to arrange our desks in a circle, and we held a mini-United Nations Security Council meeting that we rehearsed earlier. I was assigned to be the French ambassador and, from then on, developed a fondness for France. When I attended National Taiwan University, I devoted all sixteen credit units of my free electives throughout my four years to studying French.   I went to France for the first time in August of 1963. I had just said goodbye to my parents, who were working for the World Health Organization in Ethiopia, to go to the U.S. to study. I started off from Addis Ababa, went through Athens, Rome and Zurich, and arrived in Paris. Because the bank in Zurich would only allow me to deposit, not cash, the American check I had with me, I had only US$30 on me when I got to Paris. Luckily, I found out from the information desk at the airport about a family-style bed and breakfast (pension) on the left bank of the Seine that charged only US$3.50 a day, making it possible for me to roam on my own in Paris for three days with only those thirty dollars.   In three days, with the help of a map and my broken French, I visited all the must-see sites for tourists, feeling quite happy with myself for having learnt a few things. Especially after my tour of the Louvre, I felt like the young Wang Mian in The Scholars who, after reading on his own for a few years, seemed “to have got it!”   When I visited the Louvre again, it was fourteen years later. In 1977, at the invitation of International Union of Physiological Sciences, I gave a special address at their conference held in Paris. My memory of the five days of the conference is rather vague, except for the time when I made my report at Paris VII and the big reception hosted by Mayor Jacques Chirac (now President of France) at the newly opened Pompidou Center, but I can still see clearly all the sights and activities that I sneaked out from the conference to enjoy, along with the avante garde theater that I saw at an arts festival in the famous city of Avignon in southern France after the conference was over.   In 1979, I began my collaboration with a laboratory at Paris XII that would last for eleven years. I accepted a number of graduate students and post-doctorates from that institution, and on two occasions, two of my doctoral candidates also went to Paris to conduct experiments using the equipment available there.   The most meaningful period in those eleven years of collaboration came when I was on a twelve-month academic leave from McGill University in Canada in 1981-82, which allowed me to take up a one-year visiting professorship at Paris XII. The four of us rented a two-story house with a courtyard in the suburb of Créteil southeast of Paris not far from Marne, a tributary of the Seine. My daughter was enrolled in a local secondary school as a first-year student, and my son attended the fifth grade in a primary school nearby. The community was made up of businessmen, civil servants, staff members of the university hospital, and immigrants from north Africa who were primarily workers. We seemed to be the only Chinese family around.   During that year, apart from finishing a number of important academic articles, my most rewarding experience was the friendship that I formed with a group of French nationals. I was also able to gain a deeper understanding of the way of life and state of mind of the average Parisian by observing my children’s friends and participating in the activities of the parent group.   In France, there is a week of recess after every six weeks of class in high school and grade school, an arrangement that we took advantage of by driving to tour various parts of France. There were a few times that we checked out of an inn in the morning with maps and guidebooks in hand, not knowing what our next stop would be, let alone where we were going to spend the night.   In 1990, my wife and I came to work in Hong Kong. I have had many fewer opportunities to read and write in French, but our fondness for France has in no way diminished. In the last ten years or so, my wife and I have taken many vacations to France, where we have caught up with our friends. On two occasions, our whole family also drove around towns rarely visited by foreign tourists. We sometimes converse in a mixture of Chinese, English and French in restaurants, which makes us a curiosity to local people. On one occasion, this led to an invitation from a retired teacher to join him for red wine and cheese at his home.    In May of 2006, I visited Paris for close to a month in preparation for a program on world civilization. I saw many of my old friends that time. I was most touched by a family dinner, hosted by Professor Laurent and his wife, with nine people attending. Professor Laurent was the chair of the department when I arrived at Paris XII as a visiting professor in 1981. (He was appointed to be the President soon after I arrived.) Then there were the newly retired Professor Atlan and his wife; Dr Isabey, my post-doctorate student, and currently the director of the laboratory, and his wife; and Professor Lancner, an expert in medi French literature at Paris III. She is the widow of Professor Harf, with whom I had enjoyed the best working relationship and deepest friendship. He visited my laboratory at McGill and the University of Southern California a few times, but he had died three years earlier at the height of his career. Professor Laurent, now in his eighties and retired from the Presidency, invited all of them for a gathering at his home, and all of them came. We had many happy memories of our twenty-five-year friendship, but could not but feel a strain of sorrow that one of our friends was no longer there to share our company.   Many people say that the French, for all their good manners, are in fact quite arrogant, seldom inviting friends from other countries to their homes and being slow to form deep friendships. I can tell from my own experience that this is not the case.   Language barriers and cultural prejudices often create obstacles in human interaction. But, as soon as people become trusted friends, differences of nationality pose no impediments to the depth and truthfulness of their friendship. On that occasion in Paris, I felt profoundly that, like red wine, true friendship ages well.   Fifty-five years have passed since I made my acquaintance with France, and it was forty-three years ago that I visited France for the first time.   Two thousand years ago, Caesar, who had warred in Gaule (France today), made a famous victorious declaration: “Veni, vidi, vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered). If someone were to ask me for my overall impression of France after my many visits from 1963 to 2006, I would say, after Caesar, “Veni, vidi, victus sum.” (I came, I saw, I was conquered.)
A Moveable Feast
In 1986, I came across Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, in which he records vignettes of his life in Paris from 1921 to 1926. The name and content of this book set it apart from the abundance of books about Paris. It is also a model of modern English prose. With its crisp and economical language, it succeeds in capturing in a vivid way humans and their affairs.    In May of this year, I visited Paris I. The university set aside an office next to that of the First Vice-President for my use. Her office and the Foreign Student Affairs Office (there are eight thousand foreign students on campus) were housed in a luxurious mansion converted from a former private residence, which is located about one and a half kilometers southeast of the main campus. I was staying in a hotel one kilometer northwest of the campus, and walked to and from my office every day.   One day, a thought came to me. All of these places that I walked by every day, I thought - arent they the same as those Hemingway describes in A Moveable Feast? I checked out the book from the library and read it through again, getting a better understanding of the world in which Hemingway lived in those days.   One of Hemingway’s essays is entitled “People of the Seine.” There would be no Paris without the Seine. Around 300 B.C.E., a fishing tribe named the Parisii (from which Paris gets its name) settled on the island in the Seine. The island was Ile de la Cité on which the Notre Dame stands. Today, all mileage markings on French national highways are measured from this point.   In 55 B.C.E., Roman troops conquered Gaule (today’s France) and came to Paris. They were stationed on the left bank of the Seine, and constructed hot spring bathhouses, amphitheaters and the other structures that have come to represent Roman civilization. In the last century or so, archeologists unearthed many relics from the past. Cluny, which Hemingway mentions a number of times in his book, was the site of a Roman hot spring. The Fifth Republic had just begun when Hemingway died. He and the lost generation (la generation perdue) to which he belonged could not have foreseen the prosperity and progress of the Fifth Republic, whose several presidents, incidentally, did a lot to restore these sites. The Musée National du Moyen Age that was completed recently is in Cluny. It preserves a hot spring from the Gallo-Roman period and other relics, and a medi structure and courtyard on its site has been restored. The elegant design of the museum preserves the spirit of the original structure, and the exhibition inside is rich and superb.   A few minutes’ walk from Cluny brings one to one of the oldest universities in Europe - la Sorbonne. The famous Café de Cluny is just nearby, where numerous men of letters have fed their bodies and stimulated their minds throughout French history. Twenty-five years ago, I, too, came by this place for knowledge. Professor Lancner, wife of my deceased friend Professor Harf, completed her National Doctoral dissertation in 1981. I attended the oral presentation of her dissertation. The four-hour event was broadcast on FM radio. Afterwards, we retired to Café de Cluny for a celebrative reception. While most of the guests were engaged in a discussion comparing English and French medi literature, I helped myself to the delicious food kindly provided by my hosts, in playful observance of Confucius’ dictum that “when it comes to food, the master should be the first one served.”   The Sorbonne was built in the St. Louis (Louis IX) period of the thirteenth century, a time when the crusaders from Western Europe met the Mongolian troops in today’s Middle East, and when Western Europe was beginning to emerge from the benighted Middle Ages. In Catholicism, the enlightenment can be seen in Thomas Aquinas, whose scholasticism incorporates the thought of Plato and Aristotle of ancient Greece. The Sorbonne, therefore, can be said to have taken the lead in liberating France from the dark ages, beginning with the teaching of theology and later adding onto the curriculum such disciplines as literature, law, and medicine. Gradually, it became an academic center of the Renaissance in Europe. Because Latin-speaking monks and students inhabited in the neighborhood, the area is known as Quartier Latin (the Latin Quarter).   Today, in addition to the Sorbonne, the Latin Quarter is filled with all kinds of bookstores. Hemingway wrote about Shakespeare & Company, which sold as well as rented books. Hemingway was able to obtain many books from the kind owner, apparently on credit. Today, the bookstore is a disorderly hole in the wall, but every book that is sold from the premises is stamped with a Shakespeare & Company seal that Hemingway made popular. Perhaps that is the way the bookstore wishes to recoup the debt from Hemingway.   In those days, Hemingway and his wife rented a penthouse on rue du Cardinal Lemoine. In winter, they burned oval-shaped pieces of coal for warmth. He walked many a time through a long and narrow commercial street called rue Mouffetard. I, too, had to walk through the same street from the campus of Paris I to my office. Eighty years ago, Hemingway saw squat toilets on the two sides of the street and a horse cart would come to collect the night soil from these toilets every morning. Twenty-five years ago, a French friend of mine recommended that I come here to try out the delicious crepes, especially the Brittany galette, apparently the best in France. On my last visit, I came to this place again, and discovered that the eateries are now mostly run by Greeks and Arabs who serve seafood and shish kebab. For crepes, one would now have to go to Montparnasse, where many cultural celebrities of the nineteen-thirties lived and where Hemingway himself frequented.   A Moveable Feast is indeed movable. Eighty years ago, one would have been hard pressed to find a Chinese restaurant in Paris, let alone a Chinatown. In today’s Paris, no matter what district you are in, you will find many Chinese restaurants. Thirty years ago, a large contingent of immigrants of Chinese heritage from Vietnam and Cambodia began to settle near Porte de Choisy in the 13th District and they opened quite a few restaurants specializing in soup noodles. Now, you can find practically anything - Chinese grocery stores, department stores, tourist agencies, and beauty parlors. But the Seine has caught on, and the Porte de Choisy is now known as the Old Chinatown. In the last ten years, immigrants from the mainland of China have moved in droves into Belleville in the 19th District, and a new Chinatown is taking shape. On a May evening, I walked through the area, and noticed Chinese living side by side with Arab immigrants from northern Africa. Even their shops are right next to each other. I would be willing to predict that in less than ten years, this new Chinatown is going to surpass the old one in 13th District. The new Chinatown is filled primarily with people from Wenzhou, those intrepid souls well-known for venturing out into the world. I took a rough count that night, and there were close to ten stores with the words “Wenzhou” in their names.    Let’s head back to the Latin Quarter, however.   Rue St Jacques, the main street of the Latin Quarter, was built along the remains of the city wall from the Roman period. It is also one of the oldest streets in Paris. To the west is the soul of the Latin Quarter - the Sorbonne. On the east side of the road and facing the Sorbonne is Collège de France, established by François I in the sixteenth century. At that time, the Reformation initiated by Martin Luther in opposition to the Roman Catholic Pope had just begun. It was also a time when the Society of Jesus was founded by Loyola, the Spanish soldier who saw it as his duty to defend the Pope in Rome. François I found the priests of the Sorbonne too conservative, which prompted him to establish a more liberal academy across the street.   At the entrance of the Collège de France is a Latin phrase “Docet Omnia” (We Teach Everything), which may well represent the unique character of the Collège. During my visit, Professor Glowinski, the president of the Collège, and Professor Cohen-Tannoudji, a Nobel laureate in physics (currently a chair professor-at-large at City University of Hong Kong) invited me to lunch, where they briefed me on the Collège, and afterwards showed me around the campus. The Collège de France does not have any registered students, nor does it grant any degrees. It is primarily a community of scholars, and one has to be an authority in some area to teach there. The faculty is only expected to teach one course per year, but it has to be a new course every time. All courses are open to the public. Professor Glowinski has served as the president for over ten years. He is most proud of the substantial financial support he has managed to secure from two French presidents and several national assemblies, with which he has renovated the centuries-old buildings of the Collège, and constructed an information technology center and a large auditorium, both of which are underground (the only direction that any development can take given the status of the Collège as a historical site). The expansion and renovation process, lasting over ten years, was by itself valuable, but almost as important are the historical relics from the Roman period that were unearthed in the various stages of construction. To display these cultural relics, the Collège opened an archeological exhibition hall, which resembles a museum.   I am not being very precise with the name of the Sorbonne here. From the thirteenth century to the 1960s, the Sorbonne was regarded as a single entity. The rectangular structure on campus measuring several hundred meters long was built by Cardinal Richelieu in the seventeenth century when he was the prime minister to Louis XIII. During the French Revolution, when most of the clerics at the Sorbonne rallied in support of the monarchy and the church, the buildings were vandalized at the hands of a mob. They were renovated under the reign of Napoleon. In 1968, less than ten years after de Gaulle had established the Fifth Republic, university students in Paris staged a prolonged disturbance (the students called it a revolution; many of its leaders then have now become public dignitaries in France), forcing de Gaulle, who had twice stepped up to lead the nation in times of crisis, to withdraw, one year later when a referendum sponsored by him was defeated, from politics and retire to his country home. Later, the French government sought to expand higher education, and built a Université de Paris with thirteen independently administered campuses. The old Sorbonne was split into three universities, Paris III, Paris IV and Paris I, which I visited recently, in the southeast corner of the original Sorbonne. Because its front gate looks across to the famous Panthéon, Paris I is also called Panthéon-Sorbonne.   The Panthéon is a symbol of the secularization (la laÏcite) of the French Republic. It was originally meant as a church, but after the establishment of the Republic, the government stripped the building of religious meaning and turned it into a hall honoring distinguished French citizens. Statues of philosophers, men of letters, and scientists such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo and Mme. Curie are kept there for public viewing. The power of induction into the Panthéon lies with the National Assembly (Assemblée Nationale). The most recent person to gain admittance to the Panthéon was the nineteenth century writer Alexandre Dumas Sr., who was the seventy-second person to be thus honored.   Behind the Panthéon is Saint-Etienne du Mont, a church whose architecture blends the Gothic style with that of the Renaissance. Most tourists turn back after they have seen the Panthéon, with the result that Saint-Etienne du Mont is rather quiet. Few know that the famous patron saint of Paris, Sainte Genévve, is venerated in this church, and that Racine and Pascal, two literary giants, are buried there. Sometimes when I grew tired from walking, I would go inside for a rest, where I would ponder the ways of the ancients, and enjoy a tranquil moment.   On the two sides of this church are two famous secondary schools (Lycées), with impressive architecture to boot. They are Lycée Henri IV and Lycée Louis le Grand, from which many members of the French elite have emerged. The physical proximity of these schools to the most important universities in Paris has given their students an edge. Many of their graduates have gained admission to the Sorbonne, just a bit west across the street from them, or to Ecole Normale Supéieure, a bit to the south, Ecole Polytechnique to the east, or Ecole Nationale d’Administration further west. (Because of space limitations, Ecole Polytechnique and Ecole Nationale dAdministration have moved out of Paris.) Important scholars in letters, history and philosophy in France have by and large come from the first two of these institutions, while many engineers and scientists have graduated from Ecole Polytechnique, and prime ministers, ministers, members of the National Assembly, high-ranking civil servants, and chief executives of major corporations are alumni of Ecole Nationale d’Administration.   Until about twenty years ago, there were no private universities in France. All universities were directly under the Ministry of Education and were open to the public at no charge. In the past, all full professors in all universities were appointed by the Ministry; only in recent years have individual institutions been authorized to make appointments of their own. The best secondary school graduates do not necessarily regard entering universities as their first choice, unless they are accepted by major academic centers with long histories such as the Sorbonne. Rather, many are willing to devote one or two years to supplementary studies in order to get accepted by what are called les grandes écoles, such as Ecole Polytechnique, Ecole Normale Supérieure and others mentioned above. Many of these elite institutions were established during the Napoleonic era, and enjoy a higher status than universities.   In the last five days of my visit to Paris I, I moved from a three-star hotel near Cluny to a four-star hotel near St-Germain-des-Prés. To ease the pain of the increased expenses, I directed my thoughts to my “bitter” days of living on a daily budget of US$3.5 (including room and board) in 1963, and the “sweet” times of getting by on 350 euros nowadays (room but no board). In terms of location, décor, ambience and service, the hotel was impeccable. But who would have guessed that there was a lot to take care of from City University of Hong Kong in those few days! The editors from the Academic Journal of Peking University were also pressing hard for an article, with the result that I went into a marathon of writing and faxing the moment I got back to the hotel from the university each day. On a few occasions, the staff members on the night shift, whom I had gotten to know quite well, told me to take a break. There is always tomorrow, they said. They were probably wondering why anyone would squander precious euros to stay in such an expensive hotel, while all he ever did was spend all his time on work from Hong Kong. Would it not have made more sense just to go back to Hong Kong?   What they did not realize is that, as much as possible, I tried to go to a café of historical significance nearby for dinner and work” every night. Le Procope, which I had visited a few times on my previous visits, is just a few steps away from the hotel. It was established in 1686, and claims to be the oldest café in France; Voltaire, Franklin and Napoleon were once regular customers. I would try to write as I ate. Even if nothing worth mentioning got written, well, at least I had the pleasure of pretending to be someone with refined taste. It is a pity that the waiters in our present corrupt age had manners that were far from perfect, often interrupting my thoughts with the bill.   Les Deux Magots (so named because of two wooden sculptures of Chinese trading agents there), a popular haunt for Hemingway and a group of surrealist artists, is another place worth a visit. Now, though, the only two things that one can do there are look and be looked at. Get out of Les Deux Magots, and go around the corner, and you will find yourself in front of Café de Flore, where Jean-Paul Sartre, the major existentialist thinker, and his companion, Simone de Beauvoir, held court with their followers. The ambience and décor there are quite fine, but my pen seemed to have come under the spell of Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (L'Être et le Néant): there was no question about its being, but nothing would come out of it. All right, then, I thought, I’ll go to Brasserie Lip just across the street and treat myself to Alsacian sausage and sauerkraut: the sourness of the sauerkraut might stimulate my thoughts. On one occasion, my thoughts were indeed stimulated and were just about to give off sparks when I noticed a message on my Blackberry telling me that the agenda of the next Senate meeting had to go out the following day.   Well, I had already made plans to go to visit the museum of Légion d’Honneur the next day, so I thought I’d better head back to my luxurious hotel to review the agenda.   In 1802, two years before he declared himself Emperor, Napoleon established Légion d’Honneur, which has remained the highest French order for two hundred years. Its award is the highest of all five national awards (such as Ordre National du Mérite and Ordre des Arts et des Lettres). The person presenting the honor is the commander-in-chief of the Legion, in other words, the President of France. A small red insignia from the Legion pinned to the left lapel of one’s jacket commands respect and special regard from people in France. In recent years, many people from Hong Kong have expressed their friendship towards France and made significant contributions to the country. As a result, in proportion to its population, Hong Kong is probably one of the places with the highest number of awardees. Recently, the awardees of Hong Kong, numbering over ten, responded with great support to the call to renovate the museum of the Legion, and received special recognition from President Chirac, the commander-in-chief of the Legion. I feel deeply honored to be a member of this group.   Walk east along the left bank of the Seine from the museum of the Legion, and you will come to an old train station, which was almost torn down in the 1970s. It has since been turned into the Musée d’Orsay, which I had the opportunity to visit two weeks after it opened in 1986. As a teacher (in those days I carried with me my faculty ID from the University of Southern California), I even got in free by way of a special entrance. It stands to reason that as a country known for its promotion of culture, France should give special considerations to teachers.   Continue a bit further towards east, and a grand and splendid building comes into view. The building is called Institut de France, another organization that dates back to the Napoleonic years. Unlike the Collège de France, it is not a research and educational institution but the highest establishment of the humanities and sciences in the country. L’Académie Française, which holds the power to allow or disallow the inclusion of a word into the French dictionary, has its office there. Regulations stipulate that the academy cannot have more than forty members at any given time. The only, and historically the first, member of Asian ancestry is the translator, poet and novelist François Cheng (Cheng Baoyi), who came to France as a student from China at the age of seventeen. (The first Chinese intellectual who worked in France is a certain Huang from Fujian, who assisted in the compilation of the first Chinese-French dictionary at the court of Louis XIV.)   Also housed in Institut de France is L’Académie des Sciences. In May of this year, through the introduction of Professor Ciarlet, a member of L’Académie des Sciences and a colleague at City University of Hong Kong, I was given an invitation to attend a special celebration Séance Solennelle of the Académie. Honorary guards, clad in traditional military regalia, stood solemnly at the entrance of the venue. The Director, the President and the Permanent Secretary officiated at the celebration, all appearing in the traditional robes of the fellows. Some other fellows also wore robes, while more still came in suit and tie like other guests. The purpose of the celebration was to introduce the twenty-five new members, each of whom was asked to deliver a five-minute speech. Judging from their accomplishments and their speeches, there is no question that the French Republic still occupies an important place in various fields of knowledge in the world. France has its own complete technological system, and is at the forefront in areas such as the application of nuclear energy, air transportation, electronic communication, computer software and biotechnology. Its accomplishments are impressive beyond doubt. By virtue of achievements in the sciences alone, to say nothing of the wealth in literature, the arts, thought, and culture, France can not be easily dismissed by the facile label of “Old Europe” from the ill-informed.   A reception, with fine wine and food, came after the celebration. This was by no means the first time that I had partaken of a wonderful repast in L’Académie des Sciences. In 1999, I was invited by the French Foreign Ministry to visit the Académie. At that time, the President of the Académie, Professor Lions, treated our group to a sumptuous meal in a magnificent dining hall under a painted dome. Hemingway would never have guessed that it would be possible to have a meal like that in the solemn Institut de France on the left bank of the Seine.   Hemingway did, however, notice the magnificent residences on another island in the Siene, Ile St-Louis. I, too, have a special fondness for this quiet and lovely island, connected by a short bridge with Ile de la Cité. Apart from a few gift shops and distinctive inns, there are several restaurants which serve delicious food at prices that are not particularly exorbitant. In May of this year, my wife and I recommended this island to a Chinese mother and her daughter from New York. They could not imagine that in the hubbub of Paris, it is possible to find so quiet and comfortable a place as this. With gratitude, they even suggested treating the two of us to dinner.   Old Paris-hands that we are, we of course know of the famous La Tour d’Argent on the bank of the Seine, connected to Ile St-Louis by a bridge. Hemingway took note of it eighty years ago. He mentioned that at that time there were rooms for rent upstairs from the restaurant. Many visitors from Britain and the U.S. would leave their English books behind, which the restaurant kept in a small library. Given his financial circumstances at the time, my guess is that Hemingway probably did not eat there often.   For several decades, I have known that this is one of the best and most expensive restaurants in Paris, but it has never crossed my mind that I should go to try the food there. I cannot explain why, but thoughts of indulgence came to me this year, and I was planning to go there for a meal with my wife. My friends in France shot down the idea. Twenty-five years ago, Guide Michelin, the most authoritative food publication in France, awarded La Tour d’Argent three stars, the highest ranking. This year, it only merited one star. Disappointed, we nevertheless went with great enthusiasm to an inexpensive Tunisian restaurant, and filled ourselves with steaming couscous.   Many years have gone by. La Tour d’Argent is now but a faint shadow of its glorious past. Hemingway might never have tried couscous, but spring rolls, rice noodles and sushi are by no means strangers to the Parisian palate nowadays.   Paris, this wonderful movable feast, will continue to spread out and, like the Seine, flow forward with the waves of globalization.

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity
The French Revolution was an important event in human history. Its immediate cause was the storming of the prison at Bastille by the citizens of Paris on July 14, 1789, but its deeper roots are found in the social transformation and the promotion of rationalism and humanism in the two or three hundred years after the Renaissance. This was a revolution staged by members of the third estate of society (regardless of wealth) to topple the nobility who made up the first tier (represented by the monarchy) and the clerics who constituted the second tier (represented by the Church). The foundation on which the French Republic stands – liberté, égalité, fraternité - was proposed in 1793, the year Louis XVI was executed.   Today, most government offices and many schools in France have these three words engraved on them. This resounding declaration has inspired millions of people in France and throughout the world for more than two hundred years.   The course of human development is not without its ironies, however.   Just when the French Revolution had reached the point where fashionable people addressed each other as “Citizen So-and-so” in manifestation of the spirit of equality and fraternity, radical revolutionaries put together a Committee of Public Security (Comité de Salut Public) to suppress all counter-revolutionary rhetoric and actions in various places. Guillotin, a physician by profession, was given the grave responsibility to study the most efficient method of executing the many who were sentenced to death. His invention ended up bearing his name - guillotine. What goes around comes around. In the end, many members of the Comité de Salut Public met their ends on the guillotine. Their radical actions and social disturbances led to restoration and counter-restoration, and the result was that Napoleon, who controlled the military, was elected by an overwhelming majority with almost no opposition to become the French emperor!   Civil law, units of measurement, government institutions, and the institutions of higher education mentioned above are all products of the Napoleonic era. They contributed greatly to the later development of France and even the world. Napoleon’s adventurism (such as the invasion of Russia) and aggression against other European countries were quite a different matter, for which he ended up paying a heavy price. Perhaps it can be said that the French Revolution kicked off the progress of French industrialization, and in turn sped up the expansion of French colonialism. Napoleon was simply throwing himself wholeheartedly into the role given to him by his times.   “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” the banner of the French Revolution, also left an indelible mark on recent Chinese history. In May of 2006, I came to be a witness of this historical process.   In a place over one hundred kilometers south of Paris, there is a town called Montargis with a population of several tens of thousands. It is most famous for a kind of sweet called prasline, which is well-liked by the French (and every one in my family). Another reason for its fame is one of its former inhabitants, Anne-Louis Girodet, a well-known painter at the time of the French Revolution. That is why the museum of this small town has in its collection highly sought-after paintings that are not found even in the Louvre.   I went to visit Montargis not because of its sweets or paintings, however.   Between 1921 and 1926, the same time when Hemingway was staying in Paris, Deng Xiaoping and several hundred Chinese youths worked in a rubber factory called Hutchison near Montargis. In May of 2005, I was invited by a former mayor of the town to spend a weekend at his home, and got to understand in some detail the history of the work-study experience of Deng Xiaoping and others in Montargis. Only in their twenties and still highly malleable at the time, Deng Xiaoping, Li Fuchun, Cai Chang, He Changgong and other founders of the Chinese Communist movement lived as workers in this town and promoted revolution among Chinese living in France. Their actions might have drawn the notice of the French police, but they were never suppressed, and while their French ability could have been better, it is inconceivable that all the various schools of thought in post-World War I French society did not have an impact on their minds. “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” must have been a familiar saying that they took deeply to heart.   Had Zhou Enlai, Chen Yi, Deng Xiaoping and others not come into contact at such close range with the French Third Republic or the history of this nation after the French Revolution, what would have come of the development of China in the last half century, especially the period after the Cultural Revolution?   When I visited Montargis, I was part of another incident. Compared to momentous historical events, it is most insignificant but still interesting enough to warrant mention.    Isabey, my post-doctoral student, comes from Montargis. When he found out by chance that I had been invited to his hometown, he insisted I pay his elderly parents, whom I had met before, a visit. His father, now ninety-four years old, used to work on the railroad. His mother is eighty-seven years old. His family and my host had never met, but on account of this Chinese visitor who had come from a long way, they connected by telephone for the first time to discuss in which household I should dine for my meals there.   On Saturday morning, when my hostess was busy preparing a leg of venison in my honor, my host suggested he take me to the center of town to look at the weekly Saturday market. Two encounters of some dramatic import occurred there. First, we saw my student, baskets in arm, buying food in the market, in preparation for my visit at noon. I took it upon myself to introduce to each other the two families who had lived in Montargis for generations. We said goodbye after a short chat and walked to the other side of the market, where three men wearing T-shirts with the word “L’Humanité” printed on them were selling newspapers. My host dashed over to say hello, and introduced me to them. There was a man of seventy-five in the group, who, a member of the French Communist Party of long standing, had started out as a teacher and later became mayor of the city. The Communist Party was very influential at one point but is now in decline and L’Humanité the party newspaper, is on the verge of bankruptcy. These three faithful party members were there trying to reverse the tide, knowing full well that they were attempting the impossible.   The decline of the French Communists has nothing to do with the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, but is rather a by-product of the long years when the Socialist Party was in power. Mitterrand was elected as the first Socialist president on May 10, 1981. I was in Paris then, and can still remember the wild celebration of Parisians on the streets and the blaring of horns throughout the night. After he assumed office, France raised the minimum wage, improved the public health system, and established a thirty-five-hour work week and thirty-five days of paid leave per year for all working individuals. Such measures crippled the French Communists, who had for a long time made no mention of class struggle but focused instead on social welfare.   France will conduct its presidential election again this May. This time, the left-wing Socialist Party put forward Ségolène Royal, a female candidate with relatively little political experience and without a sharp political identity. The right-wing party in power, Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), is represented by Nicolas Sarkozy, currently the Minister of the Interior with the image of a strong leader. Representing Union pour la Démocratie Française (UDF), François Bayrou, a former minister in right-wing governments, now runs on a middle-of-the-road platform and seems to enjoy good media and popular attention.  The founder of the ultra-right-wing Front National, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is getting advanced in age, but persists despite repeated defeat. His power to rally support is not to be underestimated. Of late, there have appeared a number of other candidates with varying degrees of influence and recognition. It is still too early to tell who will win in the end.   As for what is on the minds of French voters, there are a few indications.   First, while most French people are nostalgic for the glorious days of the past, they have no intention to relive them. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, French was the lingua franca in diplomatic circles, and French cuisine and manners set the standard for the entire world. After Peter the Great, although a follower of the Russian Orthodox Church, decided to push for westernization, France became a model for emulation among the upper crust of Russian society. Even Napoleon’s invasion of Russia did not alter the course. The Russian nobility (including the Czar) spoke and wrote to each other in French. At the height of its power, Russia had designs on the Ottoman Empire, which, for its part, also modeled itself after France and, in an effort to strengthen itself against the Russians, employed French army officers to establish a military school and to train its army. Members of the upper class in the Ottoman Empire were just like their counterparts in Russia, and regarded it as a matter of pride to use French. As a matter of fact, the first official newspaper of the Ottoman Empire was printed in French!   Nowadays, although French is still the official language of a few dozen countries in the world, and the number of people who study French as their first foreign language is second only to that of English, French intellectuals are no longer unwilling or unable to use English in international conferences or academic journals as was the case twenty-five years ago. Today, French intellectuals are proud to be able to use English. While France will remain forever a strong nation in Europe and a wealthy and powerful country with extensive influence in the world in any scenario in the foreseeable future, most French set their minds somewhere else. A candidate who runs on a platform of restoring France to its former glory will not be elected President.   Second, even though France’s economic growth has been rather slow and its unemployment rate remains high, on the whole, France is still an affluent and vital economic entity. Apart from a high level of technological development, France is able to make use of its former advantageous positions and wealthy cultural resources to manufacture many brand-name luxury products. For example, I ran into a handsome young couple at the Beijing Airport ten years ago. The husband had been sent to East Asia to be in charge of market exploration for Hermès. Today, the Asian market for Hermès products and those of other French brand names is comparable to the market for French airplanes, railroad system and nuclear power plant equipment. Ordinary French people live in material comfort, while the elderly and sick are adequately cared for. Even though many French scholars and commentators argue frequently as to whether France can maintain its economic prosperity and cultural uniqueness in the process of globalization, I personally am very optimistic. Neither do the ordinary French people seem to be overly concerned about it. A candidate who runs on a platform of globalization issues will therefore not likely be elected President, either.   In that case, what is uppermost in the minds of French people? What is the “deep-seated contradiction” of French society?   I can say categorically that what causes the biggest concern for the French population of over fifty million is the immigrants who come from north and west Africa, mostly of the Islamic faith, and their offspring, totaling more than five million. The riot in the fall of 2005 where cars were set on fire in many cities across the country has revealed to the fullest the existence of this conflict.   I purposely use the word “contradiction” rather than “problem” to describe this phenomenon because French society is complex and full of contradictions. The French Revolution and the subsequent republican systems (including the Fifth Republic of today) have emphasized the secular nature (laÏcité) of political power. The word laÏcité in French is slightly different in meaning from the English word secularism that is often used to translate it, for it underscores a principle stronger than that of the separation of church and state mandated in the American constitution. The French Revolution came under the influence of anti-clerical sentiment and, with the establishment of the Republic, the basic orientation of the polity was unsympathetic to the Catholic Church. Its initial ideal was to put the church (l'église) below the state (l’état); at one point, Catholic clerics were even put on the payroll of the state. During the Third Republic, a person who went to Mass on Sunday stood little chance of being selected for the cabinet.   The French Revolution and the American Revolution happened at around the same time, and their ideals of freedom, rule of law, and the independence of the three branches of government are very similar. Yet, the founders of the U.S. are believers in Protestantism. That the words “In God We Trust” are printed on their paper currency is enough to show that the American political entity celebrates rather than resists religion.   The complexity of French society lies precisely in its simultaneous distancing from and acceptance of the Catholic Church in the nineteenth century. While the country emphasized laÏcité internally, French missionaries were actively propagating Catholicism around the world. The French government also regarded itself as the representative of the rights and interest of the Catholic Church. Today, the majority of French people identify themselves as Catholics, but Catholics who observe Mass on Sunday number no more than 15 percent of the population.   A strong and affluent France has acted like a magnet in history, drawing to it and assimilating successfully groups and groups of immigrants in the last two hundred years. There were the Italians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Polish, Irish, Armenians and Romanians who were originally non-Catholics, and the Jews from north Africa and eastern Europe. And then there were the Protestant Germans from Alsace. This year’s President-hopeful, Sarkozy, for example, is the son of Hungarian immigrants and his mother is Jewish.   In the mind of the average French person, the French Republic is the highest authority in the laiety, and citizens of the French Republic are equal and should not be divided by race, belief or ancestry. Religious belief is a personal matter, but the authority of the state should command respect. If you were to ask a “real” French person whether he or she regards himself or herself first as French or Catholic (or any other religion), the answer you would get would always be the former. But, were you to ask the same question of the immigrants (or their off-spring) from Algeria, Moroco or Senegal, the answer might very well be different.   In the last fifty years, a large number of Muslim immigrants from former French colonies in North Africa and West Africa have come into the country. In general, they come from a lower educational background and economic status. In their religion and cultural traditions, the concept of the separation of church and state does not exist. Neither do they appreciate the meaning of laÏcité? The overwhelming majority of them are engaged in low-income jobs, and since the social welfare system in France supports them when they are unemployed, they are definitely unwilling to return to their place of origin. Through the free education provided by the government, their children gain a command of the French language and identify themselves as French citizens. At the same time, however, they also feel that they are not given the treatment due the French. Looking for jobs is not easy for them, either, and they are filled with feelings of frustration and grievance.   In C.E. 732, Charles Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne, repelled the invading Muslim forces from north Africa who crossed the Pyrenees in Poitiers in western France, thereby establishing a country that belonged to the Franks. Today, the Muslims do not invade by force, but are attracted by the better job prospects and social welfare system in the home of their former colonial master. There are no signs as yet that they will be assimilated in any great numbers. On the one hand, the French government respects their freedom of religion, and on the other, fails to come up with a feasible proposal to incorporate the huge numbers of Muslims with no tradition of the separation of church and state into the fold of mainstream French society that upholds the principles of laÏcité?   This is the biggest social contradiction in France since the French Revolution. This is what today’s French voters are most concerned about.
Marie Curie, Albert Schweitzer,Claude Lévi-Strauss
The seventy-two eminent persons honored in the Panthéon are those who have won the formal recognition of the state for their accomplishments. As a matter of fact, since the eighteenth century, there have been numerous other individuals who are worthy of a place in history.   Even when I was in high school, I had great admiration for Marie Sklodowska-Curie; as an undergraduate, I held Albert Schweitzer in highest regard; and from my American roommate when I was a graduate student, I heard about the anthropologist, Claude Lévi-Strauss.   Mme. Curie and her husband were professors at the Sorbonne and won world fame for their discovery of radioactive chemical elements. She was the first woman in the world to win the Nobel Prize, and she won it twice, first in physics in 1903 and then in chemistry in 1911. Paris VI is named Pierre et Marie Curie after her and her husband.   Schweitzer was a famous organist, musicologist, church pastor, surgeon, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. When he was a pastor in his hometown, he made the decision to go on a mission to Africa where he also hoped to practice medicine. He spent the next eight years studying medicine, and earned a medical doctorate degree in 1913. In the same year, he opened a hospital in the French colony Gabon in Africa. In the half century that followed, apart from six years when he lived in Europe and the frequent trips that he took to Europe and the U.S. to raise money for his hospital by giving speeches and organ performances, he spent all of his time in Gabon until his death in 1965.   Lévi-Strauss studied philosophy when he was a student at the Sorbonne, but became an explorer and an anthropologist of the tribal people in the forest along the Amazon when he was sent to teach sociology at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil and to conduct field studies of the Brazilian aborigines. He taught in New York during World War II. After the war, he returned to France and drew the world’s attention with his Tristes Tropiques, written in a moving and fluid style. In 1959, he was appointed the chair professor of anthropology at Collège de France. The book Structural Anthropology, which established his position in the field of anthropology, was also published at this time. The most important work in his life is probably La Pensé Sauvage published in 1962, in which he raised objections to the existentialist thinker, Jean-Paul Sartre. (The title in French is a double-entendre, meaning “Savage Mind” and “Wild Pansy” at the same time.) Lévi-Strauss is now ninety-nine years old.   Mme. Curie, Schweitzer and Lévi-Strauss, highly respected intellectuals in France, might not have known each other, but there is a common point among them. They were all minorities born outside of France. Mme. Curie was Polish, born in Warsaw. As a tribute to her motherland, she even named the radioactive element she discovered polonium. Schweitzer was born in Strasburg, the capital of Alsace which France ceded to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War. He was German-Alsacian by heritage, raised in a Protestant family and educated in Berlin when he was young. After World War I, Alsace was returned to France, whereby he became a French citizen. Lévi-Strauss was Jewish, born in Brussels, Belgium. After World War II broke out, he returned from Brazil to join the resistance forces against Germany, but with the establishment of the pro-Nazi Vichy government, he could not but leave France for New York.   That these three distinguished individuals enjoy such high esteem from society for their accomplishments is due partly to their talents and efforts, but also partly to the openness and inclusiveness of French society. These are the principles of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” and laÏcité in action. If one were to point out that, for all of their differences in religion, these three individuals were all white Europeans, and hence the openness of French society is rather limited in scope, then it could also be argued that the admission of Français Cheng, an Asian immigrant, into the Académie Française represents the further development of French inclusiveness.   When we examine the biggest social issue of today’s French society from this angle, we begin to see glimpses of a solution.   At present, young people of north or west African origin who are accepted into the best universities and institutes (les grandes écoles) are far and few between. Even those who enter the average institutions of higher education are rather limited in number. Consequently, unschooled and un-employed, offspring of these immigrants further find themselves living in poor conditions. It is only natural that they harbor feelings of alienation and resentment.   In the January/February issue of this year’s Foreign Affairs, the publication of the Council on Foreign Relations in the U.S., is an article by Dominique Moïsi, a senior advisor of Institut François des Relations Internationales, entitled “The Clash of Emotions.” Moïsi argues that in today’s world, “the Western world displays a culture of fear, the Arab and Muslim worlds are trapped in a culture of humiliation, and much of Asia displays a culture of hope.” In examining the state of mind of the Muslims in France (his name suggests that he may be of Jewish descent), he believes that “the riots that took place during the fall of 2005 had an essentially socioeconomic origin, but they were also a lashing out by the disaffected against a society that claims to give them equal rights in principle but fails to do so in practice.”   This is an observation worth pondering over. Do most French nationals of European descent see this point or do they have some apprehension about a very distinct minority that is increasing in number? What could allow them to shake off the “culture of fear” as they face the future? On the other hand, without concrete and real examples of achievement and success, it is probably difficult for French citizens of African and Arab origins to eliminate their sense of frustration and humiliation.   As an outsider who cares about France, I wonder whether it is possible to find a common way to dissolve these two different emotions? Would full implementation of the foundation of the French Revolution two hundred years ago, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”, not be the solution? To promote ethnic and racial harmony within its boundary, and to face the challenges of globalization, France needs to transform its citizens of north African and west African origins, who make up ten percent of the population, into competitive and hopeful French nationals.   One can only resort to higher education to realize this goal. If the French government could institute a policy of incentives (something similar to the affirmative action policies in the U.S., or the practice of giving bonus points to ethnic minority university applicants in China), it would definitely speed up the process of having more immigrant children in the institutions of higher learning. When they graduate, they can join the rest of the white-collar workforce in jobs with prospects. This will be an important step in dissolving the contradictions in French society.   Education is a slow process. Although it is a good solution to the existing contradictions in the French society, it cannot be accomplished in just a short time. Even if the French government is determined to come up with a policy of incentives, it will take time for its implementation. More time is needed for this policy to achieve initial success and become widely accepted.   This will take at least one generation, perhaps take even two or three generations. During this process, the attitude of the families and the cultural orientation of the communities of the Muslim population will play a key role in its success or failure. At the moment the majority of Muslim families in France has several children and the parents are in general not well educated themselves, thus unable to help the children with their school work or not putting enough emphasis on their children’s education.   The content of a secular education provided by the French government may very well conflict with the value system that the pupils acquired from their homes and communities, creating unavoidable dilemmas or confusion for the Muslim pupils. Under such circumstances, dropping out of school may seem a reasonable choice. To such youths in academic difficulty and/or mental anguish, the counseling and encouragement of the parents and elders in the community is very important.   Muslims in general possess a strong faith in divine revelation and many believe in predestination. Some scholars therefore think that this may lead some Muslims, particularly those who are not well educated, into a tendency of fatalism, thus showing less initiative in changing their lives and possibly having an impact on acquiring the competitiveness that is needed in the contemporary society. Although these socio-cultural issues are extremely complex, I am nevertheless optimistic about the future of the Muslim population in France. In the 1960s, I observed at close range the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, and have since witnessed the definite improvement of racial relations in the U.S. after the passage of the Civil Rights Act by the American Congress and a very discernible rise in social status of the Alfro-Americans. Who in those days could have foreseen that America’s first two Secretaries of State in the twenty-first century are both Afro-Americans, who, as a group, were struggling for equal opportunity in education only forty years ago?   Suppose that, in the years to come, a group of highly respected scientists, writers and literary figures, sociologists, and political and corporate leaders of Arabic and African origins emerges: then, the value systems and feelings towards France among the French Muslim population will change. In turn, the concept that a government secular in nature can nevertheless treat religion with respect will spread among them. Such a development will exert a great inspirational force (just like the French Revolution) to the Muslim population in other Western European countries, or even Islamic countries in their efforts at modernization.   I have faith in the wisdom of the French people. Two hundred years ago, they came up with the stirring slogan of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” and fifty years ago, with great resolve, they gave up their colonial empire and reconciled with their sworn enemy, Germany. Together, the two countries created a new face for Europe. In the future, the French people will realize the ideal of the founding of their country and use it to resolve the social contradictions of today.   When a large number of young Muslims study at the Sorbonne, Ecole Nationale d’Administration, and Ecole Polytechnique, when they can take as their models such people as Mme. Curie, Schweitzer and Lévi-Strauss who were born outside of France and brought up in different religions, the two groups of French citizens will emerge from their emotions of fear and humiliation and march towards hope.   (March 2007)    




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