Nobody could believe a long-nosed, blue-eyed Frenchman speak such pure Chinese if they did not hear with their own ears. In one afternoon in July 2005, at a reception room with an air of great antiquity in Beijing Hotel, Joel Bellassen, a well-known sinologist enjoying great prestige both in France and on the European continent, and the supervisor of Chinese studies with French Ministry of National Education, tells, in perfect mandarin, his life-long affection with Chinese and emotion with China during an exclusive interview with People's Daily Overseas Edition.
"Those who complain Chinese difficult to learn are all Chinese."
"Mr. Bellassen, Your Chinese is perfect now, could you tell us how you achieved that?"
"Just so so," he said with hand shaking. "But I know my four tones for Chinese are fairly accurate. I also felt puzzled, with the same teachers, same classes, and same methodology, why my pronunciation is more accurate when compared with my classmates? Later I realised that all these should be attributed to my father."
Bellassen was born in French Algeria, and his father was a Spanish descendant, who used to teach foreign language and serve as an accountant. However, he was very interested in music, and organised a band in his spare time and served as the conductor. Since Bellassen was born, he was soaked in his father's music, which made him rather music-sensitive and cultivated his perfect hearing. Therefore, Bellassen had a good command of four tones soon as he began to learn Chinese
"You mentioned that Chinese has now enjoyed the status of an international language in your speech delivered at the just concluded World Chinese Conference. In France, Chinese language has become the language permit, language passport as well as employment 'trump card'. However, the situation was utterly different when you started to learn Chinese. May I ask what impelled you to learn Chinese at that time?"
"Exactly, I started to learn Chinese in the 1970s. In France and Europe where China was quite far away from them, it was hard for people to imagine the Chinese language could bring any job opportunities to some one. My choice of Chinese language was rather obscure at that time. Actually, when you come to know China's good impression on France and my personality, you will understand mine is a natural choice." answered Bellassen.
In Bellassen's view, China is an ancient country. Both China and France have long-standing history and lay stress on the record of written historical materials and the handdown of cultural inheritance. People in France always show their respect to the ancient countries and so does Bellassen to China. Just like Peking University Bellassen attended, Université Paris 8, founded after the Storm of Revolution in May 1968, where Bellassen finished his higher education, was well known for its creative spirits. Bellassen chose Spanish major at first when the university demanded students to take an elective course, but later he found Spanish language was too common and simple. It occurred to him several Chinese characters hung over the entrance of Chinese department. So he made up his mind to study Chinese, and soon he became a Chinese fan and a China fan.
"Don't you think Chinese is difficult to learn?"
"I often hear people say Chinese is difficult to learn. It is strange enough that those who say so are all Chinese." Bellassen personally believed that Chinese character is a kind of art. He was deeply attracted at the first sight of it, and found it hard to part with. He was nicknamed "Chinese" by his French friends. When he heard "Shall we go to dinner together, Chinese?", he always felt happy. "You can't image how exited I was when I came across the Chinese characters I have just learnt. Many times, I was often carried away by the enjoyment and missed my underground station."
Days of going and working in Chinese countryside for Bellassen
Bellassen employed Chinese saying "When you drink the water, think of those who dug the well" to express his gratitude.
"I should say that the opportunity China provided me to study in the country laid solid foundation for my perfect Chinese, which enables me to deeply understand and appreciate Chinese culture," added Bellassen.
He said he had longed to come to China at that time. But the hostile situation between China and western countries prevented him from realising his dream. The "most unforgettable moment" came at 23:00 November 19, 1973, when his flight landed in Beijing. Beijing Institute of Languages and Peking University became the windows for him to understand China.
For the 23-year-old French youth Joel Bellassen who eagerly wanted to learn more about China, campus was undoubtedly too narrow and small for him. "I sought every possible way to communicate with Chinese students, and later the university allowed us to live with Chinese students together under our unremitting demands." Bellassen recounted his collegehood during that special period, "when I was hospitalised for back injuries in the Third Hospital under Peking University, I had made dramatic progress in Chinese. My Chinese made an essential step forward as I communicated with doctors, nurses, wardmates and cooks there. I derived gains from misfortune."
He also excitedly recalled his experience when working in Chinese countryside with his French friends. He said that Chinese urban youth responded to the national call to go and work in countryside at that time, and several foreign students including him also wanted to participate in that movement. "We wanted to take that opportunity to visit countryside and have face-to face contact with Chinese peasants, because failing to understand peasants means failing to understand China. It was really out of our expectation that the university approved our applications. I went to Shunyi and Sijiqin, doing farm work such as carrying tomatoes. My shoulders were grazed during the six months there."
Diligent envoy popularising Chinese
Bellassen has been teaching Chinese in France for 20 year, and even he himself cannot remember how many students he has taught.
The first time to be a Chinese teacher still remains fresh in his memory. One month before his departure for China, one middle school called him to teach Chinese for a class temporarily. He accepted the invitation and said it was a wonderful thing to share one's Chinese-learning experience with someone else, though he was nervous at that time. In 1975, he finished his studies in China and returned to France, where he was invited to teach Chinese in middle schools and universities immediately. In that year, he was only 25. In 1978, he passed the national qualification exam for teachers, becoming a professional Chinese teacher. Meanwhile, he was also awarded the doctor's degree.
In the next 13 years, he devoted to the cause of Chinese teaching in the secondary education in France. He participated in the establishment of the Association for Chinese-Teaching in France in 1984, and took up the post of general secretary. Later, he was offered the post of associate professor by Université de Paris, thanks to which he switched Chinese-teaching to the higher education in France. In 1997, he got the credential of tutor of Ph. D students, the first of this kind on the European continent. In 1998 he took up the post of supervisor of Chinese studies with French Ministry of National Education, giving full play to the Chinese teaching in the French national education system.
Bellassen quoted a remark from a Tang poem, "You can enjoy a grander sight by climbing to a greater height." He noted that the Chinese language, once reserved to the sinologists, has become popular amongst common French people in his country. From the textbooks of primary and secondary students to business, from tourism to practical fields, the enthusiasm for learning Chinese is running high in France. Thanks to the establishment of professional supervisors of Chinese studies with French Ministry of National Education, more and more people in France will be intoxicated by the charm of Chinese characters, and consequently they will better understand this oriental country that boosted Confucius and Laozi.
By People's Daily Online