French leader has an eye for Chinese culture

Besides promoting the political and economic interests of his country during his current visit to China, French President Jacques Chirac has a pilgrimage of sorts to make.

The last stop of his four-day trip tomorrow will be in Xi'an, one of China's four great ancient capitals, to which Chirac paid his first visit 28 years ago.

In 1978, Chirac, then mayor of Paris, became the first foreigner to visit the Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses, and hailed it as the eighth wonder of the world.

His comment came to be widely quoted by international media, and greatly helped the museum's publicity around the world.

When he visited the museum again in 1991 as prime minister, Chirac volunteered to be a narrator for his entourage.

On the eve of his current visit to China, Chirac told Xinhua News Agency that he will "revisit Xi'an, the holy land of Chinese civilization, with deep feelings."

With the help and urging of Chirac, who called himself a fan and admirer of Chinese culture, the Year of Chinese Culture was launched in France in 2003.

The 74-year-old French president's love for Chinese culture and civilization long predated his visits.

"I began to have a particular love for China since my childhood" after reading French scholars' books about Chinese civilization, he was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Wu Jianmin, a former Chinese ambassador to France, said Chirac reads books about Chinese culture and arts almost every night and never refused an invitation to Chinese cultural exhibitions staged in Paris.

Chirac's office is adorned with Chinese cultural relics, said Wu, including bronzes from the Shang Dynasty (1600-1100 BC) and a Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) sculpture of Guanyin, the goddess of compassion and mercy.

To Wu's surprise, the French president even told the ambassador in 1999 that he was writing a script for a film about Li Bai, the foremost romantic poet in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).

Chirac is especially well known for his strong enthusiasm for Chinese porcelains and bronze wares, on which he has reportedly read a huge pile of books.

According to a widespread anecdote, Chirac once accompanied Chinese President Hu Jintao and his wife to the Cernuschi Museum of Paris during their visit to France in 2004.

Claude Hudelot, cultural attach at the French Consulate-General in Shanghai, said: "I have heard that during the visit to the Cernuschi Museum, Chirac's explanation on a single piece of Chinese bronze ware lasted 25 minutes, which was a happy surprise for the Chinese president and his wife."

Hudelot added that Hu and his wife "were amazed at Chirac's rich knowledge on Chinese bronze wares."

According to Shanghai Museum, which is famous for its collection of ancient bronze wares, Chirac has visited the museum three times, most recently in October 2004.

In 1997, Ma Chengyuan, then the museum's director and a world-renowned expert on bronze wares, sent Chirac 14 volumes of his works, "Chinese Bronze Wares."

On seeing a picture in Ma's book, Chirac asked Ma, "Is that piece from the third period of the Erlitou Culture?" the period in which bronze wares thrived.

Ma, startled at such a professional question, paused for several seconds before he could nod "yes."

Li recalled that President Chirac even could speak about the artistic features of the bronze wares, which enjoy a history of more than 3,600 years.

Legend has it that during the 1997 visit, Chirac had to delay the departure of his special plane in order to finish his discussion with Ma.

Source: China Daily

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