Text by Liu Haile and Wang Yugeng
The Seine runs like a jade belt through theold district of Paris, along which renownedarchitectural complexes such as NotreDame, Les Invalides, the Louvre, andGrand et Petit Palais can be found. The Chinese CultureCenter is hidden within a classical Western-stylebuilding there.
France was the first country to launch a foreignbasedculture center. Since the 20th Century, manyWestern countries have followed its lead. It hasn’t beenlong since China opened its first overseas culture centerin Mauritius in 1988. The Chinese Culture Centerin Paris, established on November 29, 2002, is the firstChinese cultural institution to open in the West.
Decades ago, China and France had already agreedto set up cultural centers with each other, but they neverofficially announced the plan until 2001. That year,on April 19, then Chinese Vice Premier Li Lanqing andthen French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine signed adocument stating that the two countries would establishculture centers in each other’s capitals.
Soon thereafter, China chose a 150-year-old stonebuilding on the Seine, which was said to have previously been inhabited by Napoleon’s descendants.However, when employees of the Chinese CultureCenter entered the old building, the interior sharplycontrasted its gorgeous exterior: An outdated elevatorconsistently broke down, water and electric pipelineswere covered with dust, the faded walls looked dim,and the basement was full of coal briquettes datingback to World War II.
After extensive remodeling, the center began operation.Two weeks after its inauguration, the Chinesescript exhibition titled “From Oracle to Computer”
was held in the center’s limited space, becoming theorganization’s first public event. In the early days,the center daily attracted only a handful of visitors.However, its reputation gradually rose through wordof-mouth. During the 2003 Spring Festival, the centerinvited local residents, including both Chinese andFrench, to celebrate Chinese New Year together. Theactivity left French natives with a great impression of the center, and became an annual event.