Text by Wang Yugeng and Tan Xingyu
“When the Chinese Culture Centerin Paris first opened, mycolleagues and I toiled awaynon-stop day and night. I experienceddelight and wept bitterly, but never regretteda single minute,” recalled Hou Xianghua, director ofthe Bureau for External Cultural Relations under theMinistry of Culture, when interviewed by China Pictorialat her office.
An official overseeing foreign Chinese culture centersand a founder of the Chinese Culture Center inParis, Hou understands the aim of the centers. Shefound it hard to conceal her excitement when recountingthe past. It seemed that many things in her past areworthy of remembering.
“In fact, Paris’s Chinese Culture Center wasn’t thefirst established abroad,” Hou stated. As supplementalfacilities for intergovernmental cultural exchange,the construction of overseas Chinese culture centersbegan as the 1980s were ending. The two earliest Chineseculture centers opened in Mauritius and Benin,respectively, and the cultural counselors of the Chineseembassies in both African countries acted as directorsof the respective centers. Today, they remainin operation after having received considerable praisefrom local residents over the years. Along with China’srapid economic and social progress, the global publichas shown increasing interest in Chinese culture. Howto better spread Chinese culture around the globe hasbeen a priority for the Chinese government.
In 1999, after extensive discussion, China proposedto France that they set up culture centers ineach other’s countries. “We chose France for a few reasons,”Hou explained. “French culture has significantinfluence around the world. Setting up a center in thecapital of Western culture should be the best place tobegin spreading Chinese culture to the West.” Francehad already suggested the two countries exchange culturecenters previously. However, the idea was shelveddue to inadequate conditions at the time. This time,China made the first step, which surprised the Frenchside a bit.