Chi­nese scholar and his work in French

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SUNDAY PEOPLE - By ZHANG ZIXUAN in Bei­jing XIE CHUANJIAO in Qing­dao

This April, 69- year- old Li Zhiqing re­ceived a let­ter from the French ambassador to China. Sylvie Ber­mann warmly prais­ing Li’s pro­mo­tion of the French lan­guage and French lit­er­a­ture.

She also told Li that he will soon be awarded the Com­man­der Medal­lion of the Or­der of Aca­demic Palms. It’s the high­est level of the third- grade or­der of Chivalry of France for aca­demics and oth­ers who have made ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions to French national ed­u­ca­tion and cul­ture.

This is Li’s third medal­lion af­ter re­ceiv­ing the lower- level knight and of­fi­cer medals.

“It’s a great honor for me; the more ex­cit­ing part is be­ing rec­og­nized for do­ing my fa­vorite thing,” Li says.

Li was the born in an in­tel­lec­tual fam­ily in Shang­hai. His fa­ther was a chemist who once stud­ied in the US.

Li says his life­time pas­sion of French was orig­i­nally in­spired by Fu Lei ( 1908- 1966), the renowned Chi­nese writer and French-lan­guage trans­la­tor.

In child­hood, Li re­calls, his par­ents’ house was al­ways crowded with Shang­hai’s in­tel­lec­tu­als and schol­ars, and Fu was of­ten one of them.

To taste the orig­i­nal fla­vor of French lit­er­a­ture, he en­tered the Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Univer­sity’s French depart­ment in 1962.

“French ed­u­ca­tion was not wellde­vel­oped in China un­til 1964, when China and France es­tab­lished the diplo­matic re­la­tions,” Li says.

Then came the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” (1966-76), and for more than a decade, he worked at a farm and then a fac­tory.

But Li kept on read­ing to keep his hand in. His French skills sur­vived thanks to read­ing the French ver­sion of Se­lected Works of Chair­man Mao Ze­dong.

In 1978 Li met the then Party sec­re­tary of Shan­dong Univer­sity, Sun Han­qing, who in­vited Li to teach at the school and help with its nascent French ed­u­ca­tion. Ever since then, Li has been an evan­ge­list for the French lan­guage.

In 1979, Li fi­nally had a fleet­ing glimpse of France af­ter study­ing French for 17 years. His first visit was only a short stay in Paris, a stopover on a busi­ness trip to Africa.

“I was like a bump­kin with all my money sewn up in my suit pocket,” Li chuck­les.

In the fol­low­ing years Li lob­bied Shan­dong Univer­sity to launch its own French depart­ment. In 1994 his dream came true.

There were only a few French work­ers in Shan­dong prov­ince that con­structed an elec­tric­ity-gen­er­at­ing sta­tion in Zoux­ian county, Li re­calls. He hosted a French club in one class­room of his cam­pus and in­vited th­ese French work­ers to meet with stu­dents once ev­ery two weeks.

The French work­ers screened some French movies that were not com­monly found in China at that time, and then dis­cussed the films. They also brought French books.

Soon af­ter, a French el­e­va­tor man­u­fac­turer came to the provin­cial cap­i­tal Ji­nan and pro­vided in­tern­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties to Li’s stu­dents. Li also helped 10 of his stu­dents to study in France with the sup­port of Ro­tary In­ter­na­tional and Lions Clubs In­ter­na­tional, two world­wide ser­vice-club or­ga­ni­za­tions.

In 2000 Li helped the Ocean Univer­sity of Qing­dao (now the Ocean Univer­sity of China) to es­tab­lish a French depart­ment. That year there were 22 French-ma­jor fresh­men.

Fang Liwei, one of that first batch and now the deputy di­rec­tor of the French depart­ment, says the strict teacher would list at least 50 books for the new­bies. Li also re­quired them to read French news­pa­pers such as Le Monde and Le Fi­garo ev­ery week.

Mean­while Li par­tic­i­pated in writ­ing sev­eral text­books, and ini­ti­ated the found­ing of the Qing­dao branch of the French Al­liance. He also cam­paigned to make Qing­dao a sis­ter city of Nantes and Brest.

To­day he hardly seems re­tired. He comes to school reg­u­larly, and flies fre­quently be­tween China and France.

“I wish I could die dur­ing teach­ing, just like an ac­tor dy­ing on stage,” says Li. “To me it’s the big­gest hap­pi­ness.” Con­tact the writ­ers at zhangz­ix­uan@chi­ and xiechuan­jiao@chi­ Hu Qing in Qing­dao con­trib­uted to the story.


Li Zhiqing re­ceived his first medal­lion in 1996 from the then French ambassador Pierre Morel.

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