COF­FEE WITH JAC­QUES GODFRAIN

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - TREND - By PHILIPPE DOVA

When peo­ple think of a trip to Paris, they im­me­di­ately think of the fab­u­lous shop­ping, a trip to the Lou­vre, a show at the Moulin Rouge and a stroll along the banks of the River Seine. But there’s so much more to dis­cover in the city, par­tic­u­larly in its rich his­tory. Take the Fon­da­tion Charles de Gaulle, whose mis­sion is to pre­serve the legacy of the famed French states­man. In March, it re­leased an ac­claimed book, Dans les Pas de Charles de Gaulle (In the Foot­steps of Charles de Gaulle), pub­lished by Artélia. Jac­ques Godfrain, the foun­da­tion’s chair­man, dis­cusses the close con­nec­tions be­tween the gen­eral and China, as well as the pop­u­lar tourist spots that honor his sto­ried legacy You’ve just re­turned from a trip to China. How closely does the Fon­da­tion Charles de Gaulle work with the coun­try?

Gen­eral de Gaulle’s de­ci­sion to rec­og­nize the gov­ern­ment of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China as the le­git­i­mate gov­ern­ment of the coun­try, lead­ing to the es­tab­lish­ment of diplo­matic re­la­tions on Jan­uary 27, 1964, means that to this day he en­joys un­par­al­leled pres­tige among the Chi­nese — those in gov­ern­ment as well as or­di­nary cit­i­zens.

So, as the em­bod­i­ment of this legacy, the Foun­da­tion has a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties, es­pe­cially since the year 2000, in the con­text of cel­e­brat­ing what Sino-French friend­ship owes to Gen­eral de Gaulle, Mao Ze­dong and Zhou En­lai. The Foun­da­tion’s Chi­nese part­ners take an ex­cep­tion­ally strong in­ter­est in this, and this in­ter­est needs to be en­cour­aged and de­vel­oped so that it di­rectly serves France-China re­la­tions.

And how does the foun­da­tion help build this re­la­tion­ship?

We work reg­u­larly with our part­ners in set­ting up eco­nomic projects and cul­tural events such as the Charles de Gaulle: l’Homme des Tem­pêtes ex­hi­bi­tion held in Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Wuhan and Chengdu in 2004 and 2005, and events or­ga­nized in Bei­jing and Shang­hai in 2014. We’ve also been de­vel­op­ing univer­sity ex­change pro­grams since 2007 with the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s In­sti­tute of For­eign Af­fairs and that will be ex­pand­ing after the var­i­ous meet­ings we’ve just had.

You men­tioned eco­nomic projects; could you go into a bit more de­tail?

Our Chi­nese part­ners would also like to learn more about France through our crafts. The var­i­ous re­gions of France are home to some ex­cel­lent crafts­peo­ple, in­clud­ing lace-mak­ers in Calais and Puy, and glovers in Mil­lau; we can put them in con­tact with our friends in China. We have a large net­work of con­tacts with elected of­fi­cials in France and with French com­pa­nies.

When there are op­por­tu­ni­ties for­com­pa­nies — large or small — to ap­proach the Chi­nese mar­ket, our role is to help fa­cil­i­tate the pro­ce­dures.

Tell us about some of the most dis­tin­guished peo­ple who have vis­ited.

Like his pre­de­ces­sor Hu Jin­tao,

when Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping came to Paris on an of­fi­cial visit in March 2014, he asked to go to Gen­eral de Gaulle’s of­fice to re­flect and pay trib­ute to him. This was a very sig­nif­i­cant ges­ture and a true mark of af­fec­tion for the gen­eral.

Where do other Chi­nese peo­ple like to go when they visit?

They’re in­ter­ested in vis­it­ing the places where Gen­eral de Gaulle lived. For them, a trip to France isn’t only about the Moulin Rouge and Ver­sailles. Cer­tain places have a myth­i­cal qual­ity for them — such as Colombey-les-deux Églises [de Gaulle’s last home as well as his fi­nal rest­ing place] — be­cause the man who brought world­wide recog­ni­tion of their coun­try lived there. So we help or­ga­nize be­spoke tours of those places.

How is this new book dif­fer­ent from other pub­li­ca­tions about the man?

This book is in­tended to get the pub­lic in­ter­ested. We didn’t want to write a guide­book or yet an­other col­lec­tion of his­tor­i­cal facts. Some renowned writ­ers, in­clud­ing De­nis Til­linac, Alexan­dre Jardin and Hua Wang — now 80 years old, he was one of the group who came to France in 1964 to set up the new em­bassy of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China — have writ­ten about how it felt for them when they vis­ited th­ese places. It’s more of a lit­er­ary ap­proach and we’re very happy with it.

Why should peo­ple be in­ter­ested in vis­it­ing th­ese his­tor­i­cal sites?

It’s very im­por­tant to sit­u­ate an in­di­vid­ual in a place. [French in­tel­lec­tual and politi­cian FrançoisRené] Chateaubriand just wouldn’t be Chateaubriand without his cas­tle in Com­bourg, Brit­tany. And de Gaulle wouldn’t be de Gaulle without the im­mense forests around Colombey-les-deux-Églises, which he ad­mired from his win­dow. This book takes the reader on a sort of his­tor­i­cal tour, ex­plain­ing the moder­nity of de Gaulle — and that vis­it­ing the me­mo­rial is not about step­ping back in his­tory, but about find­ing an an­chor­age in to­day’s moder­nity.

What im­por­tant places has the foun­da­tion been in­volved with?

Our first ma­jor project was build­ing the Cross of Lor­raine in 1972; now some 80,000 peo­ple visit Colombey ev­ery year. Our next project was buy­ing and restor­ing the house in Lille where Gen­eral de Gaulle was born. We also built a me­mo­rial in Colombey and cre­ated the His­to­rial Charles de Gaulle [an in­ter­ac­tive mul­ti­me­dia mu­seum in Paris].

Of all the lo­ca­tions as­so­ci­ated with his life, which is your fa­vorite?

The Lille house — be­cause that’s where it all be­gan.

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