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Professor Dong Qiang: the cultural ferryman between China and France

MAY . 31 2017

Peking University, May 28, 2017: On May 4th, 2017, at  the 119th Anniversary Celebration of Peking University, Professor Dong Qiang, chair of the French department of the School of Foreign Languages, hosted the ceremony themed “Leading the Future: Honoring Traditions and Pioneering Innovations”. As the first Chinese in 200 years to enter the French Academy of Moral and Political Science as well as the youngest foreign lifelong communication academician, Professor Dong is often esteemed as the "ferryman” in the cultural communication between France and China.

Ten Years in France: passion and accumulation

In the 1980s, the sixteen-year-old Dong entered the French Department at PKU, embarking upon his lifelong journey with French. During his study at PKU, his talent in learning French was further discovered and explored. After his graduation, he took  the first place in the national examination and went on a government sponsored study program in France.

The French culture and art was undoubtedly a fertile area for Dong to draw nourishment from. Despite the differences in cultures and values, Dong assimilated into the French society so effortlessly as if he were born to be there. He recalled that the first time he tried the “fromage” (cheese, very popular in France), he was completely repelled by the pungent taste. But after several attempts, Dong successfully fell in love with it. “It is the same with the people.” said Dong, “It takes efforts to capture beauty, and it’s exactly the differences that appear most attractive.” Dong said there were many similarities between French and Chinese cultures – such as the longing for a poetic life, the pursuit of beauty and art – and these resonations even went beyond the sphere of usual cultural conflicts to a profound accord.

During his years in France, Dong was as thirsty for knowledge as a sponge. He wrote a letter to Milan Kundera with his personal profiles attached, and was thus admitted into EHESS, becoming the one and only Asian student of this world-renowned literary master.

Dong was also once invited to work in a famous French tea shop, where he made acquaintances with several tycoons in the publishing industry and were introduced to almost all the important writers in France. And a French novel that he wrote was highly appreciated by Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize for Literature. Apart from this, Dong also helped establish a publishing company named "Bleu de Chine” which focused on the promotion of Chinese culture. Many famous Chinese writers such as Shen Congwen, Wang Meng, Wang Anyi, Su Tong were introduced into France, and his journey as a cultural “ferryman” hence started.

Back in China: steadfast in his voyage as a cultural ferryman

Speaking of the ten years he spent in France, Dong was still shining with excitement. “The most important lesson France gave me was to cling to my choice firmly. In France I saw the power of humanity, and learned its significance to both individuals and a nation. In this respect I am truly grateful to France, because it guided me towards the correct direction when I was at the edge of getting lost.”

Coming back to China after almost thirteen years living in France, Dong also gained a new understanding of his motherland. For him China is always an inexhaustible treasure land with the profound accumulation of thousands of years of history and culture. Under the influence of these two cultures, Dong became increasingly steadfast in his goal – to be a modern envoy, a cultural ferryman that served as a bridge for communications.

His voyage as a “ferryman” started from translation. Back in the 1980s when he was still a student at PKU, he understood well the importance of translation to cultural communications. His proficiency in translation was further developed when working at “Bleu de Chine”. In 2009, Dong helped set up the “Prix Fu Lei” – an award that gave credit to the outstanding Chinese translations from French during the past year – which made great contributions to the cultivation of more translation talents. Dong predicted that translation would become one of the most important disciplines in the 21st century. “Had it not been for translation, human civilization would never have been able to continue – the root cause of all these conflicts nowadays is the lack of efficient cultural communications.” He believed a qualified translation could create a room of conversation between the two different cultures, and a translator thus served as a bridge to fill in the cultural gap.

In 2013, Professor Dong won the gold medal of the League of French Speaking Nations, and was selected among the “50 important people in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Sino-French diplomatic relations” in 2014. In 2015, he was bestowed with the “Legion of Honor as Knight”, and three French Prime Ministers were present to decorate him, which was unprecedented. Every time a French politician visited China, Dong would be invited to explain Chinese history and culture to them, including The Palace Museum, The Great Wall etc. Up until now, Dong has already received six French presidents, and also translated some articles written by Hollande. In 2016, he was unanimously voted as the lifelong communication academician of the French Academy of Moral and Political Science, which once again indicated the appreciation from the French intelligentsia and government towards Dong.

The future ahead at PKU: continuing the promotion of cultural communications
                                                              
It’s already been ten years since Dong came back to PKU. He used to think that compared with France, the cultural rupture in China was more severe. But as time went by, he became increasingly confident of his decision to come back, and was more aware of the potential of PKU in prompting the continuity of the cultural heritages.

Looking ahead, Professor Dong said he would continue to promote cultural communications between China and France on the platform provided by PKU. Despite all the honors he has gained, what made him feel proudest was still being a professor at PKU. Starting from the most basic courses, Dong never stopped guiding students into the marvelous cultural world step by step. Apart from this, he also hoped to combine the traditions of PKU and his own teaching experiences. “The interdisciplinary communication is the strength of PKU, and that’s also what I attach much importance to. This is surely worth more exploration and development.”

Reflecting upon the long path PKU has traveled and looking ahead into the future, Dong hoped that it could refrain from the pressure imposed by others. Only after unloading the burdens can PKU travel light in the future.

Written by: Yin Xin
Edited by: Xu Liangdi
Source: PKU News (in Chinese)