Mr. Laurent Croset, the coordinator and general director of Alliances Francaises China
Below you'll find the transcript of an interview with Mr. Laurent Croset, the coordinator and general director of Alliances Francaises China. The interview was conducted by Xie Ning, deputy Editor-in-Chief of China Economic Net.
Xie Ning: Welcome back to China Economic Net. We know in the world many countries have their own culture promotion organizations. Alliance Fran?aise is one of them. We noticed that recently just in December 2009, there is a magazine named Monocle. They conducted a soft power survey. In their issue, they gave the Alliances Fran?aise very high reputation, high remark, that they say the Alliances Fran?aise is second to none in the world. This is a high remark on this organization. So today with us in the studio, it is Mr. Laurent Croset. He is the coordinator and also the general director of the Alliance Fran?aise. So welcome.
Mr. Laurent Croset: Thank you.
Xie Ning: So we know that the Alliance Fran?aise is an organization whose mission it is to promote French language and culture all over the world and its premier concern is about teaching the French as a second language to the students in different countries.
Mr. Laurent Croset: Yes, that's true.
Xie Ning: And we also know that it has a very long history. The organization was established in 1883. And many of the founders were very famous. One of the well-known names for the Chinese people is Louis Pasteur. He's a great scientist. And also there's a famous diplomat Lesseps who initiated the program of Suez Canal.
Mr. Laurent Croset: Absolutely. As is Jules Vernes, a very famous writer.
Xie Ning: Recently we noticed your organization put forward a new concept or program called the Alternative Culture. So could you tell us something about the content of this program or this concept of this Alternative Culture?
Mr. Laurent Croset: Alternative Culture. Well, I would say we are more concerned with the term "Diversity", which has been promoted by UNESCO. This means that in France and especially at the Alliance Fran?aise network, we believe that it is better, all over the world, to have the possibility to promote all the different cultures, which is I think more or less what you have in mind in China – to recognize the fact that even in such a big country you have different cultures.
And I think in order to continue to improve, we sometimes need to promote the cultural roots of all components of society and it is the same thing for the world. We think for instance that French culture, Chinese culture, and South African culture are at the same level and have to be in connected. We need to share this type of experience; we need to share our cultures. That is the main purpose of the Alliance Fran?aise.
Xie Ning: Whenever Chinese people mention about French culture, we would refer to a glamour French word, chanson, such as famous singer Edith Piaf, that's very famous in the 20th century, and her song is La Vie En Rose. It's quite popular in the Chinese people. So in China, I think most people maybe many people that they know the French songs from those singing by Celine Dion, a Canadian singer. But is there any difference between Celine Dion's songs and chanson?
Mr. Laurent Croset: Oh, you refer to your concept of chanson. We are still involved in that. For the last Francophone festival that we organized in March all over China, we welcomed something like more than 20,000 Chinese people at the different concerts. We organized four different concerts from four different Francophone counties, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada and France. The main purpose was to promote the "chanson Fran?aise". It's not Edith Piaf anymore but new singers in their 20s and we try to make a large connection between francophone and young Chinese singers and it works. We had a good example at the last festival: I was pleased to learn that a Belgian singer is coming back to perform in Qingdao in June. She has been invited by the Chinese organizer of the city's festival in June. So that is the way it works. The "chanson fran?aise" should be shared. It's also a good example of what I said previously in terms of cultural diversity. That is what we organize the Francophone network - It means that French is not solely the language of France, but of many countries all over the world, even in Africa.
Xie Ning: Will you continue to organize such activities in the future in China?
Mr. Laurent Croset: Absolutely, because our main objective is to build as many bridges between Chinese culture and French culture as possible. We want to promote French culture and then use it to build a bridge with Chinese culture. We organize exhibitions of Chinese artists as well. Or if we have the possibility to mix Chinese and French singers, we'll do that. That's what we want.
Xie Ning: So do you think the chanson concert is well received by the Chinese people?
Mr. Laurent Croset: Yes, if we compare last year's figures with this year, that's true. We organized something like more than double the events between 2009 and 2011. But we nearly tripled the number of people attending these events.
Xie Ning: So the awareness of chanson has increased?
Mr. Laurent Croset: Yes, I think amongst young Chinese students because it is mainly this part of the population that we are linking to see what they're doing on all over world.
Xie Ning: But we heard that the chanson concert in March was just actually a part of the 16th French Language festival, is it true? Is it a larger event or something else?
Mr. Laurent Croset: I don't know how many countries speak French all over the world, there are a lot. It is true that every year we organize in China and all over the world a big Francophone festival.
Xie Ning: Apart from the music show from the concert, is there any other kind activities organized by your organization such as the movies or some thing like academic saloon, culture exhibitions?
Mr. Laurent Croset: Absolutely - movies, exhibitions and conferences, even on scientific topics. Culture with a big C means all different ways of communication and the best for us is to have a different audience in front of us to give an opportunity to have younger people for music, and maybe older students for scientific topics and literature exhibitions or things like that. And each time we have the opportunity to do that, if it's an exhibition, if it's music, to mix the Chinese and the French influences and to make this bridge.
Xie Ning: In promoting the French culture, I think your organization including the others such as French embassy always attach importance to the showing of the French movies. How do you value French films? How do you think about the position of the French films in the world?
Mr. Laurent Croset: It's a part of competition. We had the pleasure yesterday in Beijing to launch the Panorama festival, which is a Francophone, French festival, a French film festival with artists and French "réalisateurs" (producers). I think that, as for the Chinese movies and culture we need to promote this diversity. It would not be a good thing to have one country in the world, or two, producing films. It's a very popular way to promote our own cultural roots and as I told you previously we believe in diversity. So the movies are I think a good way to make this influence. I met Chinese producers in China who told me personally how they have been influenced by French movies. But now, they are Chinese creators: they are using their own culture but influenced by other cultures. And that's the way we should work in the future as well.
Xie Ning: When you mentioned about the competition in the movie industry, we think of that there are a few French actors or actresses when they are getting well known some of them moved to Hollywood. How do you think about that situation?
Mr. Laurent Croset: If I speak of diversity I mean there's no border. If there is a way they want to organize their career, it's fine. But if I think about Gérard Depardieu, or Sophie Marceau, she has been involved in American movies once or twice. She's still French. She was in Beijing not long ago and I think she is a good figure of what we believe in – elegance, the face, and the way she is working. So it's not a big problem. You know the problem is not that we are mixing our cultures. The problem would be to have only one culture all over the world. That's why we want to promote diversity.
Xie Ning: The museum of Louvre, officially called "Grand Louvre", the Louvre museum, does your organization have any intention to organize or support some kind of exhibition to introduce some treasure objects from this museum to show or exhibit in Beijing, in China?
Mr. Laurent Croset: It has been done already not by Alliance Fran?aise but by the French Institute. We are the same family but two different organizations. And not long ago, there was an exhibition of design from the 18th century. Obviously it's a little bit more difficult to organize because it's a part of art and very precious – the same as you have in China. That's the type of exchange we have. I know that and I have been in many Chinese museums. I was quite astonished to see how you have been able, in the last years, to have very nice museums. We have quite a lot of museums in Paris as well, but I think it's quite new in China: The new wave of museums is absolutely gorgeous. I have been in Chengdu for example and I was very surprised to see that. And I know there are many exchanges between the Chinese museums and French museums and it's a good way to open our mind on the French side on your culture with it's very large and a long history. We know a part of it but not all of it. I think it's the same thing in China. Chinese people are more interested in their cultural roots now than they were before and I think that's a good thing.
Xie Ning: So Louvre I think it can be treated as the treasure of the human being and mankind.
Mr. Laurent Croset: Absolutely. I was in South Africa and as far as I've noticed myself, and when you are interested in cultural roots, you can notice that, you know, at the origin we are really the same; you have the same preoccupations, the same interrogations about the world, right from the beginning. Through art and this type of exhibition, it's easy to compare this link between our cultures from the beginning. That's why for me is very important to preserve diversity because it's a part of humanity. If we lose this diversity we lose a part of us.
Xie Ning: We heard that you and your family members are learning Chinese.
Mr. Laurent Croset: Do you know that?
Xie Ning: What impression of the Chinese culture have you got from the learning of this language?
Mr. Laurent Croset: Well, in the family we are five and I'm really bad in Chinese. My three kids are good. They are learning Chinese 4-5 hours a week. My wife works quite a lot to learn Chinese and they are practicing Chinese every day.
Xie Ning: What's the impression of the Chinese culture when you learning the language. Have you got any impression or understanding of the culture from learning this language?
Mr. Laurent Croset: My experience of the Chinese culture is not linked with Chinese language, because I didn't progress a lot on Chinese. But every day from the morning to evening, I work with Chinese people and the strange thing is that from the first day I never got the idea that I was in a foreign country. I'm not telling you that because you are Chinese and speaking in front of a camera. Maybe it is a part of my own experience. Because when I was very young my own grandmother died and another made the link and became my second grandmother, and she was from Shanghai. This is quite strange - I just remembered this story and I think maybe is part of the fact that for me, Chinese people are not foreigners, the faces are very familiar for me. I told my wife on Sunday when we were walking in the center and I said, Ah! Look! This old woman looks like my old Chinese grandmother! But you know maybe we are quite different but I notice a lot of similar things. The way we react in life, it's quite familiar for me. Your sense of humor, which I think is a good way to describe people from a country, is quite the same. I'm used to laugh and to speak with taxi drivers and the people working with me. And it's quite easy to speak about lot of things of life. And you have this type of quality in China. The second thing is you are very attached and linked to your country, you are very proud of your country and culture. We have the same characteristic, I think, in France. I think that's more or less you know very different but very close as well.
Xie Ning: You just mentioned that the diversity of different cultures and we respect each other and we learn from each other. But what are the main differences between the two cultures in you opinion, main differences?
Mr. Laurent Croset: Main differences? You know my work is to make the bridges. I'm not so used to…you know… I'm not shocked by differences as people who are not used to living abroad. For me differences are part of life. So it's not so easy for me to see all these differences. Of course, the way you eat, the way you … oh yes there's maybe something you know, the way you react, often, when faced with adversity, or when you are shocked by the way foreigners, or people are speaking, reacting. In France and maybe the Latin countries, we are used to react, even verbally and to be a bit strong about the attitude and so on. In China when you don't understand or you believe or understand that the others are not well connected with your rules, you prefer not to say anything, and then smile and to go.
Xie Ning: Very modest or something...
Mr. Laurent Croset: That's a sort of polite way, respect to the others. It doesn't mean that you are not different. It's just what I noticed that you accept differences a little more easily.
Xie Ning: We noticed that the French government has made a lot of efforts to increase the appreciation of the French culture in China especially in the recent years. So by far how do you think about Chinese people's comprehension or awareness of the French culture?
Mr. Laurent Croset: First, I told you previously that we have very young students in their 20s or early 30s in Alliance Fran?aise. They are very open to the world. They want to discover the world, that's for sure. So they're very open-minded. I'm not sure that they understand what the French culture is. A lot of them are specialists of French culture, but a lot of them don't know what's going on in France. The idea of what they have is still the idealistic French culture of 1930s, or like Edith Piaf from the 1950s, something very "romantique", like they always say. I think that maybe there is a lot of romanticism in France but there a lot of other things as well. And all the students I spoke with who have had the opportunity to stay in France for many years I think they are strong enough to face the reality but I think it is quite a shock for them.
Xie Ning: Can we say that the French culture has received a wider acceptance in China compared with the previous years because the efforts made by French government and by organization such as yours? More people understand not only the...in the past many Chinese people might say; we like the French living style; we like the romance, the paintings and art. But now maybe they can have a deeper understanding about the culture of the France.
Mr. Laurent Croset: 0f course. There are about 30,000 Chinese students in France each year.
Xie Ning: So how many students learning French inside China. Do you have a figure of that?
Mr. Laurent Croset: There are about 100,000 and 40% from the Alliance Fran?aise. A lot of them are learning French in France when they arrive so it means quite a lot of people. But both countries, China and France, decided to build this cultural link between the Alliance Fran?aise, Institute Confucius, French institute and these culture events. The last time your President went to France, it was decided to increase the number of students, both countries' students, in China for the French; in France for the Chinese students. All this was done to increase the understanding between our two cultures. But mainly I think that these political decisions are worthwhile because there is a big desire from both sides to know a little more about the other's culture. It's quite incredible to notice that in France thousands of young people are learning Chinese.
Mr. Laurent Croset: It's absolutely incredible everybody wants to learn Chinese. And that's what I noticed every day in Alliance Fran?aise in Beijing and visiting French students of Chinese. So they're both interested. It's not a dream it's a reality. And in France, that's true you, we sometimes have problems to find Chinese-speaking teachers to teach the large numbers of French students who want to learn Chinese.
Mr. Laurent Croset: I think this is a best way to understand that there's a desire to learn more about your culture. And you know that in the Alliance Fran?aise in Beijing, there are four young ladies working with me, two are French and two Chinese, but all of them speak the two languages – they are bilingual. And the French are coming to China to learn Chinese, but on their own, it's the case of the new French ambassador, in 1970s she came to Beijing to learn Chinese.
Xie Ning: It's very interesting. Does the Alliances Fran?aise have any new plan to enhance teaching French and promoting the French culture in the near future in China? For instance, I noticed that AF in India has launched a program -- e-learning course. It's coordinated with the French embassy there. It's for the beginner it called the Click-On-French. Dose your organization have a similar plan in China?
Mr. Laurent Croset: Yes, today is the last day of in-service training for the teachers of the entire Alliance Fran?aise network in China. We are working on the promotion and use of new technology. And we are working on what we call an interactive white-board. It's a way to develop the capacity of speaking and to make the link stronger between teachers and learners even when they are at home, and between the Alliances Fran?aise to increase the quality of teaching. So that's a good example.
Xie Ning: I think such kind of program will be welcomed by many Chinese students.
Mr. Laurent Croset: Yes they are really important.
Xie Ning: So thank you so much for being with us Mr. Laurent Croset.
Mr. Laurent Croset: Thank you very much for your invitation.