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A Beijing Garden Stands Witness to Sino-French Relations

2015-12-17 14:11:42Share:

  When French physician Jean Louis Bussiere went through the belongings of his father, who died more than 60 years ago, he came across 3,000 photos and an even larger number of documents that told the story of his family’s relationship with China. Some of the items were gifted from people the Jean found were influential people in Chinese history.

 

  For instance, Yuan Shikai (1859-1916), a controversial politician during the early Republic of China days, and Mei Lanfang (1894-1961), the legendary Peking Opera artist, were among the celebrities, whom his father, Jean AugustinBussiere, knew.

 

  Bussiere senior was a doctor and when he was in China he built a garden, where many French and Chinese people gathered to exchange their views on the two nations.

 

  In 2014, the younger physician visited the century-old Bussiere garden in western Beijing's Yangtai mountain area, as the narrator of a new documentary, titled Once Upon a Time in Bussiere's Garden. The four-episode documentary, produced by China Central Television, seeks to explore a forgotten time in history.

 

 

  The documentary will run on the State broadcaster's Channel 9 platform starting Tuesday.

 

  Bussiere senior came to China in 1913 as the head physician for the French Legation and as the director of a French hospital. He later married Wu Sidan, a Chinese woman who was then 30 years younger than him, and lived through many changes in China from monarchy to republic to New China until he left for France in the early 1950s at age 82.

 

  It was a time when China's relations with Western nations had become uncertain.

  

  During his 41-year stay in China, Bussiere was known to have sometimes treated local people for no charge. After Beijing was occupied by Japanese forces, he found a way to avoid the Japanese military and used the garden as a place to deliver medicine for the Communist Eighth Route Army.

 

  He was also an active host of salons, where he brought together Chinese and French luminaries to discuss cultural issues and current affairs. His frequent guests then included the late French diplomat Saint-John Perse (1887-1975), author Victor Segalen (1878-1919) and Chinese educator Li Shizeng (1881-1973), whose legendary lives are detailed in the documentary.

 

  Perse was sent to China to quell public disputes after France's occupation of the Laoxikai district in Tianjin in 1916. He later gained access to upper-class Chinese society because of his secret relationship with late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) princess Yu Rong-ling (1889-1973).

 

  But his time in China ended when China had a falling out with Western governments at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.

 

 

  Segalen, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1960, embarked on an adventure with Bussiere senior to Mongolia and also completed writing his poem, Anabase, secretly in Beijing's Western Hills.

 

  The author, who once had access to the Chinese court, left after the Qing Dynasty was overthrown following the Wuchang Uprising in 1911. He was then inspired by Chinese steles and created poems that were written from the emperor's point of view.

 

  His works such as Steles, Rene Leys and Fils du Ciel (Son of Heaven) are considered classics in French literature.

 

  Li was one of the earliest Chinese to have studied in France. After returning to China, he initiated the work-study movement, which helped more than 1,000 Chinese youngsters study in France in the years after his first visit. The list included late Chinese leaders Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping.

 

  Throughout his life, Li maintained close connections with governments in France, even at local levels. He even rented an old castle in Lyon, where he founded the Sino-French University.

 

  "There's much new knowledge in this documentary. It will supplement people's understanding of the exchanges between China and France," says Zhang Tongdao, a professor of documentary studies at Beijing Normal University.