CHINA / POLITICS
Listening to the Dragon — François Mitterrand's Three Visits to China
Published: Jul 23, 2021 04:09 PM
This is a story about a literary aficionado. He loved literature, philosophy and writing. He read works of Chinese writers such as Ba Jin and Cao Yu. He made no secret of his fascination about China, a nation that in his eyes had entered the electronic and atomic age right from the Middle Ages. He paid three visits to this country in three different capacities. 

The man was no other than former French President François Mitterrand.

Mitterrand first visited China as a young French senator. It was in 1961, a time when the newly established People's Republic was looking for a development path tailored to its national reality amid continuing hostility from Western countries. Mitterrand, who had taken an interest in Asian affairs, called for recognizing the People's Republic. Several political figures from France had already visited Beijing in the previous few years and invariably returned quite impressed by the New China.

Mao Zedong meeting Mitterrand in 1961

Mao Zedong meeting Mitterrand in 1961

 
Mitterrand's first visit to China took place in the spring of 1961. Mao Zedong met with him and gave him a pair of Chinese brocade cushions as a gift. During his four-week trip, Mitterrand visited quite a few cities and saw a modern-day China full of charm. He wrote about this meeting with Mao in his book La Chine au défi and recalled how Mao told him that China had patience and could wait another 10 years, 30 years, or 100 years for diplomatic recognition, and that China would always be China, soliciting for nothing, but it would be harder to ignore China in 100 years. 

Twenty years later in 1981, Mitterrand visited China again as the leader of the French Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste). As a presidential hopeful in a hotly contested election, Mitterrand captured great attention. He said that the leadership of the French Socialist Party had noted the role of China and its leaders on the world stage, and expressed confidence that France-China friendship and cooperation would serve world peace and security. In response, Deng Xiaoping hailed Mitterrand's visit as both the result of the growing mutual understanding between the two parties and the foundation for a continuing friendship. The French Socialist Party became the first socialist party in West Europe to forge ties with the Communist Party of China.

Mitterrand at the Confucius Temple in Qufu in 1981

Mitterrand at the Confucius Temple in Qufu in 1981


During Mitterrand's visit to the Confucius Temple in Qufu, Shandong Province, a photographer took a picture of him sitting beside a dragon column. The photo was given an interesting name: Listening to the Dragon. Three months after this visit, Mitterrand won the election.

In 1983, Mitterrand visited China for the third time, this time as President of France. It was during this visit that China and France signed a contract on the Daya Bay nuclear power plant.

Deng Xiaoping meeting President Mitterrand at the Great Hall of the People on May 5, 1983

Deng Xiaoping meeting President Mitterrand at the Great Hall of the People on May 5, 1983


President Mitterrand talked about his three visits to China—in a personal capacity in 1961, on behalf of the French Socialist Party in 1981, and now as President of the French Republic—in changing capacities but with unchanged feelings for China. He described France and China as two countries standing against power politics between countries or peoples and upholding the right of all countries to live in peace and freedom and to protect their independence and security from threats of other countries.


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