July 25, 2021

The Confucius Institutes in France, such discreet Chinese relays

The tadpoles wriggle, drawn in black ink on the blank page, under the eye of the calligraphy teacher who congratulates the child. The little boy had the courage to get up early, this Saturday morning in June, to take the course at the Confucius Institute (IC) in Pau. But Leo comes with a good heart with his brother, assures his mother, a Chinese woman married for a long time to a Frenchman. “It’s their second home here, their culture, and I don’t want them to lose it. “ Seen from this angle, the opening in the capital of Béarn of the latest Chinese language and culture institute in France, in the fall of 2019, was a good thing. The association (100 members) is housed by the municipality, in the city center. It has a budget of 80,000 euros, funded equally by the city and China.

The architect of this success is Chengjie Zhang-Pène, “Jessica” for all, here. This dynamic forty-something is married to an entrepreneur from Bearn whom she met in Shanghai, more than twenty years ago, when she was an executive of the hotel group Accor, and for whose love, became French and mother of two daughters. , she went so far as to convert to Catholicism. Under his determined leadership, the WeChat group of the Chinese of Pau reached 300 members, that of mothers, 100. Here, the institute arrived in virgin territory. Jessica is at home at the town hall, where she was a member of the municipal majority between 2014 and 2020. The president of the Modem and mayor of the city, François Bayrou, greets her with an accomplice: “Here, are you there? “

In Pau, the communist Olivier Dartigolles, member of the opposition, said “Not having understood this sudden passion of François Bayrou for China”, which has, moreover, “Aroused no municipal debate” – there was nevertheless an interpellation of the France-Tibet association on the non-respect of human rights by Beijing.

Serious incidents

Created in 2004 by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), attached to universities, the Confucius Institutes have, according to their promoters, a mission of “soft power” in the world, similar to that of the French Alliance or the British Council. It goes further, according to Hanban, the department of the Ministry of Education responsible for the Chinese language, which clarified their ideological ambition: “To extend the influence of the party” and the “Softened power of China”, an authoritarian power that has become worrisome in many ways.

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