Updated: 2011-07-22 12:58
By Wang Chao (China Daily European Weekly)
Alliance Francaise centers aim to showcase France to Chinese citizens
Like the Confucius schools that are expanding aggressively in Europe, the Alliance Francaise is also blooming in China in cities such as Nanjing. The Alliance Francaise is a semi-official organization that is dedicated to promoting French culture globally. In China, the organization, through its 15-odd centers, aims to not only teach French as a foreign language, but also to showcase France to Chinese citizens.
Xavier Leroux, director of the Alliance Francaise de Nanjing, says the Alliance centers have helped spur an interest in French culture.
Above: Xavier Leroux, director of the Alliance Francaise de Nanjing, says his main mission is to open the window of the French-speaking world to China. Below: The library of the Alliance Francaise de Nanjing. Photos by Song Wenwei / China Daily
Leroux should know better. He has lived in Nanjing for a year and a half, and 14 years ago he was in China, teaching French in East China's Shandong province, at a local university.
"At that time, everybody had a bicycle. Although the city was a little shabby, it was peaceful and relaxing, and gave me the feeling of being in an ancient land."
Much of that fascination rubbed off when he chose China instead of other regions when he was given an opportunity to head an Alliance Francaise center.
"I chose China because I wanted to see the changes over the past 14 years and I'm relatively familiar with the Chinese culture," Leroux says.
As a French citizen who speaks little Chinese, Leroux initially wanted to work in Shanghai, a metropolis home to thousands of expatriates and Chinese capable of speaking English.
"The position in Shanghai was not available, so I opted for Nanjing, a two hour train ride from Shanghai.
"Nanjing is a huge city, but smaller than Shanghai. I like the green and tall chinar trees. I also like the small lanes, where I can easily discover ancient China right from old bricks and faded tiles."
Leroux calls himself "Lehe", which means "happy" in Chinese. His office is tucked away in an old four-story building in Beijing West Street, not far from the Nanjing government.
The Alliance office takes up the whole fourth floor, but is separated into several functional parts - the Leroux office, 12 classrooms, and a library, the largest in Jiangsu province. Red is the underlying color of the center - be it the walls, logos, book shelves, flaming and passionate as the smiling French teachers.
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