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A French connection to traditional Chinese culture
From:Shanghai Daily  |  2017-10-25 16:29

THE 24 solar terms, based on the sun’s position, were created by ancient Chinese people to guide their seasonal agricultural activities such as planting and harvesting.

They reflect the more nuanced changes in climate, natural phenomena, agricultural cycles and other aspects of life than the simple divisions of the year into spring, summer, autumn and winter.

And the solar terms have for hundreds of years greatly influenced people’s daily lives and even now continue to play an important role.

BereniceZandonai, a French designer living in Xi’an, capital ofnorthwesternChina’s Shaanxi Province, has recently published a bilingual picture book “Fairy Tales of24 Solar Terms,” illustrated by Xi’an artistQiaoQiao.

The book in French and Chinese aims to “let the world know about and understand China’s amazing 24 solar terms.”

Zandonaifirst came to China in 2002 when she wasa high school student. During the three-week summer tour, she visited many cities including Beijing,Qingdao, Xi’an,Luoyang, Nanjing, Shanghai,HangzhouandSuzhou.Shegained a deep understanding of traditional culture, such as calligraphy,kungfu,taichi, Peking Opera, acrobatics, food and language.

Zandonaifell immediately in love with China, starting to study Chinese by herself and trying to sing Chinese songs after she went back to France. She also drew a lot of paintings on Chinese subjects. In 2006, having graduated from a university in Toulouse, she entered Nanjing Normal University to further her study in Chinese.

At the end of 2007,Zandonaicame to Shanghai to work as a senior designer in a French fashion design and trading company. She lived for seven years here, building up her Chinese by speaking daily with her friends, neighbors and colleagues.

“To be honest, I love Shanghai very much, and it was a bit of a pity to leave,” she says viaan e-mail interview with Shanghai Daily. “I hope that one day I can come back.”

At the end of 2014,Zandoniamoved to Xi’an. “My husband is Chinese, from Xi’an,” she says. “He wants to be back in his hometownbecause he sees better working opportunities there.

“Now, the Chinese government is implementing the Belt and Road Initiativewhich is attracting more and more people from around the world to the ancient capitalto live and to work.”

Zandoniahas set up a small design and creative studio in Xi’an, working with local artists. One recent project was to create twoWeChatemojis—Fengxiangclay figurine andHuayinLaoqiang(Old Tune)Opera.

TheFengxiangclay figurines are a traditional folk handicraft produced inShaanxi’sFengxiangCounty. Featuring distinctive designs and bright colors, they have been gaining increasing popularity among people in and outside China in recent years.

As forHuayinLaoqiang,Zandoniarecalls watchinga “wonderful performance”during the 2016 SpringFestival Gala Show:“I was really attracted to their voice andperformingstyle.”

Every region in China has its own style of music. In Shaanxi, the area aroundHuashanMountaingave birth toHuayinLaoqiang, a traditional form of art that features rousing, rhythmic and lusty folk singing and narration. Dubbed “ancient Chinese rock ’n’roll,”it was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage by the Ministry of Culture.

“I want more and more people, Chinese andforeign,to know aboutthese wonderful folkloric cultures,” she says.

“TheWeChatemojisplatform is now becoming moreinternational.Alot of my friends living in France and in some other countries useWeChat. I hope that they could use the cuteemojisandbetter understand Chinese culture.”

In 2006,Fengxiangclay figurines was listed as a NationalIntangible Cultural Heritage. InLiuyingVillage, there are now 2,000 people involved in the clay figurine industry. Craftsmen have improved their traditional techniques andmade the figures stronger. More designs have been developed as well.

Q: How did you come acrossFengxiangclay figure andHuayinLaoqiang?

A: When we just arrived in Xi’an at the end of 2014, one of my husband’s best friendsoffered me a smallFengxiangclay figure, a tiger head-shaped accessory,and told me that this was the folkloric culture originating fromFengxiangVillage. I love it very much because of the richcolors and lovely appearance.

Since then, I dreamedone day to visitFengxiangVillage and find out how people therecould make so lovely products.

AboutHuayinLaoqiang, I found it when I watched the program called “Chinese Bridge”on CCTV. Some foreigners went toHuayinVillage to experience thisancientopera. When I got anopportunity, I too went there to learn from MasterZhangXimin, a 10th-generationLaoqiangartist.

Q: What’s your understanding oftraditional Chinese culture?

A: I love Chineseculture. China is a big country witha long history. There are so many wonderful and amazing regionalcultures to discover, to experience and to study. As a foreignerwho can speak Chinese, I feel very lucky andalsoproud of myself. Iwill spend more time in China tryingto discover more traditional cultures.

Q: What do you think can be done for Chinese culture to be enjoyed by morepeople outside China?

A: In order to let the world better understandChina and Chinese traditions, the country and itspeople should do more culturalexchanges. For example, translating thetraditional cultureinto different languages, andinvitingforeigners to visit, travel and work here.

What I can do is to present China and Chinese culture to the outsideworld based onmy experiences, and also help the Chinese to better understand the world.

Q: What will be your next project?

A: Now withQiaoQiao, we are working on another bilingual picture book on traditional festivals. We want to have it published by the end of this year.

I’m now also working with a Chinese filmmaking company to helptranslate their new film “Crested Ibis”into French. We are working together to introduce this environmental protectionfilm to the French-speaking world.