When the Forbidden City Meets the Palace of Versailles

BEIJING, April 19, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — A news report from China.org.cn on exchanges between China and France:

When the Forbidden City Meets the Palace of Versailles

“Knowing that Your Majesty is eager to attract talents…a few years ago, we decided to assign six learned mathematicians… to bring to Your Majesty the latest scientific knowledge.” These are lines from a letter in 1688, written by the then French King Louis XIV to “his very dear friend” Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty. But due to various reasons, it failed to reach the Forbidden City.

But three centennials later, the letter is now “delivered”: At the exhibition “The Forbidden City and the Palace of Versailles — Exchanges Between China and France in the 17th and 18th Centuries,” this letter is shown as the opening piece along with 200 or so other exhibits. Together, they unveiled a period of a two-way pursuit between China and France despite geographical distance and cultural differences.

At that time, Chinese elements could be spotted everywhere in the Palace of Versailles. Louis XIV, a passionate lover of Chinese culture, built a house decorated with porcelain — the Trianon de porcelaine, and he even dressed up in traditional Chinese costume at a ball he threw to celebrate the inception of the 18th century. Local craftsmanship in France has also been influenced by Chinese artistry, and in the craftwork one can see a fusion of cultures and a mixture of styles. In a way, the prevalence of Chinese craftsmanship and art also played a part in the birth of the Rococo style.

As eastern culture spread to the west, works with French authors introducing various aspects of China mushroomed in France, which was also influential to French society as a whole. According to French Sinologist Rémi Mathieu, France reformed its talent election system inspired by China’s imperial civil examination system back then. Deeply influenced by Confucius, French Enlightenment writer and philosopher Voltaire also paid tribute to this great philosopher in his works.

Of course, no communication or integration could have been possible with only efforts from one side. Back in the 17th century, another batch of mathematicians made it to China, and were received by Emperor Kangxi. They brought to China state-of-the-art knowledge and scientific apparatuses from the west, and two of them even became teachers of Emperor Kangxi, teaching him geometry and other disciplines. In the Yuanmingyuan Park, the famous Dashuifa site was designed by French Jesuit scientist Michel Benoist. France’s craftsmanship played an important role in the birth of China’s translucent enamel techniques…

In the exhibition we mentioned at the beginning, a little pocket watch, which is considered to be a gift from Louis XIV to Kangxi is also on show. The face of the watch manifests golden lilies, which stand for the French monarch; on the protection shield of the watch movement, a carved-out dragon can be found, a symbol of the Chinese emperor. This pocket watch was preserved in the Palace Museum for over 300 years, as a witness to the efforts the two imperial rulers made to communicate with and extend friendship between each other.

More than three centuries ago, the gaze and interactions between the dragon and the lily, were deemed as a tale worth telling; 60 years ago, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of France decided to establish diplomatic relations against the backdrop of Cold War estrangement and tensions between the east and the west, a move that embodied insightful wisdom and courage, and initiated a new chapter for collaboration between the east and the west. During the past six decades, cordial cooperation in economy and trade, as well as people-to-people exchanges have been the prevailing trend between the two countries, which set examples for international exchanges and mutual learning.

The story between the Forbidden City and the Palace of Versailles will be continued with more touching and fascinating episodes, about which we are hopeful and confident.

China Mosaic 

When the Forbidden City Meets the Palace of Versailles



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