16 stories about Hong Kong-France relations

1964 - 2008 : the French largest International School in Asia

In 1964, in the premises of the Béthany sanatorium in Pokfulam, the first " small French-speaking school" was founded. At first, it could accommodate only 35 students . Over the years, the school moved several times : from the "Alliance Française" in Wan Chai to the Catholic centre, and then, in 1975, to the former military hospital on Borrett road.

Soon these premises became too small and, in 1984, the French International school was founded , with a new constitution and in new buildings at Jardine’s Lookout. Once again, the school quickly reached capacity, and it became necessary to find additional premises in Kowloon to admit new students.

In 1999, a new campus was opened on Blue Pool road. Today, the French International school has more than 1700 students and 200 employees. It is the largest French International School in Asia

1964 - 2008 : the French largest International School in Asia , from 35 to 1700 pupils in forty years.

4 August 1938, first Air France commercial flight between Paris and Hong Kong

After the first powered flight in Hong Kong, by a Farman IV aeroplane in 1911, French aircrafts reached the colony in the 20’s and 30’s - a period when civil aviation was flourishing in South China.

On 4 August 1938, a Dewoitine 338, the new Air France’s favourite trimotor plane in the 1930’s, made the first commercial flight from Paris to Hong Kong. The Dewoitine 338, built by on the most famous French aircraft manufacturer of the 1930’s, could carry 22 passengers. But the planes used for the Far East line were fitted with only 12 luxury seats.

The Far East line (Marseille - Tunis - Benghazi - Tripoli - Alexandria - Damas - Bagdad - Rangoon - Bangkok - Hanoi - Hong Kong) was interrupted in June 1940 and resumed in 1947 with DC3’s.

70 years later Hong Kong and Paris are served by two Boeing 777 daily flights in both directions. And every year, Air France carries more than 300 000 passengers between France and Hong Kong. In 2010 the new Airbus A380 will land in Hong Kong with its Air France colors.


French architectural legacy in Hong Kong

Buildings erected in Hong Kong by the French community since 1848 represent a major non-British contribution to the history of Hong Kong . Among those still surviving today are the Bethanie sanatorium or the St Paul’s church ; and perhaps the most visible, the Court of Final Appeal, an elegant neo-classical three storey building, with red bricks walls and doric and ionic columns.

Located in Battery Path, Central, it was built in 1917 on the foundations of a previous structure, the residence of the first governor of Hong Kong, Sir Henry Pottinger, who had built a house on the site overlooking Victoria Habour after his first residence had been blown down by a typhoon. The building later changed hands several times until the "Mission Etrangères de Paris" bought it in 1915 and commissioned a major renovation in 1917, adding a chapel topped by a cupola.

The building then became the French Mission’s administrative centre, the “Procure”. In 1953 the building was sold back to the Hong Kong Government and was used for various functions. In 1989 it was declared a historical monument and has housed the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal since 1997.


The first French Consul to Hong Kong : Ernest-Napoleon Godeaux (1833 - 1906)

On 15 July 1848, Baron Alexandre Forth-Rouen, French chargé d’affaires to China, and resident in Guangzhou, wrote a letter to the Foreign Ministry: " ... As Hong Kong is the place of destination and departure to Europe, it would be a great advantage for us to have our consular agent placed in such a central place".

Following the advice of Forth-Rouen, in 1849 the Republic appointed its first consular agent in Hong Kong, Mr Haskell, a merchant. He was later succeeded by the Consul of Sweden.

On 28 July 1862, Emperor Napoleon III, appointed by decree Napoleon-Ernest Godeaux "Consul in Hong Kong ". He obtained his exequatur from Queen Victoria. Consul Godeaux, who began his career in 1852 as a ’student-consul’ in the French Consulate in..... Nice (!), then an Italian dominion, was assigned to Hong Kong until 1864. He was later appointed as Consul in Shanghai (three times), then in New Orleans, Alexandria, Napoli and finally in Port-au-Prince. Napoleon-Ernest Godeaux retired in 1884 and died in 1906.


1941 : The Free French Fight for Hong Kong

On 20 June 1940, the Consul General of France in Hong Kong, Louis Reynaud, advised London : " The French community in the territory refuses the armistice and the separate peace between France and Germany".

The "Comité de la France Libre" was constituted on 19 September 1940. And in 1941, out of the 120 members of the French community, 40 had joined it. All of them, in December 1941, took part in the defence of Hong Kong as volunteers in combat units or in support. Three were killed in action and the others were made prisonners of war. Some later died in captivity, including Paul de Roux, the Director of the Bank of Indochina.

A war memorial, inaugurated in 1948 in Stanley military cemetery, recalls the sacrifice of the French Resistance in Hong Kong.


1894 : Alexandre Yersin discovers the plague bacillus

In 1894, a young doctor, one of Louis Pasteur’s students, Alexander Yersin, was sent to Hong Kong to investigate an epidemic of bubonic plague. Penniless and isolated from the resident British scientific community, he settled in a thatched hut laboratory in the surroundings of Kennedy Town.

In appallingly primitive conditions, he worked with determination, and within a few days, made an amazing discovery and identified the plague bacillus that now bears his name : Yersinia pestis ! As a result of his research, an effective treatment for plague was soon established.

He later pursued his career as a human scientist and founded the Nha Trang Pasteur Institute in Vietnam. Yersin’s remarkable story is just one of many in the 120-year history of Louis Pasteur’s Institut Pasteur (IP). Louis Pasteur and his successors have built a network of thirty international research centres that play a major role in the global effort to identify, contain, and cure infectious diseases in Asia and all over the world.

Locally, the Hong Kong University Pasteur Research Centre continues this valuable and vital work, focusing specifically on dengue fever, Avian Influenza, and most recently in the detection and treatment of SARS.

1847 : Father Libois, of the Missions Etrangères de Paris, a visionary

In the early 1840’s, Father Napoléon-François Libois was appointed "Procurator" (i.e. “provider”) to the Paris Society of Foreign Missions. French missionaries to Southern China were then based in Macau. But this daring and religious man soon saw the potential of the British colony of Hong Kong . In his letters he described the rapid expansion of the town and explained why the British enterprise would inevitably be successful.

For him, Hong Kong was to be “the ideal financial and logistic hub for the Foreign mIssions all over Asia”, as written in one of his letter in 1848. He worked for several years to restore the "Procurator’s House" ("La Procure"), which he obtained in 1847. It was later located in what has become today the Court of Final Appeal.


1910 : Victor Segalen near China

Aside from being a doctor in the French Navy, an ethnographer, an archaeologist and a poet, Victor Segalen was also a humanist intellectual. After a long period of residence in the Pacific islands, he chose, in 1908, to go to Mandchuria to treat plague victims.

In 1910, he decided to settle in China with his wife and son. He seldom stayed long in Hong Kong but used the city as a starting point for his expeditions.

His poetic and scientific writings renewed the exotic genre, very fashionable at that time in Europe, by giving it a more realistic aspect and making it closer to the people. He gave his name to the French International School of Hong Kong.


1902 : Paul Claudel is appointed French Consul to Hong Kong !

The author of « L’annonce faite à Marie » (The Tidings Brought to Mary) and « L’ours et la lune » ("The Bear and the Moon") was not only a mystic playwright and writer who was influenced by St. Thomas Aquinas and Dante.

Paul Claudel also had a long and brilliant career as a diplomat. In 1902, he was appointed French Consul to Hong Kong. Although he never took up his position in Hong Kong and stayed at his post in Fou-Tcheou , his works were influenced by the city, as can be seen in « Le partage de midi » ("Break at Noon") in which the central scene takes place in Happy Valley’s cemetery.

The foreword of the anthology « Connaissance de l’Est » ("The East I Know") also contains a poem entitled " Hong Kong ".


The French “Fathers” of the Bauhinia

We do not mention it very often, but the floral emblem of Hong Kong, the Bauhinia, (as represented on the flag of the Hong Kong S.A.R. since 1997), was discovered by French people !

The bauhinia actually commemorates the brothers Gaspard (1560-1624) and Jean Bauhin (1541-1612), herbalists who devoted their life to botany. Father Plumier (1646-1704), a French priest and also a botanist, named the plant "bauhinia" in honor of the brothers Bauhin, because of its characteristic paired leaves. The plant was first observed in Hong Kong by the Fathers of the French Foreign Missions near Mount Davis and was later studied by the Fathers of the Béthanie sanatorium in Pokfulam from specimens growing in their gardens in the 1880’s.

The botanist Stephen T. Dunn, Superintendent of the Afforestation Department, based his research on the priest’s works, and named the plant, "Bauhinia blakeana", revealing its particular link to Hong Kong as Sir Henry Blake was Governor at that time (1898-1903). The plant is generally sterile, giving rise to the belief that it is in fact a cloned hybrid.


1848 : the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres settle in Hong Kong

On 11 December 1847, Mgr Théodore Augustin Forcade from the Society of the Foreign Missions in Paris and first bishop to be ordained in Hong Kong, wrote to the Mother Superior of the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres, asking the Congregation to come to Hong Kong to establish a hospital, a boarding school and a noviciate.

The Sisters agreed and, on 12 September 1848, four Sisters, including Father Forcade’s sister, Sister Alphonsine, arrived in Hong Kong. They first stayed in Wan Chai, then in Causeway Bay and established the hospital, the boarding school and the noviciate as wished for by Father Forcade.

But their most well known work was the "Sainte Enfance", an orphanage in Wanchai, which, down the years, hosted thousands of children. Still in Hong Kong today, the Sisters of St Paul of Chartres Congregation are celebrating this year 160 years in Hong Kong.


1993 : Laurent Aublin, Consul General of France, creates Le French May

When he arrived in Hong Kong, in 1992, the Consul General of France, Laurent Aublin, wished to celebrate French culture in the city by organizing an annual festival open to all the arts : painting, music, sculpture and dance. But which time of the year could be chosen ? In autumn, a French film French film festival, "Cinepanorama", had already existed since 1953. And at the beginning of the year, Hong Kong was already occupied with the " Hong-Kong Arts Festival " in February and with the " Hong Kong International Film Festival " a few weeks later.

Avoiding the summer months, there remained only the period around May, the month during which, according to the French saying, one should " Just do what you like". Supported by a team of passionate people from Hong-Kong (Alice King, TT Tsui, Pearl Lam, David Tang) the first French May Festival was launched in 1993, presenting five events. It became the first ever french culture festival in Asia.

It is now replicated in many other asian countries (Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Korea, and recently China, with “Croisements).

For its16th edition in 2008, Le French May staged 42 cultural events in cooperation with 16 major Hong-Kong cultural partners and attracted more than 60 000 spectators. Opera and philosophy, rock’n’roll and cinema, gastronomy and scientific history, among others, joined the list of subjects that were celebrated.


November 1953, the first French film festival in Hong Kong

French cinema has, since its very beginnings, been ever present in Hong Kong. In 1897, the first movie shown in Hong Kong was a French film by the Frères Lumière. In 1933 the first French talking movie was broadcast, "Paris-Béguin" (made in 1931), with two stars of the time, Jean Gabin and Fernandel. In 1948 the first post war French film was presented, "La Symphonie Pastorale", from Jean Delannoy, which had won the Palmes d’Or in Cannes in 1946.

In 1953 the first French Film Festival was created by the Alliance Française, with the supportof the French Consulate General. The movie " Caroline Chérie ", the year’s biggest success in France, was shown, and its leading actress, a star of the 50’s and the 60’s, Martine Carol, came to Hong Kong for the festival.

This autumn (2008), the 37th edition of the Film Festival, "French Cinepanorama", still organised by the Alliance Française, will present 25 French movies to the Hong Kong public.


Hong-Kong, 1911 : the first ever powered flight in China

On the afternoon of March 18th, 1911, Charles Van den Born (1874-1958) made the first ever powered flight in Hong Kong on a French bi-plane (Farman IV) built in 1910 by Henri Farman, a pioneer pilot and one of the earliest French aeroplane manufacturers. Born in Belgium of a French mother, Charles Van Den Born became early a French citizen. An aviation pioneer, a hero of First World War, he was the 37th pilot who was officially licensed in France and the first to fly in Asia.

The flight in Hong Kong took place in Shatin, in what is now a park surrounded by high rise buildings, and was widely publicised in local newspapers. This event launched a tradition of strong relationships between Hong Kong and France in the aeronautics. Soon after, the first ever plane sold to Hong-kong was one of the other famous French pioneer industry, Blériot.

Today “Airbus”, French and European inheritor of this tradition, equip more than the half of all Hong-Kong commercial fleet. Eighty years later, in 1997, the historical event was recreated, and the replica built was the first aeroplane to use the new Chek Lap Kok Hong Kong airport ! You can admire this replica 1910 Farman : when walking through Terminal 1 at the airport, just raise your head and observe the fragile wooden, strings and fabric bi-plane hanging from the ceiling.


Hong Kong, 1897, the first movie ever shown in Hong Kong

The Lumière brothers, Auguste (1862-1954) and Louis (1864-1948) are credited with holding the world’s first public film screening. This historical event took place on December 28, 1895 in Paris and was the first demonstration of the Lumière’s device, the "Cinématographe" which functioned as camera, projector and printer all in one. The presentation featured ten short films.

Two years later, the same presentation took place in Hong Kong at City Hall, a classical building in Queen’s Road Central, designed by French architect A. Hermitte, and a major landmark for cultural activities in Hong Kong.

This first "movie show" marked the beginning of French cinema in Hong Kong, which later flourished after WWII with the creation of the French Cinepanorama in 1953, the regular participation of French movies in the Hong Kong International Film festival and numerous visits to Hong Kong by French actors and directors. In 2008 you can still appreciate the unique qualities of French films by visiting your nearest cinema to you, thanks to Hong Kong’s extensive theatre network.


La Legion d’Honneur in Hong-Kong

" Honneur et Patrie "

The Legion d’Honneur was created by Emperor Napoleon the First in 1802 to recognize exceptionnal merits and remarkable individuals. Initially reserved for the military, it was soon extended to civilians.
Quickly the Legion d’Honneur was also bestowed upon Friends of France, for their contribution to France, and its relations overseas. It is still today the highest french Honor.

In Hong-Kong the Legion d’Honneur was awarded very early to some exceptionnal Frenchmen, who got distinguished for their merits. An early example is Father ROBERT, one of the very first Superior of The Foreign Missions, who played an outstanding role in structuring and developping the role of the Missions in all Asia, or Consul General Gaston LIEBERT, who was Consul-General of France in Hong-Kong for about 10 years, from 1908 to 1918, and later became Ambassador.

Hong-Kong citizens were also distinguished.

Sir Paul CHATER was awarded the Legion d’Honneur in 1892.

A Chapter of The Legion d’Honneur in Hong-Kong was created in 2000, with 28 members, illustrating the political, economical, cultural and social elite of Hong-Kong recognize d for their exceptionnal merits by France.

As a Chapter they play a continuous role in developping the relations with France, encouraging the exchanges between France , Hong-Kong and China . They so played a key role in helping in 2004 and 2005 the organization of the crossed cultural years between France and China, the first ever organized by China. Each year the Chapter does also organize, together with the Consulate General of France, a summer study programm in France, for Hong-Kong university students willing to learn some french and discover more about France . In 2008 the 88 students selected will be welcomed during their tour in France by the local Legion d’Honneur Chapters.


publié le 02/12/2011

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