Sun. May 19th, 2024

During each New Year address by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the books on his office bookshelves within the Zhongnanhai compound have become subjects of interest for avid readers across China and the world.

As the camera pans, attentive viewers have noticed that among Xi’s book collection are several iconic French masterpieces, including “The Spirit of Laws,” “Les Miserables,” “The Red and The Black,” and “The Human Comedy.”

“I developed a keen interest in French culture, particularly French history, philosophy, literature, and art, when I was a young man,” Xi reminisced.

An enthusiastic reader, Xi’s extensive reading has contributed to shaping his global perspective. Since assuming leadership in China, he has made cultural exchange a cornerstone of his diplomatic efforts, fostering deeper understanding between China and the international community. As China and France commemorate 60 years of diplomatic ties this year, anticipation mounts for Xi’s third state visit to the European nation, with expectations high for how his appreciation of French culture will further bridge the civilizations of East and West.


During the late 1960s, as a teenager sent to Liangjiahe, a village in China’s Loess Plateau, Xi sought solace in reading amidst the hardships of rural life. He devoured literary classics found in the hamlet, including “The Red and The Black,” which left a lasting impression.

“Stendhal’s ‘The Red and The Black’ is very influential,” Xi recalled. “But when it comes to portraying the intricacies of the world, works by Balzac and Maupassant are the best, for example, Balzac’s ‘The Human Comedy.'”

Xi often quotes French luminaries like Victor Hugo in his speeches, drawing on their insights to convey his messages effectively. For instance, during the 2015 Paris climate change conference, Xi cited a line from “Les Miserables” to underscore the urgency for global action.

In addition to literature, Xi also appreciates French art and music. He has visited cultural landmarks in France, from the Arc de Triomphe to the Chateau de Versailles, and admires the collections of the Louvre Museum and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Xi’s affinity for French culture aligns with historical ties between the two nations. In the 1920s, Chinese leaders like Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping traveled to France for educational pursuits, seeking inspiration amid China’s turbulent times.


Xi’s appreciation for French culture underscores the deepening cultural exchanges between China and France. During a visit to Nice in 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron presented Xi with an ancient copy of “Confucius, or the Science of the Princes,” highlighting the historical links between French enlightenment thinkers and Confucian teachings.

Cultural exchanges have long been integral to China-France relations. As Xi and Macron toured Guangzhou in 2021, they discussed cultural ties over tea, underscoring the importance of mutual understanding.

Xi’s vision of civilization emphasizes the harmonious coexistence of diverse cultures, reflecting his commitment to global cooperation in an era of profound change.

As China and France celebrate their diplomatic milestone, the encounter between the two nations is seen as a convergence of independent civilizations, offering hope for a multipolar world order based on peace and mutual respect.

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