Friday, February 3, 2012

Chinese New Year in Paris

                                                                        Click here or at the end of the text for more photos.

It's New Year's again - this time Chinese New Year. Also known as the Spring Feast, this two-week long holiday is the most important family festivity for Chinese communities around the world. This year, 2012, is the Year of the Dragon, the mythical creature who has long been a symbol of the emperors of China. There are numerous celebrations to mark the occasion here in Paris, with its estimated 600,000 people of Chinese origin. The exact number of French-Chinese is difficult to find since an 1872 law passed by the French republic prohibits census takers from making any distinction between its citizens as to race or religion.

The first appreciable number of Chinese to arrive in France came in the early 1900s under the sponsorship of the Franco-Chinese Education Society, which lasted until 1921. About 3,000 young Chinese men and women came to France to participate in this work-study program, which was designed to teach them Western ways of thinking and working.  Among them were Deng Ziaoping (in the photo at left) and Zhou Enlai, two young men from Sichuan, who shared an apartment near the Place d'Italie in Paris.  There they read Marx for the first time and became fervent opponents of capitalism. Deng Ziaoping went on to become the secretary-general of the Communist Party in China and Zhou Enlai was China's Prime Minister from 1949 to 1976.

During World War I, about 150,000 Chinese workers were recruited to work in France to replace French workers mobilized in the war. Most of those who survived  harsh working conditions, the war and the flu epidemic at the end of the world conflict were sent back to China when the fighting ended, but about 5,000 workers stayed in France. These immigrants set up shop in the neighborhood north of our apartment. It is their descendants who now run the mostly wholesale businesses selling leather goods, jewelry, garments, buttons and other sundries.

Official Chinese immigration began in earnest in the 1920s and 1930s and lasted until after the Second World War. This group settled mostly in the 13th Arrondissement in an area now known as the Choisy Triangle. They were joined by a  second group of Chinese immigrants, who came to France from former French Indochina between 1954 and 1975. Recent immigrants, mainly from rural Northern China, are leaving China for economic rather than political reasons. They are moving into the Belleville area of Paris in the 11th, 19th and 20th Arrondissements. (To read more about Chinese immigration in France, click here and here.)

Each area has its own parade. Ours begins at 2:30 p.m. at the Hotel de Ville, the city hall of Paris, and winds its way up the rue du Temple, right near our apartment. We've been to the parade several times, but it's always fun and, this year, we had friends visiting from Italy who were eager to join in the festivities. To set the mood, we decided to begin with lunch in a Chinese restaurant, and I invited our good friend Adrian Leeds to join us. Adrian's longtime favorite Chinese restaurant in Paris is Lao Siam, 49 rue de Belleville in the 19th arrondissement. (You can find it and 99 other great restaurants in Adrian Leeds Top 100 Cheap Insider Paris Restaurants, which was on Travel Oyster's Great Books III listing or you order it by clicking here.)

Just before noon, we met up with Adrian and realized we were not far from Minh Chau. It's Vietnamese, not Chinese, but the food is great and the prices are very reasonable. Its only drawback is that it is minuscule, so we changed plans and decided to do takeout. We walked back to our apartment, opened a bottle of wine, and popped an enormous number of cartons into the oven. When we set everything out on the table, we found that we had also heated the salad - which turned out to be surprisingly good served hot. It looked like enough food for an army, but at the end of the meal, there was not a scrap left.  

We lingered over the table a little too long and by the time we got to rue du Temple, the parade had already passed through our neighborhood. Up the street, however, we could see the gyrating tail of the parade dragon and rushed to catch up.

Chinese merchants, whose stores line the rue du Temple, had set up tables offering New Year's treats to the passing celebrants. Shouts of Happy New Year in Chinese and French filled the streets. Fortified with some Chinese candy, we eventually caught up to the parade. The atmosphere was warm and happy with bands, costumed participants and, of course, the enormous dragon held aloft by a dozen or so men in bright yellow outfits. This year, unfortunately, Paris rained on our parade or, perhaps, it was the work of the dragon, who in Chinese mythology, is associated with water and rain.

After walking along for several blocks in the now-steadily falling rain, we decided that it was time to find a cafe and toast the Chinese New Year with some good French hot chocolate.

So, Bonne Annee or as they say in Chinese: 新年快


For more photos, click here.
Photos (unless otherwise noted) by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


  1. Excellent blog on Chinese New Year. The dragon year reminds me of the great Peter, Paul, and Mary song, Puff the Magic Dragon, one of the best and saddest songs ever. D.R.

  2. read your blog on chinese new year in paris. just great really enjoy photos.

  3. Being a 'water dragon' myself, I've taken delight in seeing this year's festivities from around the world! Thanks for the French version. - tb in pdx

  4. This looks like so much fun !!! Great photos!

  5. Happy New Year ("S novym godam" in Russian) SB

  6. Enjoyed this. I especially enjoyed learning about the 1872 French law that prohibits making a distinction between French citizens as to race and religion. If we had that law here in the USA we would truly be a melting pot! Pipe dream, I know, still....A.L. Florida

  7. Thank you again for all the knowledge you distribute,Good post. I was very interested in the article, it's quite inspiring I should admit. I like visiting you site since I always come across interesting articles like this one.Great Job, I greatly appreciate that.Do Keep sharing! Regards,


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