All roads lead to Sinology

By Barthélémy Courmont ( ) Updated: 2016-07-12 09:14:28

All roads lead to Sinology

Barthélémy Courmont attends the 2016 Young Sinologists Program in Beijing.[Photo provided to]

Barthélémy Courmont is the professor at Catholic University in Lille, France, and senior research-fellow at the Paris-based Institute of International and Strategic Relations (IRIS). He is a member of the 2016 Young Sinologists Program in Beijing.

As a European child, my interest for China, Chinese history and civilization naturally started with the discovery of Marco Polo’s 13th Century travels. Although I didn’t have any particular chance of exploring Asia yet, I developed a fascination for what was then a completely different world to me, with customs, religions and social organization totally different from what I have been growing with.

At that time, back in the 1980s, China was still a mystery for most Europeans, a country just engaged in its economic development, and still facing major problems. Traveling in China was also a dream more than a possibility. Yet, I slowly developed my interest through readings, and by learning Chinese history, as a student in Paris. I also learned about other Asian countries and societies. This fascination kept growing, to the point that it has become a basis of my academic research. Interactions between China and its neighbors, as well as with the rest of the world, are a crucial subject of contemporary international relations.

It is only years later, after visiting several Asian countries, that I finally had a chance to enter China for the first time. My second trip was rather personal and unforgettable, as I backpacked with my wife, whose mother is from Hunan province, on our honeymoon. Discovering South China, from Guangdong to Sichuan, meeting with the minorities in Guizhou and Yunnan, visiting some highlights and marvels of China. Several trips also gave me the opportunity to discover another vision of the world, based on cultural specificities that I slowly came to encounter. Later, I had the opportunity to explore most Chinese provinces, while working on a tourist book for a French publisher, which has been one of my activities parallel to my academic career for the past two decades.

Throughout my research, I have developed a deep interest in the relationship between China and the world, its emergence as a great power and its implications at the regional level, as well as its strategy in other continents. This research led me to question issues such as China’s economic development; its military modernization; its assertiveness and its diplomacy, as well its relations with other great powers and developing countries. These questions, although mostly covered in the field of political science and international relations, relate to historic and cultural backgrounds, as essential parameters to understand China’s rise and its consequences. I have particularly focused on China’s soft power strategy, publishing several books and academic papers on the subject.

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