At the dawn of the XXth century, the navy doctor Victor Segalen (1878-1919), writer and sinologist, carried out several missions in China before settling there for five years. Passionately in love with this country, he travelled relentlessly along initiatory and intense itineraries, casting on the land and its people a unique and sharp eye. He thereafter gave of the Middle Kingdom a true and profound vision in literary works such as “René Leys” and “Stèles”. In this respect, he was indeed one of these « conveyors of culture » or western pilgrims to whom François Cheng is paying a vibrant tribute.


The most impressive feature of this approach to China remains the modernity of his eye, thoroughly different from the exoticism displayed by his contemporaries. In Victor Segalen’s view, on the contrary,  « a far away voyage is, in fact, a voyage deep inside oneself ». Living in China during the fall of the Manchu Empire, he witnessed the decline and the decay of a millenarian civilization, which was precisely calling for a return to essentiality. Therefore, the poet undertakes to go, in company of Chinese people, up to the sources of their civilization, to the “centre” and core of their identity.

Fully aware of the danger represented by the illusion of China as a radically foreign world, Victor Segalen had already felt the need for an institutional tool such as a « Sinological Foundation », that would be able to make China better known in Europe and vice versa.

In our globalised world, characterised by the development of a dominant culture and the threat of uniformisation, this endeavour seems so appropriate that an initiative imposed itself as a necessity: the creation of a Victor Segalen Foundation inhabited by the vision the writer had, a century ago.


For more information :

L'Un vers l'autre  - En voyage avec Victor Segalen of François Cheng

Les "Exotes" et le chemin vers soi of Bruno Frappat