Chinese New Year in “Le Monde”, from the birth of Parisian “Chinatown” to the mysterious Wuhan virus

VSt was February 24, 1986. We had just entered, as in this month of February 2022, the year of the Tiger. An ethnologist, Yinh Phong Tan, and a sociologist, Jean-Pierre Hassoun, described for the first time, in a supplement to the World, Chinese New Year ceremonies in Paris. The ethnologist had posted himself in the 18e arrondissement then in Belleville, the sociologist “in the shopping district of Porte de Choisy”, triangle of 13e a district that was beginning to be nicknamed “Little Asia” and “Chinatown”. “For the third consecutive year” (the first celebration dates from 1984), a lion dance was organized in the streets of the capital.

“Here, in this second host country, begins the story of their children. The ethnologist Yinh Phong Tan and the sociologist Jean-Pierre Hassoun in Le Monde today, February 24, 1986

As these festivities, but without the main parades, resume this week after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the two academics were eruditely describing this age-old Asian tradition. But, under the joy and the costumes “variegated”, behind the parades and the rituals to call upon oneself prosperity, a drama surfaced, that of the boat people. Because the tradition of the Lunar New Year has very widely landed in France in boats overloaded with refugees fleeing Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos, after the advent of communist regimes on the spot.

In the crowd of migrants, a significant part was of Chinese origin, like the Vuong family described in this article. At the end of the 1970s, the Vuongs had stayed in overcrowded camps in Thailand, before settling in Paris and working in clothing and catering. “Here, in this second host country, begins the story of their children”, wrote the authors.

A taste for secrecy, a well-established reputation

Until then, the Chinese New Year only appeared in the international section of the World and punctuated distant events such as the Korean War. Prior to this feature article from 1986, she had also made a brief foray, on February 12, 1982, into a series on Parisian gambling circles. Philippe Boggio discovered in one of them the “sad lanterns that lit up the recent Chinese New Year”, hung in honor of Asian players. Proof that gambling den owners also have this sense of commerce so conveniently attached to the Chinese…

The New Year has entered The world, but on tiptoe. Among the reputations that die hard, there is one that is particularly entrenched: the taste for secrecy. This discretion is displayed, if one dares to say, in an article by Emmanuel de Roux, published on October 6, 1986. There he recounts the worries of two directors, Michaela Watteaux and Marie Holzman, to film this community.

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