Chinese Tourists Drawn to French Town's History

Correction July 12, 2007

The on-air version of this story, and an earlier version on the Web site, incorrectly stated that Mao Zedong had been in France.

Chinese tourists visit a plaque in a park in Montargis, France. i i

hide captionChinese tourists visit a plaque in a park where it is said that some of the young Chinese idealists wrote their first revolutionary poems.

Eleanor Beardsley
Chinese tourists visit a plaque in a park in Montargis, France.

Chinese tourists visit a plaque in a park where it is said that some of the young Chinese idealists wrote their first revolutionary poems.

Eleanor Beardsley
Peiwen Wang explains an historic plaque in the town. i i

hide captionPeiwen Wang, head of the Montargis Chinese-French Friendship Association, explains another historic plaque in the town.

Eleanor Beardsley
Peiwen Wang explains an historic plaque in the town.

Peiwen Wang, head of the Montargis Chinese-French Friendship Association, explains another historic plaque in the town.

Eleanor Beardsley

The 1949 Chinese communist revolution rarely brings to mind provincial France. But as it turns out, the tiny French town of Montargis, about 60 miles south of Paris, played a key role in fomenting that revolution.

Montargis had an influential effect on hundreds of Chinese youths who came to work and study there. Now the town is trying to capitalize on its communist link, by luring Chinese tourists.

Montargis, population 15,000, is known for its gothic cathedral and its flowered bridges and canals. But these days, as Chinese voices float in the air with French, the town is also gaining a reputation as a top Chinese tourist destination.

In the 1920s, Montargis was home to hundreds of Chinese young people who came to study and work here. At that time, the French communist party had just been born and Montargis was a hotbed of leftist sentiment.

The young Chinese visitors were looking for ways to change their feudal homeland. The list of those who passed through Montargis reads like a revolutionary Who's Who, including Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai.

Peiwen Wang, who is head of the Montargis Chinese-French Friendship Association, recently led a group of Chinese civil servants on a walking tour of the town. They stopped in front of a plaque in a park where it is said that some of the young idealists wrote their first revolutionary poems.

"At that time every month a hundred or so Chinese students came here," Wang said. "It was a big, important wave."

Some 500,000 tourists from mainland China visited France last year and Montargis is keen to tap into a market with huge growth potential.

The town has spruced itself up and put up 12 plaques, entitled Footsteps of the Great, in French and Chinese, that wend through the town and show where the future luminaries slept, ate and worked in a rubber factory that still makes bicycle tires today.

Wu Hao, the leader of the delegation, said it is was an emotional visit for the group.

"We're very touched," Wu said. "These are famous people for us, pioneers who came here and then tried to save China in its difficult period..."

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