Chinese-Parisian Column

Photos and texts: © Cédric Spilthooren


Photographic work based on the diversity of the Chinese community in Paris and its suburbs.

This work started in 2007 with the showing of a series of portraits and interviews that narrated the path followed by different immigrants and the reasons that led them to establish temporarily or permanently in France. It is a work of memoir of a part of Chinese immigration, these portraits are a chance to take a double view, to their own country and to the host country. It seems adequate to propose through these portraits a particular look at their individual routes that are undoubtedly related with the history of China and the fast changes Chinese society is experimenting.

The total work consists of 50 photographs and interviews. Each portrait is shown in a place chosen by the person who is photographed.

The observations on the photographs and the summaries of the interviews show in a peculiar manner the results of the encounter of different values and identities. This migration is accompanied by the daily learning of new cultural codes, that of individualism, the absence of authority…

They are called Di, Rong, Yun, they are young Chinese who have decided to settle in Paris. They come mainly from the oriental part of China, belong to the urban middle class and often posses higher education diplomas. They have benefited from China’s economic growth and represent a not depreciable part of Chinese immigration in France.

The so called generation “of the only child”, male or female, spoiled children who have enjoyed the same prerogatives: their families have trusted in them and for their capacities and will of success that will satisfy the family wishes. The hope of a better life and a broader recognition of their university competencies that makes them improve themselves with studies abroad. In china, optimizing the social position is synonymous with going west. One could speak of an economic migration “of knowledge”. In a country in which community and family values are the pillars of society, the family investment in children, particularly in these youngsters, has the corollary of a strong pressure to be successful, and thus honor their ascendancy.

Among women there is the wish for excellence in the acquisition of knowledge and social success doesn’t only respond to the financial expense and to respond to social codes but also to be able to administer the freedom that goes with this success: becoming independent to earn money and earning money to become independent.

These migratory trajectories are often comparable: a three month study of French before the exam to validate that knowledge, an obligatory exam to obtain a visa, the search through an agency of the university or school that will likely give them a student status. The same agency looks for accommodation as well.

Finally the great leap comes and the arrival in France where Chinese immigration is mainly localized in Paris and the Parisian region. This immigration comes with a feeling of loneliness marked by the isolation derived from the difficulties of language, but also from the learning of new cultural codes: individualism questions, the absence of authority surprises…

© Cédric Spilthooren