A French connection to traditional Chinese culture

Updated 2017-10-25 10:00:56 Shanghai Daily

The 24 solar terms, based on the sun's position, were created by ancient Chinese people to guide their seasonal agricultural activities such as planting and harvesting.

They reflect the more nuanced changes in climate, natural phenomena, agricultural cycles and other aspects of life than the simple divisions of the year into spring, summer, autumn and winter.

And the solar terms have for hundreds of years greatly influenced people's daily lives and even now continue to play an important role.

Berenice Zandonai, a French designer living in Xi'an, capital of northwestern China's Shaanxi Province, has recently published a bilingual picture book "Fairy Tales of 24 Solar Terms," illustrated by Xi'an artist Qiao Qiao.

The book in French and Chinese aims to "let the world know about and understand China's amazing 24 solar terms."

Zandonai first came to China in 2002 when she was a high school student. During the three-week summer tour, she visited many cities including Beijing, Qingdao, Xi'an, Luoyang, Nanjing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. She gained a deep understanding of traditional culture, such as calligraphy, kung fu, tai chi, Peking Opera, acrobatics, food and language.

Zandonai fell immediately in love with China, starting to study Chinese by herself and trying to sing Chinese songs after she went back to France. She also drew a lot of paintings on Chinese subjects. In 2006, having graduated from a university in Toulouse, she entered Nanjing Normal University to further her study in Chinese.

At the end of 2007, Zandonai came to Shanghai to work as a senior designer in a French fashion design and trading company. She lived for seven years here, building up her Chinese by speaking daily with her friends, neighbors and colleagues.

"To be honest, I love Shanghai very much, and it was a bit of a pity to leave," she says via an e-mail interview with Shanghai Daily. "I hope that one day I can come back."

At the end of 2014, Zandonia moved to Xi'an. "My husband is Chinese, from Xi'an," she says. "He wants to be back in his hometown because he sees better working opportunities there.

"Now, the Chinese government is implementing the Belt and Road Initiative which is attracting more and more people from around the world to the ancient capital to live and to work."

Zandonia has set up a small design and creative studio in Xi'an, working with local artists. One recent project was to create two WeChat emojis — Fengxiang clay figurine and Huayin Laoqiang (Old Tune) Opera.

The Fengxiang clay figurines are a traditional folk handicraft produced in Shaanxi's Fengxiang County. Featuring distinctive designs and bright colors, they have been gaining increasing popularity among people in and outside China in recent years.

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