Through nearly one thousand years of cross-cultural contacts, China and France have had a positive influence on one another. The exchanges and contacts have occurred on many levels. Not only were there frequent, and continuous interactions at official and civil levels, but writers and translators of both countries established a bridge for direct communication.
French Jesuits played an important role in the cultural exchange between China and France. They came to China in a religious capacity to introduce European scientific knowledge. After returning to Europe, some of them shared their experiences and their information about China with French officials; in this way, they introduced Chinese civilization to European society and exerted an important influence on international Sinology. The twentieth century saw the emergence of many famous French Sinologists as well as considerable numbers of publications and monographs on China. These were important sources for the study of China in the early twentieth century.
On the other hand, from the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, some relatively open-minded Chinese intellectuals translated or authored works about France and other European countries in order to understand the Western world and to seek means by which they could reform China. These translators and writers, such as Wei Yuan (1794–1857) and Liang Qichao (1873–1929), contributed considerably to cultural exchange between the two countries.
French historical scholarship such as historical documents in translation and representative scholarly works, monographs, and courses on French history, especially her modern history starting with the French Revolution, has received much attention in China and is taught in the schools. In contemporary China, a number of universities and research institutes conduct research on French civilization; it has become an important field of study in Chinese academia.
Works on French culture make up most of the foreign books translated and published in China. People in China have always paid special attention to works on early modern French philosophy and political thought, many of which have been included in the series “Chinese Translations of World Renowned Scholarship.” However, French translations of Chinese works and their publications are far fewer.
Likewise, the works of French writers translated into Chinese and published in China also outnumber those of Chinese writers translated into French. As a result, the popularity of French writers in China is much higher than that of Chinese writers in France.
French art also may have more of an influence on Chinese art than the other way round. People in contemporary China have a considerable knowledge of French art especially painting.
In the past few decades, the number of Chinese restaurants in France has steadily increased. Since the French and Europeans have different tastes from Chinese, Chinese restaurants in France have gradually adjusted their dishes to better suit French taste. This evolution on the one hand meets business needs, while on the other, it contributes to the culinary exchanges between the two countries.
The automobile industry has also benefitted from Sino-French relations. Certain French cars are often seen on the roads of Chinese cities; most of them made in France and bought in China but some are jointly produced with Chinese enterprises. The French automobile industry has set up factories and showrooms in China. These promote the cooperation between the automobile industry in both countries as well as related technology, production management, and business operations. All of this strengthens the exchange of both industrial culture and certain academic fields.