The mafia that Sola so fears may exist primarily in his imagination. That he chose to announce his resignation in February, during the Chinese New Year, showed at least that he has little respect for the traditions and the feelings of the people he supposedly served.
Problems in the Chinese community that are probably more real, or at least more widespread, are illegal immigration, unlawful working conditions, and improper use, display and labeling of products. In 1992 Paris authorities launched a raid called Operation Dragnet on 30 eating establishments in Chinatown. Uncovered were at least 15 infractions, mostly concerning the illegal use of additives in food preparation.
French ambivalence toward Asians -- the mix of fascination and revulsion -- harkens back hundreds of year. In the seventeenth century European aristocrats fell in love with the Chinese arts. They had their artisans copy Chinese techniques in making porcelain, lacquered furniture and silk products. Even what is now known in Europe as English gardens actually originated in the seventeenth century as English imitations of Chinese gardens. In French the expression "jardin chinois" (Chinese garden) and "jardin anglo-chinois" (Anglo-Chinese gardens) are synonymous.
During the first World War the French public had its first extensive contact with Asians, mostly Indochinese and Chinese who came as coolies or soldiers. The coolies were often treated badly. The first impression that the French had of Asians reinforced their negative stereotypes of an inferior Asian culture and race. "During the triumphalist occidental era of the nineteenth century, Asians were considered deceitful, cruel, treacherous, insensitive, lazy, stubborn, even cowardly, and for this fact, unfit for military life," writes Jean-Pierre Gomane in his article "Les refugies d'Asie du Sud-Est" (Refugees from Southeast Asia). "Their descendants are found nowadays, compared to other immigrants coming from Africa or the Arab world, endowed with all the qualities that were denied them in the past: reserved, gentle, courteous, courageous, intelligent, and of course, heroic warriors."
Phillipe Videlier, in his article "Les fils de Fu Manchu" (The Sons of Fu Manchu), writes that at the beginning of the century the French thought of the Chinese as strange, crude, unpredictable and violent.
Misunderstandings between French and Chinese people sometimes led to tragic consequences. An eighteenth century Jesuit priest, Father Jean-Francois Foucquet, had a Chinese contract worker named John Hu interned for several years in an insane asylum. Some of Foucquet's priests suspected Foucquet of committing Hu so as to get out of paying him wages.
The Chinese in Paris
The image of the Chinese has changed greatly for the better. Today they are more likely to be called sons of heaven than sons of Fu Manchu.
The Chinese in metropolitan Paris are estimated to number about 150,000. There is no accurate count for several reasons. First, many are actually ethnic Chinese from Southeast Asia and therefore claim other nationalities. Second an undetermined number of Asians in the Chinese community are illegal immigrants. Finally, there are no statistics for those who are already naturalized because the French government considers it an invasion of privacy to ask citizens to declare their national origin.
Most Chinese live in four neighborhoods: about 50,000 at Porte de Choisy in the 13th Arrondissement in southern Paris; 40,000 at Belleville in northern Paris; 10,000 at Sentier in the Third Arrondissement in central Paris; and 50,000 at Marne-la-Vallee, a suburb east of Paris.
The 13th Arrondissement is Paris's first Chinatown. It is also known as little Asia, Hong Kong on the Seine, Chinatown on the Seine, the Golden Triangle and the Trinagle of Choisy. The last two names refer to the shape of the area. Chinese neighborhoods in Paris often take the form of a triangle, as in the cases of the Third Arrondissement and Marne-la-Vallée.
The Triangle of Choisy was established in the late 1970s when wave after wave of Indochinese refugees came to France. Many were ethnic Chinese because the French immigration law favors this ethnicity. At the time of their arrival, the 13th Arrondissement had been emptied of its many factories and working class homes and cafes. Modern towers and shopping malls had been erected to attract middle-class residents but failed to do so. Instead, the Chinese settled in. Some Laotian refugees and illegal immigrants from Hong Kong and mainland China joined them. PAGE 5