French priest honoured for research on earliest Chinese characters
A French priest, Jean Lefeuvre, having lived in Taiwan for almost 60 years, recently received a decoration from the French Ministry of Culture for his remarkable contributions to research on Chinese inscriptions on bones and turtle shells, known as Oracle Bones. (CNA report on March 19).
Father Jean received the highest Commander grade of the Order of Arts and Literature in early March, conferred by Jean-Claude Poimboeuf, the director of the Institut Francais de Taipei, on behalf of the French Ministry of Culture. No more than 20 people are awarded each year with the Commander grade of the decoration.
Even in Taiwan, studying the inscriptions on bones and turtle shells and bronze artefacts is not a popular discipline. A foreigner devoting almost his entire life to the obscure discipline makes the award even more rare and precious. But when asked how he felt, the religious official played down the honour, and just talked about his interests in ancient Chinese writing. "To understand Chinese culture, you need to understand its source," he said. "What attracts me in the Chinese language is the deep and strong connection between the ancient times and the modernity," he added, citing the ritual of commemorating ancestors and the evolution of the characters. To compile all his documents and research, Father Jean has already published two dozen books, and is still preparing for a catalogue which will be an indispensable tool for researchers on ancient Chinese writing.
The Order of Arts and Literature, containing three grades of Commander, Officer and Chevalier, was established by the French Minister of Culture in 1957 to commend people who make significant contributions to the arts and literature. Chinese people who have already been honoured by the same order of the Commander grade include; Francois Cheng, the first French Academician originating from China, Jin Yong, the esteemed martial arts novelist, and the famous filmmaker Zhang Yimou.
Born in 1922 in western France, Father Jean later travelled to Beijing, China, to pursue his passion for Chinese culture. He arrived in Taiwan in 1952, and since then has dedicated his life to studying Chinese characters, especially the inscriptions on bones or turtle shells, as well as bronze ware script. The inscriptions on bones and shells are one of the earliest forms of Chinese writing, dating back about 3,500 years. Inscriptions on bones and shells pre-date bronze ware script, which was engraved on artefacts in bronze from 1300 to 220 BC. Father Jean was also one of the founders of the Institut Ricci, a publisher of dictionaries and books related to sinology, and has spent 15 years with other religious officials compiling the "Dictionnaire Ricci de caracteres chinois", a heavyweight Chinese-French dictionary.
(Source: Central News Agency)