In 2023, Alliance Française de Hong Kong is celebrating its 70th anniversary.
Since its establishment in 1953, Alliance Française de Hong Kong has been dedicated to promoting French culture through French language courses and a wide range of cultural events. It has become the leading French language institution in Asia with more than 6,000 students per year, as well as one of the largest Alliance Française in the world.
On this occasion, we met with Jean-Sébastien Attié, Executive Director of Alliance Française de Hong Kong, who shared with us the missions and milestones of the organisation, as well as the 70th anniversary celebrations.
If you have been living in Hong Kong for quite some time, you may be familiar with some cutting-edge cultural events organised by the Alliance, such as the iconic Hong Kong French Film Festival, the music festival Make Music Hong Kong, the Francophonie Festival, as well as many programmes part of the French May Arts Festival, and the establishment of the bilingual magazine Paroles which played a crucial role in introducing Chinese culture to French-speaking audiences in Hong Kong.
Let’s take a look at the Alliance Française’s milestones in the past seven decades.
The 1950s and 1960s: “La Nouvelle Vague”
The Alliance Française de Hong Kong was founded in 1953 when there were only 200 French people in town, with four main sections: cinema, radio, library and social activities.
As explained by Jean-Sébastien Attié, the aim was “to bring and share a culture, to create exchanges and foster openness. Hong Kong was a booming city at the time with a lot of potential. The interest for French language and culture was there. Alliance Française took off in the 1960s with a few hundreds of students per year”.
In addition to the French national day festivities on 14 July, the Alliance started to organise conferences about history, architecture, French writers, as well as exhibitions, French courses, and also created in 1953 the first French film festival.
The 1970s: “L’Âge d’Or, The Golden Years”
In the 1970s, one of the main cultural activities of the Alliance Française was the theatre, with diverse French plays being held at Hong Kong City Hall, who became a privileged partner of the Alliance. In 1970, the Mime Marceau gave two representations. The success was huge and the Mime Marceau came back regularly in Hong Kong for sold-out performances.
1970 was also the year were the first francophone magazine was launched, Le Journal de Hong Kong, with some features translated into Chinese – it fully became bilingual in 1981.
In 1971, Chinese film critic Ada Lok published a love letter to movie director François Truffaut titled Why I learn French?: “I love François Truffaut, that’s why I learn French”. The cineast would later reply to her: “Thank you for everything, thank you for existing in Hong Kong, poetic and passionate”.
In 1971, the Alliance anchored itself more firmly on Hong Kong soil with the election of a Hong Kong president, Lawrance Kadoorie, who remained in place for 8 years.
Following the boom of its activities, the Alliance acquired its main buildings on Hennessy Road in 1972 and Jordan in 1975, welcoming over 5,000 students yearly.
In 1972, the Alliance organised an exhibition of lithographs by Picasso, Chagall, Vasarely, Soulages, and, in 1973, a retrospective of photographers Cartier-Bresson, Doisneau, Izis, Riboud, marking the development of the organisation of major exhibitions in Hong Kong.
The 1990s: “The Booming Years”
In 1991, following political and social changes in China, Alliance Francaise de Hong Kong saw a massive increase of its students and became the biggest Alliance Française in the world with 45,000 registrations.
After the Tiananmen events in 1989, some Hongkongers were afraid of the retrocession of the territory to China and decided to emigrate to Canada. “Between 1989 and 1993, a significant number of Hong Kong citizens migrated to Canada and they were required to learn French,” Attié explains.
Another defining moment was the collaboration between Alliance Française and the Consulate General of France to create in 1993 the annual arts festival Le French May, on the occasion of the major exhibition of 57 sculptures by Auguste Rodin in Hong Kong.
Since then, the French May has featured hundreds of cultural events in the city, from dance, theatre, circus, concerts, to contemporary art exhibitions, collaborating with majors French and Hong Kong artists and institutions.
“For the first ten years, Alliance Française curated and managed the festival in partnership with the French Consulate. Eventually, Le French May was incorporated into an independent charity to better accommodate its growth and maturity without forsaking its rich history”, Attié recounts.
Another milestone was the creation of La Nuit des Publivores in 1995, modern festival about advertising who would attract 3,000 people every year at the Queens Elizabeth Stadium in Wanchai.
In 1995, Alliance Française also presented the major photo exhibition Magnum, 50 ans de cinéma at the Hong Kong Arts Centre.
The 2000s: A Community of Arts and Culture
The very first edition of La Fête de la Musique took place on the trams in 1984. In 2018, La Fête de la Musique was rebranded as Make Music Hong Kong and became a three-day music festival, welcoming over 30 local and international bands.
In 2000, Alliance Française launched the Francophonie Festival, a joint initiative between French-speaking countries in Hong Kong. It now presents dozens of events every year during the month of March.
2023: 70th Anniversary
As part of the 70th anniversary celebrations, the Alliance has organised a special photo exhibition, Cinematic Pulse: In the heart of Luc Roux’s photographs (Le cinema au coeur, from 21 November to 3 December at Soho House, showcasing fifty iconic photos of French cinema photographer Luc Roux.
For this special occasion, Luc Roux and Jean-Pierre Lavoignat, founder of Studio Magazine and curator of the exhibition, traveled from France to Hong Kong to offer guided tours of the exhibition on 24 and 25 November.
“Additionally, we released a special anniversary issue of Paroles, featuring a compilation of articles about our 70 years in Hong Kong, curated by Gérard Henry, the magazine’s former Editor-in-Chief. Moreover, we have organised competitions such as the Défi InterAlliances for our students. Winners will win a trip to France”, Attié concludes.
Details about the special photo exhibition can be found here:
Cinematic Pulse: In the heart of Luc Roux’s photographs (Le cinema au coeur)
And details about the 52nd edition of the Hong Kong French Film Festival can be found here:
A Milestone Edition for the Hong Kong French Film Festival 2023