French sinologist Yin Dongming: Spring Festival is a window into Chinese culture

In a French restaurant in Kunming sat a foreigner with brown hair and blue eyes, wearing a very eye-catching ethnic necklace. She is Yin Dongming (Dorothée Rihal), a French sinologist, the French principal of Kunming Alliance Française, who has lived in Kunming for more than two years.


Yin Dongming was in an interview. [Photo by Litao]

Taking a sip of coffee, she explained the origin of her name "Yin Dongming" in clear and fluent Chinese, "A friend of my relatives gave me this Chinese name. The word 'ming' means tea, because I like to drink tea." With the restaurant filled with the aroma of coffee, Yin began to talk about her fate with Kunming.

"Two Fates" between Yin Dongming and Kunming

Out of curiosity about Chinese culture, Yin Dongming began her fate with China.

In 1996, Yin Dongming came to Kunming for the first time as an international student and studied Chinese at Yunnan University. In half a year, she traveled all over most places in Yunnan. "In the beginning, I didn't know a little Chinese in the class. In the end, I was the best Chinese speaker in the class!" Yin Dongming said proudly.


Yin Dongming was studying at Yunnan University in 1996.

Back in France, Yin Dongming obtained her Ph.D. in History at the University of Paris VII. Since then, Yin Dongming's fate with China had gradually deepened.

"I lifted my head and looked at the moon. When I lowered my head I thought of home." In 2017, the sound of reading in Chinese echoed at the Lycée Georges Brassens in Normandy. In class, Yin Dongming recited Li Bai's poems and taught the students to speak Chinese word by word; she also taught them Chinese pop songs with simple lyrics. Since she studied Chinese history, she also vividly told historical stories to students in her class.

Every Chinese festival, Yin Dongming would celebrate the "Chinese Festival" with students: they made Zongzi on the Dragon Boat Festival; they made moon cakes on the Mid-Autumn Festival; they made dumplings during the Spring Festival, and Yin Dongming would organize students to sell the dumplings in the school, and the money they earned would be used to lead the students to study in China.

If a meeting is a kind of fate, then meeting again is a kind of destiny.

In 2020, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed Yin Dongming as the French principal of Kunming Alliance Française; in October, Yin Dongming started her trip to Kunming again.

Interestingly, Yin Dongming's dormitory was by the Green Lake (Cuihu) Park when she was studying at Yunnan University; this time, she happened to live nearby, and that place was well preserved. Every time she passed by, "It seems that I saw the dormitory where I once lived, and I feel very destined!"

"Kunming Blue" and "Rice Noodles"

"Kunming Blue"; and "Rice Noodles" are the key words that Yin Dongming used most to describe Kunming.


Yin Dongming participated in a China Academic Symposium.

"Kunming Blue" is the clear blue sky that Yin Dongming can see most of time in Kunming. The mild weather, fresh air, and slow pace of life here are all she can feel on her daily walk to work. When she is free on weekends, she will go hiking and breathe the fresh air in the mountain, or ride around the Dianchi Lake. Under the endless "Kunming Blue" sky is a comfortable and leisurely life in Kunming.

"Rice noodles!" When asked about her favorite food, Yin Dongming said without hesitation. She likes all types of rice noodles in Yunnan, such as the fresh and delicious Crossing-the-Bridge Noodles, the spicy and tangy Small-Pot Rice Noodles, and the refreshing and sour Cold Rice Noodles... She is especially fond of the "soft and glutinous, spicy and smooth taste" of the Tofu Pudding Rice Noodles. Fresh and tender tofu pudding, red chili oil, crispy crushed peanuts, uniquely sweet and salty soy sauce and other ingredients are mixed together to form a bowl of Tofu Pudding Rice Noodles. The aroma of various seasonings is fully released when chewing; the flavor is excellent! 

In addition to rice noodles, Yin Dongming can always find all kinds of new food here, spicy, sour, sweet, and even bitter. "I can’t remember the names, but they all taste good!" Last year she ate egg fruit in Ruili, and this sweet and sour fruit immediately became one of her favorite foods; in Lijiang, she bought black truffles that she had never eaten in France, and made a dish with potatoes; she described it as "very delicious!"

Regarding these novel experiences, Yin Dongming concluded, "You can eat all kinds of dishes in Yunnan!" Southeast Asian specialties, authentic Western food, Yunnan local specialty snacks... the flavors of various places gather here, just like the city of Kunming, which not only has regional characteristics, but also embraces cultures from all over the world. Therefore, life here makes Yin Dongming feel comfortable with curiosity and surprises, because "no matter where you go in China, you will always explore new things."

Building a bridge of cultural communication between China and France

Management, teaching, and coordination of Sino-French cooperation projects... As the French principal of Kunming Alliance Française, Yin Dongming has been committed to the promotion of French culture and the exchange of Sino-French culture.


Yin Dongming at the 2022 Kunming Fanghuali Summer Solstice Music Day event [Photo by Jiangyan]

In addition to offering French courses, they also regularly hold various cultural exchange activities. In March 2021, they invited a group of Chinese poets and college teachers, including Yu Jian, a famous poet from Yunnan, to gather together to share the beauty of Chinese and French poetry in the collision of ideas, and experience "poetry without borders". In June 2022, they held the "Summer Solstice Music Day" in Fanghuali, Kunming, where French music and Yunnan local music were staged one after another... These large and small activities further deepen the cultural exchanges between China and France, just as Yin Dongming said, "The French Alliance is a bridge that promotes cultural exchanges between China and France."


Yin Dongming presided over the 2021 Mois de la Francophonie.

During the more than two years when Yin Dongming served as the French principal of the Kunming Alliance Française, the number of students has gradually increased. At the same time, it has also cooperated with five other schools in Kunming, including Haibei Chinese and English Kindergarten. She believes that language is crucial to cultural exchanges. "Cultures are colorful because of communication. I hope that more people can understand French culture better by learning French, and then act as ‘cultural ambassadors’ for Sino-French friendship!"

With the upcoming Spring Festival in 2023, the sound of firecrackers outside the window was loud, and the red Chinese character "Fu" and Spring Festival couplets had been posted in the restaurant.

"Chinese New Year" is no stranger to Yin Dongming, since she has lived in China for more than a dozen Spring Festivals. She is very familiar with the traditional customs of the Spring Festival: making dumplings, sending red envelopes, pasting Spring Festival couplets, paper-cutting... At the same time, she also knows about the Chinese zodiac: "This year is the Year of the Rabbit; last year was the Year of the Tiger, which was also my birth year."

Regarding the plans for this year's Spring Festival, Yin Dongming is not sure yet. Perhaps, like in previous years, her family will have a reunion dinner together, or go on a trip together. The further plan is about the Kunming Alliance Française: she hopes to run the annual "Mois de la Francophonie" successfully, held in March, which is their "highlight". In addition, they also need to prepare for the selection and training of Kunming volunteers for the 2024 Paris Olympics. And she might write a thesis on the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway. However, before that, she said with a smile, "Just have a good time in Spring Festival."

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(Editors: Amy, Ines)

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