France–Asia relations span a period of more than two millennia, starting in the 6th century BCE with the establishment of Marseille by Greeks from Asia Minor, and continuing in the 3rd century BCE with Gaulish invasions of Asia Minor to form the kingdom of Galatia. Since these early interactions, France has had a rich history of contacts with the Asian continent.
- 1 Antiquity
- 2 Middle Ages
- 3 Franco-Ottoman alliance (16th–18th centuries)
- 4 Commercial, religious and military expansion (16th-18th century)
- 5 Napoleon's Asian ventures
- 6 Colonial era
- 7 Decolonization and modern collaboration
- 8 Gallery
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
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The oldest city of France, Marseille, was formally founded in [600 BCE by Greeks from the Asia Minor city of Phocaea (as mentioned by Thucydides Bk1,13, Strabo, Athenaeus and Justin) as a trading port under the name Μασσαλία (Massalia). These eastern Greeks, established on the shores of southern France, were in close relations with the Celtic inhabitants of France, and Greek influence and artifacts penetrated northwards along the Rhône valley. The site of Vix in northern Burgundy became an active trading center between Greeks and natives, testified to by the discovery of rich Greek artifacts of the period.
The mother city of Phocaea would ultimately be destroyed by the Persians in 545 BCE, further reinforcing the exodus of the Phocaeans to their settlements of the Western Mediterranean. Populations intermixed, becoming half-Greek and half-indigenous. Trading links were extensive, in iron, spices, wheat and slaves, and with tin being imported to Marseille overland from Cornwall. The Greek settlements permitted cultural interaction between the Greeks and the Celts, and in particular helped develop an urban way of life in Celtic lands, contacts with sophisticated Greek methods, as well as regular East-West trade.
Because of demographic pressure, the Senones Gauls departed from Central France under Brennus to sack Rome in the Battle of the Allia c. 390 BCE. Expansion continued eastward, into the Aegean world, with a huge migration of Eastern Gauls appearing in Thrace, north of Greece, in 281 BCE in the Gallic invasion of the Balkans, favoured by the troubled rule of the Diadochi after Alexander the Great.
A part of the invasion crossed over to Anatolia and eventually settled in the area that came to be named after them, Galatia. The invaders, led by Leonnorius and Lutarius, came at the invitation of Nicomedes I of Bithynia, who required help in a dynastic struggle against his brother Zipoites II. Three tribes crossed over from Thrace to Asia Minor. They numbered about 10,000 fighting men and about the same number of women and children, divided into three tribes, Trocmi, Tolistobogii and Tectosages (from the area of Toulouse in southern France). They were eventually defeated by the Seleucid king Antiochus I, in a battle where the Seleucid war elephants shocked the Celts. While the momentum of the invasion was broken, the Galatians were by no means exterminated. Instead, the migration led to the establishment of a long-lived Celtic territory in central Anatolia, which included the eastern part of ancient Phrygia, a territory that became known as Galatia. There they ultimately settled, and being strengthened by fresh accessions of the same clan from Europe, they overran Bithynia and supported themselves by plundering neighbouring countries.
Christianity, following its emergence in the Near-Eastern part of Asia, was traditionally introduced by Mary, Martha, Lazarus and some companions, who were expelled by persecutions from the Holy Land. They traversed the Mediterranean in a frail boat with neither rudder nor mast and landed at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer near Arles in 40 CE. Provençal tradition names Lazarus as the first bishop of Marseille, while Martha purportedly went on to tame a terrible beast in nearby Tarascon. Pilgrims visited their tombs at the abbey of Vézelay in Burgundy. In the Abbey of the Trinity at Vendôme, a phylactery was said to contain a tear shed by Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus. The cathedral of Autun, not far away, is dedicated to Lazarus as Saint Lazaire.
The first written records of Christians in France date from the 2nd century when Irenaeus detailed the deaths of ninety-year old bishop Pothinus of Lugdunum (Lyon) and other martyrs of the 177 persecution in Lyon.
In 496 Remigius baptized Clovis I, who was converted from paganism to Catholicism. Clovis I, considered the founder of France, made himself the ally and protector of the papacy and his predominantly Catholic subjects.
In the beginning of the 5th century, various Asian nomadic tribes of Iranian origin, especially the Taifals and Sarmatians, were settled in Gaul by the Romans as coloni. They settled in the regions of Aquitaine and Poitou, which at one point was even called Thifalia or Theiphalia (Theofalgicus) in the 6th century, with remaining place names such as Tiffauges. Some Sarmatians had also been settled in the Rodez–Velay region.
From 414, Alans who had allied and then split with the Visigoths, entered into an agreement with the Romans which allowed them to settle in the area between Toulouse and the Mediterranean where they played a defensive role against the Visigoth in Spain.
A bit later, the Roman general Aetius settled Alans in Gaul for military purposes, first in the region of Valence in 440 to control the lower Isère valley, and in 442 in the area around Orléans apparently to counter the Armorican Bacaudae. Some cities have been named after them, such as Allaines or Allainville.
In 450 Attila proclaimed his intent to attack the powerful Visigoth kingdom of Toulouse, making an alliance with Emperor Valentinian III in order to do so. Attila gathered his vassals—Gepids, Ostrogoths, Rugians, Scirians, Heruls, Thuringians, Alans, Burgundians, among others and began his march west. In 451 he arrived in Belgica with an army exaggerated by Jordanes to half a million strong. J.B. Bury believes that Attila's intent, by the time he marched west, was to extend his kingdom – already the strongest on the continent – across Gaul to the Atlantic Ocean. On April 7, Attila captured Metz. Saint Genevieve is to have saved Paris.
Exchanges with the Arab world (8th–13th centuries)
Following the rise of Islam in the Arabian peninsula in the 7th century, the Arabs invaded northern Africa, then the Iberian peninsula and France. They were finally repelled at the Battle of Poitiers in 732, but thereafter remained a presence to be taken into account in southern France and Spain.
An Abbasid-Carolingian alliance was attempted and partially formed during the 8th to 9th century through a series of embassies, rapprochements and combined military operations between the Frankish Carolingian Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate or the pro-Abbasid Muslim rulers in Spain.
These contacts followed the intense conflict between the Carolingians and the Umayyads, marked by the landslide Battle of Tours in 732, and were aimed at establishing a counter-alliance with the faraway Abbasid Empire. There were numerous embassies between Charlemagne and the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid from 797, apparently in view of a Carolingian-Abbasid alliance against Byzantium, or with a view to gaining an alliance against the Umayyads of Spain.
Cultural and scientific exchanges
From the 10th to the 13th century, Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe, including France as well, were numerous, affecting such varied areas as art, architecture, medicine, agriculture, music, language, education, law, and technology. Over the course of several centuries Europe absorbed knowledge from the Islamic civilization, but also knowledge from India or lost knowledge from the ancient Greeks which was being retransmitted by the Arabs. The French scientist Gerbert of Aurillac, future Pope Sylvester II, who had spent some time in Catalonia in the 960s, was instrumental in the transfer and adoption of Arabic numerals, as well as the abacus in France and Christian Europe.
Franco-Ottoman alliance (16th–18th centuries)
Under the reign of Francis I, France became the first country in Europe to establish formal relations with the Ottoman Empire, and to set up instruction in the Arabic language, through the instruction of Guillaume Postel at the Collège de France.
A Franco-Ottoman alliance was established in 1536 between the king of France Francis I and the Turkish ruler of the Ottoman Empire Suleiman the Magnificent following the critical setbakcs Francis has encountered in Europe against Charles V. The alliance has been called "the first nonideological diplomatic alliance of its kind between a Christian and non-Christian empire". It did however cause quite a scandal in the Christian world, and was designated as "the impious alliance", or "the sacrilegious union of the Lily and the Crescent"; nevertheless, it endured since it served the objective interests of both parties.
Most notably, the French forces, led by François de Bourbon and the Ottoman forces, led by Barbarossa, joined at Marseille in August 1543, and collaborated to bombard the city of Nice in the Siege of Nice. In this action 110 Ottoman galleys, amounting to 30,000 men, combined with 50 French galleys. The Franco-Ottomans laid waste to the city of Nice, but were confronted by a stiff resistance which gave rise to the story of Catherine Ségurane. Afterwards, the Ottomans were offered by Francis to winter at Toulon.
Commercial, religious and military expansion (16th-18th century)
Early-modern contacts with East-Asia (1527-)
France started to trade with Eastern Asia from the early 16th century. In 1526, a sailor from Honfleur named Pierre Caunay sailed to Sumatra. He lost his ship on the return leg between Africa and Madagascar, where the crew was imprisoned by the Portuguese. In July 1527, a French Norman trading ship from the city of Rouen is recorded by the Portuguese João de Barros to have arrived in the Indian city of Diu. The next year, a ship under Jean de Breuilly also arrived in Diu, but this time was seized by the Portuguese.
In 1529, Jean Parmentier, on board the Sacre and the Pensée, reached Sumatra. Upon its return, the expedition triggered the development of the Dieppe maps, influencing the work of Dieppe cartographers, such as Jean Rotz.
Following the Portuguese and Spanish forays into Asia after 1500, a few Frenchmen participated to the activities of Catholic religious orders in these countries during the 16th century. The first instance of France-Thailand relations occurred according to the Jesuit Giovanni Pietro Maffei when about 1550 a French Franciscan, Bonferre, hearing of the great kingdom of the Peguans and the Siamese in the East, went on a Portuguese ship from Goa to Cosme (Pegu), where for three years he preached the Gospel, but without any result.
François Pyrard and François Martin (1601-1611)
In December 1600 a company was formed through the association of Saint-Malo, Laval and Vitré, to trade with the Moluccas and Japan. Two ships, the Croissant and the Corbin, were sent around the Cape in May 1601. One was wrecked in the Maldives, leading to the adventure of François Pyrard de Laval who managed to return to France in 1611. The second ship, onboard which was François Martin de Vitré, reached Ceylon and traded with Acheh in Sumatra, but was captured by the Dutch on the return leg at Cape Finisterre. François Martin de Vitré was the first Frenchman to write an account of travels to the Far East in 1604, at the request of Henry IV, and from that time numerous account on Asia would be published.
From 1604 to 1609, following the return of François Martin de Vitré, Henry IV developed a strong enthusiasm for travel to Asia, and attempted to set up a French East India Company on the model of England and The Netherlands. On 1 June 1604, he issued letter patents to Dieppe merchants to form the Dieppe Company, giving them exclusive rights to Asian trade for 15 years, but no ships were finally sent. In 1606, Henri de Feynes left for China, which he became the first Frenchman to visit. On 1609, another adventurer, Pierre-Olivier Malherbe returned from a circumnavigation, and informed Henry IV of his adventures. He visited China, and in India had an encounter with Akbar.
Hasekura Tsunenaga (1615)
France-Japan relations started in 1615 when Hasekura Tsunenaga, a Japanese samurai and ambassador, sent to Rome by Date Masamune, landed at Saint-Tropez for a few days. In 1636, Guillaume Courtet, a French Dominican priest, would reciprocate when he set foot in Japan. He penetrated into Japan in clandestinity, against the 1613 interdiction of Christianity. He was caught, tortured, and died in Nagasaki on September 29, 1637.
Company of the Moluccas (1615)
In 1615, the regent Marie de Médicis incorporated the merchants of Dieppe and other harbours to found the Company of the Moluccas. In 1616, two expeditions were to Asia from Honfleur in Normandy: three ships left for India, and two ships for Bantam. One ship returned from Bantam in 1617 with a small cargo, and letters from the Dutch expressing their hostility towards French ships in the East Indies. Also in 1616, two ships were sent from Saint-Malo to Java. One was captured by the Dutch, but the other obtained an agreement from the ruler of Pondicherry to build a fortress and a factory there, and came back with a rich cargo.
In 1619, an armed expedition composed of three ships (275 crews, 106 cannons) and called the "Fleet of Montmorency" under General Augustin de Beaulieu was sent from Honfleur, with the objective of fighting the Dutch in the Far East. They encountered the Dutch fleet off Sumatra. One ship was captured, another remained in Asia for inter-country trade, and the third returned to Le Havre in 1622. Finally in 1624, with the Treaty of Compiègne, Richelieu obtained that the Dutch would stop fighting the French in the East. Isaac de Razilly commented however:
"As regards Asia and the East Indies there is no hope of planting colonies, for the way is too long, and the Spaniards and Dutch are too strong to suffer it"
However, trade further developed, with the activities of people such as Jean de Thévenot and Jean-Baptiste Tavernier in 17th century Asia. Gilles de Régimont travelled to Persia and India in 1630 and came back in 1632 with a rich cargo. He formed a trading company at Dieppe in 1633, and then sent ships every year to the Indian Ocean.
Expansion under Louis XIV
France started to take a more structured approach to its expansion in Asia during the 17th century during the rule of Louis XIV, in an organized attempt to establish a mercantile empire in the East by taking a share of the lucrative market of the Indian Ocean. On the religious plane, the Paris Foreign Missions Society was formed from 1658 in order to provide for missionary work in Asia mainly, under French control. Soon after, the French East India Company was established in 1664.
In 1664 a first mission was sent to Madagascar under François Caron, formerly in the service of the Dutch East India Company. The Madagascar mission failed, but soon after, Caron succeeded in founding French ouposts at Surat (1668) and at Masulipatam (1669) in India;. Caron became "Commissaire" at Pondicherry between 1668 and 1672. The French East India Company formally set up a trading centre at Pondicherry in 1673. This outpost eventually became the chief French settlement in India.
In 1672, Caron helped lead French forces in Ceylon, where the strategic bay at Trincomalee was captured and St. Thomé (also known as Meilâpûr) on the Coromandel coast was also taken. However, the consequences of his military success was short-lived. The French were driven out these modest conquests while Caron was en route to Europe in 1673.
During the reign of Louis XIV France further developed France–Thailand relations and sent numerous embassies to Siam, led by Chevalier de Chaumont in 1685 and later by Simon de la Loubère in 1687, until French troops were finally ousted from the country following the 1688 Siege of Bangkok. Around the same time France actively participated to the Jesuit China missions, as Louis XIV sent in 1685 a mission of five Jesuits "mathematicians" to China in an attempt to break the Portuguese predominance: Jean de Fontaney (1643–1710), Joachim Bouvet (1656–1730), Jean-François Gerbillon (1654–1707), Louis Le Comte (1655–1728) and Claude de Visdelou (1656–1737). While French Jesuits were found at the court of the Manchu Kangxi Emperor in China, Louis received the visit of a Chinese Jesuit, Michael Shen Fu-Tsung, by 1684. Furthermore, several years later, he had at his court a Chinese librarian and translator— Arcadio Huang.
Louis XV/ Louis XVI
After these first experiences, France came take a more active role in Asia from its base in India. France was able to establish the beginnings of a commercial and territorial empire in India, leading to the formation of French India. Active Franco-Indian alliances were established to reinforce French influence and counter British efforts on the country. Suffren had a considerable role in upholding French naval power in the Indian Ocean.
Burma–France relations started in 1727 with approaches by Joseph François Dupleix, and were concretized in 1729 with the building of a shipyard in the city of Syriam. France allied with the Mon and participated in the Burman-Mon conflict in 1751–1756 under Sieur de Bruno and Pierre de Milard.
Following the development of France-Vietnam relations through early trade and religious contacts, France intervened militarily in Vietnam at the end of the 18th century through the French assistance to Nguyễn Ánh under Mgr Pigneau de Behaine.
Trade also developed, with the activities of people such as Pierre Poivre who dealt with Vietnam from the 1720s.
Asia in 17th-18th-century French art
The discovery of Asia led to a strong cultural interest in Asian arts. France especially developed a taste for artistic forms derived from Chinese art and narratives, called Chinoiserie, as well as for Turkish scenes, called Turquerie. French textile industry was also strongly influenced by Asian style, with the development of the silk and tapestry industries. A carpet industry façon de Turquie ("in the manner of Turkey") was developed in France in the reign of Henry IV by Pierre Dupont, who was returning from the Levant, and especially rose to prominence during the reign of Louis XIV. The Tapis de Savonnerie especially exemplify this tradition ("the superb carpets of the Savonnerie, which long rivalled the carpets of Turkey, and latterly have far surpassed them") which was further adapted to local taste and developed with the Gobelins carpets. This tradition also spread to Great Britain where it revived the British carpet industry in the 18th century.
Napoleon's Asian ventures
Napoleon attempted to establish a decisive French presence in Asia, by first launching the Campaign of Egypt in 1798. He wished to establish a French presence in the Middle East, and was then planning to make a junction with Tippu Sahib in India, against the British. Napoleon assured to the Directoire that "as soon as he had conquered Egypt, he will establish relations with the Indian princes and, together with them, attack the English in their possessions." According to a 13 February 1798 report by Talleyrand: "Having occupied and fortified Egypt, we shall send a force of 15,000 men from Suez to India, to join the forces of Tipu-Sahib and drive away the English." The Directory, though troubled by the scope and cost of the enterprise, agreed so the popular general would be absent from the centre of power.
Following his victory at Austerlitz in 1805, Napoleon later managed to establish a short-lived Franco-Ottoman alliance and a Franco-Persian alliance formulised in the Treaty of Finckenstein in 1807 in order to obtain strategic support in his fight against the Russian Empire, and also to threaten British India.
For a brief period in 1806-1815, France had an intense role in Indonesia, since the Netherlands became a province of France. The islands of Java and Bali were thus in contact with a Franco-Dutch administration. Napoleon handpicked a new Governor-General, the "Iron Marshall" Willem Daendels, sent ships and troops to reinforce the East Indies against British attacks, and had military fortifications built through the length of Java. A treaty of alliance was signed in 1808 between the new administration and the Balinese king of Badung, to provide workers and soldiers for the Franco-Dutch defensive effort, but Java fell to the British in 1811, and the agreement was not implemented.
After the end of the Napoleonic era, some former soldiers of Napoleon left France to be employed as mercenaries in Asian countries. One of them Jean-François Allard, became the leader of the European officer corps in the Punjab, in the Maharaja Ranjit Singh's service. Another mercenary of Ranjit Singh, Claude Auguste Court was an early student of Kushan coinage, whose coin rubbings books are now visible at the British Museum.
Following the defeat in the Napoleonic war France had lost most of their possessions colonial possessions, but the 19th century brought an era of Industrial revolution combined with European expansionism that saw France expand anew to form a second colonial empire in Asia.
In the 1820s, France tried to reestablish contacts with Vietnam. On 12 January 1825, an embassy led by Captain Hyacinthe de Bougainville attempted to obtain a meeting with emperor Minh Mạng but failed. Instead, Christian missionaries were smuggled onshore in the person of Father Regéreau of the Paris Foreign Missions Society. These actions triggered edicts of persecution against Christianity by Minh Mạng. Using these persecutions as a pretext, in 1843, the French Foreign Minister, François Guizot, sent a fleet to the East under Admiral Jean-Baptiste Cécille and Captain Charner, together with the diplomat Lagrene. The move responded to the successes of the British in China in 1842, and France hoped to counterbalance these successes by accessing China from the south. The pretext however was to support British efforts in China, and to fight the persecution of French missionaries in Vietnam. New religious persecutions again triggered the Cochinchina Campaign (1858–1862) which marked the real beginning of territorial expansion in Vietnam.
Northern Vietnam would then be disputed to China, leading to the Tonkin campaign (1883–1886), and most importantly to the French victory in the Sino-French War (1884–1885). France would also expand westward from its Vietnamese basis to dispute territory with Siam, leading to the Franco-Siamese War in 1893. French Indochina was formed in October 1887 from Annam, Tonkin, Cochinchina (which together form modern Vietnam) and the Kingdom of Cambodia and Laos was added after the Franco-Siamese War.
France intervened several times in China, together with other Western powers, in order to expand Western influence there. France participated actively to the Second Opium War in 1860, also using religious persecutions as a pretext. In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion led to massive French and Western intervention.
France also had an interventionist role in northeastern Asia throughout the second half of the 19th century.
In Korea, religious persecutions again motivated the French Campaign against Korea in 1866. Although there were no territorial gains, these events would progressively lead to the opening of the "Hermit kingdom" to the rest of the world.
In Japan, France had a key role in fighting anti-foreign forces and supporting the Late Tokugawa Shogunate. In 1863–64, France battled against anti-forces at the Bombardment of Shimonoseki. In 1867, a French military mission to Japan was sent by Napoleon III to support the Shogun. French soldiers such as Jules Brunet even fought on the side of the Shogun against pro-Imperial forces during the Boshin war.
Even though the Shogun was defeated in the Boshin war, France continued to take an active role in supporting Japan military through the 1872–1880 mission, the 1884–89 mission, the 1918–19 mission, and had a key role in the development of the Imperial Japanese Navy with the mission of Emile Bertin.
Asia in 19th-century French art
Asia influenced Western authors, and especially French ones, in an artistic school known as Orientalism. Asian scenes were typically depicted in an idealistic and voluptuous manner. Impressionism also was strongly influenced by the vividness of Japanese painting through Japonism.
French literature was also strongly influenced by Asia, as in the works of Pierre Loti.
Decolonization and modern collaboration
The 20th century was marked by the French difficulties during the Second World War, and the general decolonization that followed. In particular, the Indochina War (1946–1954) marked the end of French military presence in southeast Asia.
Since then, contacts have resumed, and France has remained a strong economic partners to Asian countries. French exports include nuclear power technologies, or advanced transportation technologies such as Airbus or TGV, as well as exports in food products and consumer industries. Asia in turn finds in France a receptive market for its manufactured goods.
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