Monday, January 12, 2009

Danshui, The French and Admiral Courbet



Around Christmas I visited Danshui, the old treaty port just outside Taipei. In Fort San Domingo there was a somewhat less than good exhibition on the Sino-French War of 1884-85 and Danshui (or Tamsui if you prefer). The exhibition is fully, and long-windedly and not over-helpfully, titled: The Roaring Cannon in Huwei, the Chinese-French Imprint: The French Rebellion.

The exhibition claims to recount Danshui’s role in the 1884 Sino-French War. I won’t rehash the war in detail as you should know that. Less well known is that the Qing actually scored a rare victory over the French at Danshui – some Chinese scholars have hailed it as, ‘the only war the Qing Dynasty won against a foreign opponent’ (which isn’t quite true but never mind that). It’s not much of an exhibition and most of it appears to be some sort of puff piece for the French tourism industry with lots of pictures of the Loire Valley, wine, smiling farmers in berets etc – the usual completely false image of modern France the tourism people trot out at such exhibitions to anyone gullible enough to believe French farmers ever smile except when their EU subsidy cheque arrives.

Somewhat interesting was the small feature on Admiral Anatole-Amédée-Prosper Courbet (pictured above) who led the blockade of Formosa. He won some battle in the Battle of Tonkin during the war but didn’t do so well at Danshui. He was to command France’s Far East Squadron for some time. To be fair Courbet opposed the landing at Danshui on military grounds preferring a camapign to to seize Port Arthur or Weihaiwei. Still he died a couple of days after the signing of the peace treaty in Tianjin – the French gave him a state funeral and still have a frigate named after him (left - Courbet's body returns to France, Les Salins d'Hyères, 26 August 1885)

He also got a street in Shangai’s French Concession named after him – Route Amiral Courbet, which is now Fengyang Lu.

The exhibiton at Danshui runs through to October 25th 2009

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