It sometimes happens that some extraordinary people, although their name may not be familiar to the public, live and witness key moments of History, and thus provide us an outstanding legacy. Auguste FRANÇOIS (1857-1935) is undoubtedly one of them.
Born in the French Lorraine region, he started his career as a civil servant, in Arras, before being appointed in Nancy, and then in Paris. After an administrative shift, he was transferred to the Foreign Department, and thus, rather by chance, started a diplomatic career which led him to the Far-East.
With the exception of only one interruption – a period during which he was Consul in Paraguay – Auguste François accomplished several missions in the Far-East, first in Vietnam (French Tonkin at that time), and then in China, where his special official status granted him exceptional autonomy.
As France's Consul and Government Delegate in Yunnan, he had to face the rivalries and conflicting interests between the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Colonies, and was also put under pressure by industrial lobbies ; he also had to put up with the religious aspirations of Foreign Missions. In such a hostile environment, Auguste François showed a rare ability to make up his own opinion and rely on his own fortitude to guide his policy.
Being lucid about the stalemate which the hypothesis any kind of confrontation with China would have meant, he neither wanted to create diplomatic complications, nor did he want to be a martyr. Even so, he showed great courage. During the xenophobic Boxer uprising of 1900, when his consulate was besieged and ransacked by Chinese rioters, showing much self-control, he saved the lives of all the French residents, which he had gathered there in a gesture which earned him a moment of fame. His name is also connected with the Yunnan railway, for which he had been in charge of negotiating a concession.
Insatiably curious, independent minded, an amused and indefatigable observer, urged by a need to narrate and share his experiences whit his Parisian friends, he showed great talent as a writer. A passionate photographer, he took thousands of pictures, showing us China, at a time when it had not been impacted by Western influences on a large scale.
Furthermore, as early as 1901, only six years after cinema had been invented, Auguste François shot films showing everyday life in Yunnan.
Association Auguste FRANÇOIS - (A.A.F.) : AAF was established in Paris in 1990 as a non profit-seeking organisation run under the French 1901 law on associations. Its goal is to make Auguste François known, through the preservation and publication of his works.
AAF is now a hundred people strong, both active members and sympathizers. Its budget comes from membership fees and from the proceeds of its activities. It acts sometimes alone, and sometimes in cooperation with various partners. Its actions are mostly in the following fields :
Exhibitions : Several exhibitions of Auguste François's photographs have been organized. The first took place in 1991 in Lunéville, where he was born. Others followed, particularly in Paris, Angers, La Défense, Nantes and Versailles. In 1996, for an exhibition of previously unpublished photographs staged with the help of Musée Guimet, the Georges Labit Museum in Toulouse published a bilingual album under the title DE LA MER DE CHINE AU TONKIN. After Toulouse, this exhibition travelled to Spain and Singapour. (See detail of the exhibitions)
Planned exhibitions abroad : Alone or in partnership with other owners of ancient photographs of China, AAF studies exhibition plans in prestigious venues abroad. They must meet the quality requirements set by ancient photo specialists, and aim at the wider public of all interested in history and in the Far East. Such projects imply the publication of catalogues, which must be entrusted to specialists.
Publication projects : Several texts written by Auguste François have yet to be published. They shed more light on several periods of the life and career of the writer : childhood memories from Lunéville during the 1870 Franco-German war, episodes of his Paris life as a diplomat around 1893, his mission as consul to Paraguay in 1894 as well as travel notes from Palestine in 1909, etc. A large number of yet unpublished photographs directly related to these texts should enable us to set them off.
Protection of the photographic assets : Much work remains to be done to scan the photos so as to save them as numeric files as well as for the restoring of vintage prints and to perfect the means of their conservation. We are looking, to this end, for all matters of expertise and help, both technical and financial.
Inventory and research : We pursue the on-going work of tracing and identifying the many documents (photographs, letters, papers, maps and objects) Auguste François, with the assistance of his colleague Jean-Joseph Beauvais, kept on sending to his friends and to many institutions : French Foreign Office, Geographic Society, Anthropological Society, Foreign Missions, Oriental Language School, etc. A first visit to Chinese Yunnan Archives has also taken place. Tracks from Auguste François's passage there are numerous. It is possible that we may find there documents or things lost or stolen when the consulate was sacked in 1900.
Franco-Chinese cultural exchanges : AAF is proud to have contributed to help the Yunnan Chinese to become more aware of the need to protect their patrimony. Following Auguste François photo exhibitions, local initiatives were taken to create a museum in Kunming, dedicated to the city's past.
The publishing arm of Yunnan's Art Museum came specially to Paris to explore the collections located in French museums. This led to the publication in Kunming of a luxurious photo album, in Chinese, on daily life in Yunnan at the end of the Qing dynasty and under the early years of the Republic. The same editor then undertook the translation into Chinese of LE MANDARIN BLANC, by A. François as well as of several books by Victor Ségalen.
Off the shelf exhibition L’ŒIL DU CONSUL : AAF can lend a complete kit to stage a "ready to hang" exhibition comprising some hundred photos made in southern China between 1896 and 1904. ()
Search for a venue for the keeping of AAF assets (photographs, films, manuscripts, documents, objects...) insuring not only their long term preservation but also, if possible, their presentation to the public.
Books : Auguste François’s books and albums interest a wide range of readers. They constitute unusual presents and are generally well liked. AAF can help you find out where to purchase them.
General Assembly : It takes place in Paris, every spring.
A whole range of publications about Auguste François, his photographs and his writings exists today. Some have just come out, and others are older. They exist in the form of books, albums and articles in a variety of magazines, in several languages. You may consult French bibliography, Chinese bibliography or English bibliography.
Several films and videos are also available.
Some other websites include data that complement our own. You might enjoy to visit them, but don’t forget to come back to us … (For links to other sites, see « Liens vers d’autres sites »)
Last updating : January 29th 2006