Throughout the history of mankind, revolution is not an uncommon event. The term "geming" (literally meaning revolution) was used in the Chinese classics, the Book of Changes, to represent the change of dynasties as mandated by Heaven. Nowadays, the term refers to progressive historic changes, which originated from the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.
Starting from tomorrow (December 17) to March 16, 2009, an exhibition entitled "The French Revolutions" will be staged at the Hong Kong Museum of History. The exhibition will outline in detail several revolutions in France in the 18th and 19th centuries which led to the overthrow of absolute monarchies across continental Europe and inspired the development of nationalism and liberalism.
The exhibition is jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the City of Paris Department of Culture, in collaboration with the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong and Macau, and co-organised by the Hong Kong Museum of History and Paris Musées, and the collections from the Musée Carnavalet - Histoire de Paris and the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris.
Featuring more than 180 artefacts, the exhibition traces the course of the French Revolution and subsequent revolutions in France. Highlights of the exhibits include paintings on The Tennis Court Oath, Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette and the Bastille, as well as other objects and invaluable photographs recording the 1871 revolution. These photographs, showing street scenes during the Paris Commune period in 1871, are the first on-the-spot recording of a revolution using modern photographic technology. They have never been exhibited outside France before.
Officiating today (December 16) at the exhibition's opening ceremony were Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs, Mrs Carrie Yau, Consul General of France in Hong Kong and Macau, Mr Jean-Pierre Thébault, Principal Private Secretary to the Deputy Mayor of the City of Paris in charge of Patrimony, Mrs Cécile Fougère-Cazalé, Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Thomas Chow, and Director of Musée Carnavalet, Mr Jean-Marc Léri.
Several revolutions took place in France in the 18th and 19th centuries, but the French Revolution lasting from 1789 to 1799 was the best-known and most influential and significant. In this revolution, the citizens of Paris overturned absolute monarchy. The National Assembly promulgated the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, proclaiming liberty and equality for all. This ideal spread throughout France as the revolution diffused to other parts of the country. It was the mother of subsequent revolutions that took place in the 19th century in France, including the July Revolution in 1830, the February Revolution in 1848 and Paris Commune Revolution in 1871. In the 19th century, revolutions and independence movements triggered by nationalism and liberalism took place in other European countries, including Spain, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Poland and Hungary.
Although the French Revolution is an historic occasion, it is not the first revolution that has had a far-reaching effect on modern political systems. The English Civil War resulted in the Commonwealth of England and a protectorate under Oliver Cromwell's personal rule in the middle of the 17th century, and the American Revolutionary War of the 1770s gave birth to the United States of America.
What distinguished the French Revolution from other revolutions was the radical nature of the event and its duration. Historians point to 1789 as the year it began, with the storming of the Bastille, and most of them consider it to have ended in 1799, when Napoleon seized power in the coup of 18 Brumaire (November 9, 1799). During these 10 years, France was completely transformed, and what had begun as only a "Franco-French story" continued in Germany and other countries in western Europe, then became a veritable epidemic affecting Russia and other countries in eastern Europe, Argentina and Bolivia in South America, and finally the rest of the world.
What has also distinguished the French Revolution from other revolutions is the speed with which it spread to other parts of France and abroad. The printed word was then one of the most effective means to disseminate the revolutionary ideal. It was the first time that the press was used to distribute the most radical, violent and confrontational ideals. Short and long lampoons of four, eight or 20 pages were carried in thousands of publications.
Under the influence of revolutions, engraved images were developed into new uses. Artists reproduced the sequences of events, painted portraits, drew caricatures or satirical pieces and sold them on the cheap or distributed them free to all classes of society. This helped speed up the dissemination of political ideas and news. Particular details of these engravings were easily modified to adapt to changes of events.
The French Revolution also shed light on modern Chinese politics. In the preface of his book, "Faguo gemingji (On the French Revolution)", presented to Emperor Guangxu before the Reform Movement of 1898, Kang Youwei observed that the French king lost "the mandate of Heaven". He explained to Emperor Guangxu about the social turmoil caused by the revolution and urged the imperial court to undertake political reforms to avoid revolution. A translator to the Qing envoy, Zhang Deyi, witnessed the Paris Commune in 1871 and made detailed records of the revolution. The revolutionaries in the late Qing Dynasty denounced the monarchy as the biggest obstacle to progress in China and advocated establishing a republican constitution through violent revolution. From the perspective of political development in the 20th century, "revolution", which once practically meant "progress", brought radical changes in various fields.
To tie in with the exhibition, a series of lectures will be held next year, including "Introduction to 'The French Revolutions' Exhibition" on January 17 by the Assistant Curator I of Museum of History, Mr Cheung Yui-sum; "The French Revolutions: Change, Power and International Relations" on January 24 by the Supervisor of the European Documentation Centre of Hong Kong Baptist University, Mr Terence Yeung; "Revisiting the French Revolutions" on February 21 by the Freelance Children Programmes Organiser, Miss Kitty Tse Kit-ling, and "The Storming of the Bastille: An Investigation into the Symbol of Despotism and Freedom" on March 7 by the Associate Director of University General Education of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Dr Leung Mei-yee. The lectures will be conducted in Cantonese and admission is free. For details, please call 2724 9082.
The Museum of History is located at 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. The museum is closed at 5pm on Christmas Eve and Chinese New Year's Eve. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays) and the first two days of the Chinese New Year.
Admission to 'The French Revolutions" exhibition is $20 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. No free admission on Wednesdays.
Ends/Tuesday, December 16, 2008
A portrait of Louis XVI. This unfortunate king with his strange personality sometimes showed that he could be great in foreign affairs, but at home he was unwilling or unable to undertake the renovation of the monarchy that his enlightened cabinet ministers urged. Weak and indecisive but with surges of violence, he was under the pernicious influence of the queen and her clique. Very religious and obedient to the Pope, Louis XVI could not sincerely adhere to an anti-clerical revolution that was championing "human rights". His character pushed him to continually adopt a double-faced policy which led to his demise. (It is essential that the copyright-by-line of this artwork: Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet appear next to the image.)
This oil painting depicts the Tennis Court Oath which concluded on June 20, 1789. The Estates-General made no progress because of the conservatism of the privileged class. In the face of this impasse, the elected representatives of the Third Estate declared themselves the "National Assembly" on June 17. To counter this revolutionary decision, the court closed the chamber where they met. On June 20, the representatives moved to a tennis court nearby where they swore not to disperse until they had drawn up a constitution for France. (It is essential that the copyright-by-line of this artwork: Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet appear next to the image.)
This oil painting's subject is the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen promulgated in 1789. The declaration claimed that all men were born free and equal in rights, that all social distinctions could be based only on law and that safety and property were sacred. It affirmed religious freedom, freedom of expression (and therefore press freedom) and underlined that resistance to oppression was an undeniable duty. It also obligated the State to guarantee the safety of its citizens. (It is essential that the copyright-by-line of this artwork: Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet appear next to the image.)
The etching records Louis XVI's arrest in Varennes on June 22, 1791. The Assembly ordered Louis XVI to be brought back to Paris and sent envoys on his trail. The royal family was travelling at a very slow pace. Horses had to be changed regularly and it was in one of these stations at Sainte Menehould that the owner of the inn, Drouet, recognised the king. Learning shortly afterwards about the king's flight from Paris, Drouet on horseback caught up with and then overtook the carriage and alerted the local authorities of the next township, Varennes. When the royal family arrived in Varennes at nightfall they were asked to come down from the carriage for document checking. Installed in the shop of the grocer Sauce they were joined by the Assembly's envoys. A huge crowd surrounded the house and when royalist horsemen arrived it was too late to free the king. (It is essential that the copyright-by-line of this artwork: Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet appear next to the image.)
The painting records the execution of Louis XVI on January 21, 1793. The guillotine was standing on the Place de la Revolution. Louis looked at it calmly and climbed the steps without swaying. Once he reached the platform he tried to say a few words to the people but the drums muffled his voice and he was bound to the plank. At 10 hours and 22 minutes his head rolled and the executioner showed it to the public. The cry of "Long Live the Nation" was followed by a dull silence and the crowd dispersed without incident. (It is essential that the copyright-by-line of this artwork: Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet appear next to the image.)
This work records the execution of Queen Marie-Antoinette on October 16, 1793. On that day, Marie-Antoinette was taken to the Place de la Revolution for execution. It has been said that when she walked up to the guillotine she stepped on the foot of the executioner and told him: "Pardon me, sir, I did not mean it". (It is essential that the copyright-by-line of this artwork: Musée Carnavalet / Roger-Viollet appear next to the image.)
Officiating at the opening ceremony of “The French Revolutions” exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of History yesterday (December 16) were (from left) Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Thomas Chow, Consul General of France in Hong Kong and Macau, Mr Jean-Pierre Thébault, Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs, Mrs Carrie Yau, along with Principal Private Secretary to Deputy Mayor of City of Paris in charge of Patrimony, Mrs Cécile Fougère-Cazalé, and Director of Musée Carnavalet, Mr Jean-Marc Léri.
Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs, Mrs Carrie Yau (left), and Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mr Thomas Chow (right), appreciate the exhibits featured at “The French Revolutions” exhibition.