As China joined the rest of the world over the weekend in mourning and solidarity over armed attacks that killed at least 129 people in Paris, Chinese who were there Friday night talked about the traumatic ordeal.
Zhang Lingfei and her friend, another Chinese student, were dining at an eatery close to Le Petit Cambodge, a Cambodian restaurant where a gunman opened fire with a Kalashnikov, killing at least 14 people sitting at the outdoor terrace in the popular Charonne area in the capital’s 10th district.
“When one of the staff at the restaurant told us that there was a shooting in the nearby restaurant, we were not very scared at first,” Zhang, in her 20s, told China Daily.
“But through the window, I saw many people running very rapidly along the road. Some ran into the nearest store or restaurant.
“We suddenly realized that the situation was severe. We backed away from the window immediately and went to the ground floor with other customers and staff.
“We all hid inside and heard loud bangs, which were believed to be gunshots. We were very nervous since this was the first time we had encountered such a situation.”
Another Chinese visitor, Liu Zheng, who works for Pro-Health (China), said more than 1,200 employees of the healthcare product firm on a visit to Paris were there during the horrific night, the newspaper reported.
“It was the biggest Chinese tour group in Paris on Friday,” Liu said.
The visitors had dinner in a Chinese restaurant very close to the Bataclan concert hall, where dozens died.
“Today I went outside for the first time since Friday’s attacks in Paris,” Edna Zhou, an overseas Chinese living in the city, wrote Sunday afternoon on social networking site Instagram.
“As I passed through Trocadero, there was a beautiful sunset, and the tourists were out again taking photos, as were the hawkers with their toys, and the couples in the park making out — and I thought, ‘It seems like life is returning to normal.’”
“But then I got to the 11eme, and passed La Belle Équipe, where people died on Friday night, and there were so many people gathered around, laying flowers and lighting candles, and I felt so much pain all around.”
The 11eme, or 11th Arrondissement, is the most heavily populated area in Paris, where at least five of the attacks took place, some just blocks from where the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo was hit in January.
Nineteen people were cornered and killed at La Belle Équipe.
Other sites attacked in the neighborhood, comparable in scale and sensibility to the East Village of Manhattan, included the Cafe Bonne Bière, where at least five people died; the Comptoir Voltaire, where a suicide bomber struck; and the storied Bataclan concert hall, where gunmen killed 89 people at a rock concert, the New York Times reported.
No Chinese nationals have been identified among those killed in the terrorist attacks, the Chinese Embassy to France confirmed Monday, although a Chinese national was injured in the attacks and hospitalized.
France, by far the dream global destination for Chinese tourists, welcomed 2.2 million visitors from the mainland last year, a jump from 1.7 million the year before.
Rising incomes, cheaper flights and easing visa restrictions have turned French holidays from a luxury commodity into a mainstream Chinese consumer experience, research from the Financial Times shows.
The People’s Daily reported there were 40 groups of Chinese tourists in Paris at the time of the catastrophic attacks.
An estimated 700,000 overseas Chinese and 25,234 students from China and Hong Kong live in France, statistics from Slate and UNESCO show.
“I don’t feel angry, just really sad,” said Lei Xing, a Beijinger who moved to Paris with her husband in 2006.
Lei told the South China Morning Post she was at her suburban home, watching television, when she heard the news.
“Paris was like a dead city on Saturday,” she said.
On the Chinese internet, ‘Paris attacks’ and ‘Pray for Paris’ posts were the hottest topics on Weibo, the vast majority of comments sympathetic and supportive.
“Be strong, Paris! These terrorists are crazy, otherwise they would not kill innocent people with their hail of bullets,” said one poster.
“We all want to live in peace. I just hope this will not happen again.”
Another said: “Even though we are in different locations, use different languages and have different cultures, we share the same feelings.
“I pray for you and pray that there will be no suffering and separation in the future.”
Other comments veered towards ruined travel plans.
“You can’t go to Europe now. France is in chaos,” said one user.
“I won’t go to Europe any more,” said another. “It’s too scary.”
“Paris is a battlefield,” said yet another.
Over the weekend, “Eiffel Tower closed indefinitely” started trending.
Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping condemned the attacks in Paris.
“At a sorrowful moment for the French people, I, on behalf of the Chinese government and the Chinese people, and personally, condemn in the strongest terms the barbaric acts,” he told French President François Hollande by phone.
In Hong Kong, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying expressed his condolences.
“Hong Kong stands resolutely behind the people of France and condemns these barbaric acts of terrorism against humanity,” he said.
“Our thoughts are very much with the French people at these very difficult times and with their friends and families.”
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