Date
18 July 2019
Smoke rises from the burning spire on the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday. The damage the Notre Dame has sustained not only represents a tragic loss for the French but also for mankind as a whole. Photo: Reuters
Smoke rises from the burning spire on the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Monday. The damage the Notre Dame has sustained not only represents a tragic loss for the French but also for mankind as a whole. Photo: Reuters

Rebuilding a symbol of civilization relies on civilized attitude

The entire world was shocked on Monday as the 850-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was engulfed in a raging inferno, resulting in the collapse of its spire and most of its rooftop.

As French President Emmanuel Macron has put it, the fire was a “terrible tragedy”.

Luckily, through the dauntless efforts of French firefighters, the two iconic bell towers and the main structure of the cathedral were saved, amid the devastating flames.

Badly damaged but still standing tall, the Notre Dame Cathedral, we believe, would rise again like a phoenix from the ashes in the not-too-distant future.

In fact, huge donations from several French tycoons were already pouring in for the reconstruction of the cathedral even before Macron announced an international fundraising campaign. And money from around the world for the rebuilding efforts is likely to keep coming.

But just as the French people are discussing how to rebuild their Gothic masterpiece, news has emerged from mainland China that some netizens were gloating over the Notre Dame blaze.

According to news reports, some mainlanders mocked that the fire could have been karma on the French people for invading Beijing and burning down the Old Summer Palace, or Yuanming Yuan, together with the British, during the Second Opium War back in 1860.

Such unpleasant online rhetoric has immediately come under fire from CCTV.com, which published an article criticizing those who are spreading the karma theory regarding the Notre Dame fire for being narrow-mindedly nationalistic.

The article went on to remind the mainland public that it is okay to be patriotic, but it is equally important to stay rational at the same time.

We totally agree. We just can’t see any justification for drawing a parallel between the Notre-Dame fire in Paris and the destruction of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing nearly 160 years ago.

True, the Anglo-French coalition forces were responsible for setting the Old Summer Palace on fire during the 1860 invasion, which remains a national trauma that is still haunting Chinese people even to this day.

However, we mustn’t overlook the historical fact that the British and French troops actually only set fire to a small portion of the palace.

And the main reason why the entire 350-hectare imperial garden was eventually laid to waste is that the Qing government, as well as the succeeding Beiyang and Kuomintang regimes, all completely neglected the site in the 100 years following the Anglo-French invasion.

As a result, the remaining part of the palace was simply allowed to be continuously looted, its building materials removed, and its magnificent buildings including towers and pavilions demolished to make way for agriculture and fish farming for generations, thereby making it virtually impossible to restore this pinnacle of ancient Chinese architecture.

CCTV.com was definitely right: civilizations don’t emerge overnight. And no matter whether it is the Summer Palace or the Notre Dame Cathedral, such works are the ultimate embodiment of the wisdom, creativity, and craftsmanship of those who built them centuries ago.

As such, the enormous damage the Notre Dame has sustained not only represents a tragic loss for the people of Paris and France, but also for mankind as a whole.

If we look at it from a different angle, taking pleasure in the loss that mankind has suffered is without doubt an uncivilized act.

Also uncivilized are some mainland online scammers who, as reported by mainland media, posed as contractors for the Notre Dame reconstruction project and tried to cheat people, at 1,000 euros (US$1,125) per person, in the name of raising funds for the rebuilding initiative.

The Notre Dame is undoubtedly a symbol of civilization. Rebuilding it hinges on a civilized attitude.

And while the French people are eagerly rallying behind efforts to rebuild their sacred national treasure, we believe the Chinese people should at least avoid expressing joy over the catastrophe.

Mainland authorities must also crack down on online donation scams relating to the Notre Dame fire in order not to disrupt genuine fundraising initiatives for the reconstruction plan.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 17

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

JC/CG

Hong Kong Economic Journal

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe