Chinese collection

Jacques Guillermaz Collection

Jacques Guillermaz
(1911-1998)

Diplomat and military officer, General Jacques Guillermaz was a specialist in 20th century China, in particular the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He was one of the founders of the Centre for Research and Documentation on Contemporary China which he ran until 1976; this centre today is part of the Higher Educational School of Social Sciences (EHESS).

A graduate of the Saint-Cyr Military Academy, he was appointed deputy military attaché in Beijing in May 1937, on the eve of the Japanese invasion, then in Chongqing from 1941 to 1943 when he left China for Algiers. After having taken part in the liberation of France in 1944, he returned to China in 1945 as a military attaché. Posted at Nanking, the location of the Chinese nationalist government headquarters, he witnessed the political takeover by the communists in 1949. He left China in 1951 and was posted to Bangkok for the next two years.

As a close observer of political events in China and its neighbouring countries, he advised the French delegation at the Geneva conference on Vietnam in 1954; on this occasion, he put his relations with the senior representatives of the CCP to good use. Concerned to guarantee France’s political, cultural and economic influence in Asia, he defended the idea of suitable training of specialists in Asia, oriented towards the contemporary period, which went against traditional French sinology which had centred on the study of classical China. In 1958, at the suggestion of the 6th section of the Practical School for Higher Studies (EPHE) — which subsequently became the Higher Educational School of Social Sciences (EHESS) — he agreed to set up and run the Centre for Research and Documentation on modern and contemporary China, around which young researchers and students soon gathered. He ran it until his retirement but remained in the service of the State in his area of competence. His research and educational activities (he gave inter alia lessons on the history of the CCP) continued through to 1976, interrupted twice by diplomatic missions.

In 1964, he was part of the secret mission sent by de Gaulle to Taiwan to inform Chiang Kai-shek of the decision reached in the name of France to recognise the People’s Republic of China. As a military attaché until 1966 in the French diplomatic representation newly established in Beijing, he was one of the rare observers of a country on the eve of the Cultural Revolution.

In the 1970s, with the support of Rhone deputy Jacques Soustelle, he convinced the City Hall and the University of Lyon to save the collections (archives and library) of the Franco-Chinese Institute (1921-1946) and to have them transferred to and curated by the Municipal Library. (1974).

Comprising mainly works in Chinese, his personal library is estimated at 2,500 volumes. It includes monographs, journals, and also a collection of very precious documents about the Cultural Revolution. All these documents concern 20th century China, particularly the history of ideas and political movements, the CCP and also modern Chinese literature and sociology. It reflects his preferred areas of research.

In Memoriam

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