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The prince and his passion

Updated: 2012-10-09 09:50
By Mei Jia ( China Daily)
The prince and his passion
A color plate from Le Gall's latest novel The Path to Venice: The Journey of Young Prince Houpili to the West.

Philippe Le Gall's latest novel The Path to Venice: The Journey of Young Prince Houpili to the West, is a well-crafted fictional romance between a Chinese prince and a Venetian baroness that ends without even beginning.

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In contrast to Marco Polo's journey, Houpili, the descendant of the Ming royal family, starts a sojourn in the 1910s to Venice, where he fails to meet the rebellious Baroness Paola Pia, the woman with whom he has been exchanging letters and love, and has been longing to know.

"It's like East and West dialogue in a special situation," Le Gall says.

Paola Pia is a frivolous woman, who seeks sensual pleasure. But deep down she craves the true meaning of love and life, although she is suspicious of religion and truth. She is caught up in her decadent pursuits until one day, she hears the news that her mansion is to be reclaimed by the descendent of its builder, a Chinese prince.

On the other side of the world, Houpili leaves China with resolution and disappointment at the state his country is in. During his voyage, he starts writing to the baroness and a desire grows in him to meet the lady.

When he finally arrives, however, he finds that she has passed away, leaving him to imagine about their brief connection 60 years later in the mansion.

"The novel is written in typical classical style, and the description and depiction of Chinese people and things are genuine and touching," says Liu Jipeng of China Central Television (CCTV).

Le Gall structures the story mainly on two interactive paralleling lines: the baroness' conversations with her priest, and Houpili's monologue. The background is peppered with the historical events of the 1910s.

"Both Venice and China were awaiting huge changes. I'd praise the writer for giving history a true and objective touch that represents China accurately," says scholar Ye Xingsheng.

Le Gall says he was inspired by his personal connection with descendents of two prestigious Chinese families overseas and the stories of the navigator Zheng He in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

"I am more interested in a romance, and to a certain extent in a tragic romance, than in a love story with happy ending," he says.

"I want to invite the readers to board Houpili's junk and accompany him through his journey and get acquainted with his proud and fiercely independent personality and the amusing and - maybe for some people - shocking temper of the baroness."

Le Gall believes that Houpili's journey, the fact that the heir of a Chinese dynasty moves to Venice, is itself a compliment and maybe even an act of forgiveness toward Old Europe, especially after what it had done to China since the 1840s.

"I also think that if 500 years ago, in return for the hospitality extended to Marco Polo and among others, the West had warmly invited and welcomed distinguished Chinese visitors and missions, it could have accelerated the awakening of some European nations in particular to build a win-win dialogue between the two sides," he says.

The novel will be turned into a cartoon and published in mid-November in a magazine and online, and as a book around early 2013.

"Writers are great opportunists. I suddenly realized that I could reach an incredibly larger audience through animation," Le Gall says.

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