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Daily Drip

China Reacts to the Fire of Notre Dame

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Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three may have hit the big time with their 1984 hip hop classic “The Roof Is on Fire”… but it’s all fun and games until the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral actually lights ablaze in Paris. People everywhere scrambled for a response as clips of the burning roof bounced around the globe.

The cathedral, a feat of centuries-old Gothic architecture, burned for 12 hours on Monday as firefighters struggled to put out the national treasure and people around the world looked on aghast. Unfortunately, so much time elapsed that large portions of the roof burned away to ash and the cathedral’s spire collapsed — officials estimate the structure will now take 10-15 years to rebuild.

Still, Chinese netizens couldn’t help but point out that it wasn’t nearly as bad as the intentional burning of the Summer Palace in 1860 by the French and British.

“180 years ago, China didn’t expect its Summer Palace to be burned. And so far, France has yet to apologize or return those relics,” wrote one Weibo user. “It’s not just narrow-minded patriotism.”

“Notre Dame and the Summer Palace are symbols of civilization in human history,” argues another. “Art has no national boundaries. The collapse of any cultural relic is a pity for the whole world.”

The destruction of the Summer Palace at the hands of French soldiers was, admittedly, a tragedy. The master French author Victor Hugo, who of course penned The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in a letter to a Captain Butler who had asked for Hugo’s opinion on the “honorable and glorious” China expedition, summed up his feelings in no uncertain terms:

“Imagine some inexpressible construction, something like a lunar building, and you will have the Summer Palace. Build a dream with marble, jade, bronze and porcelain, frame it with cedar wood, cover it with precious stones, drape it with silk, make it here a sanctuary, there a harem, elsewhere a citadel, put gods there, and monsters, varnish it, enamel it, gild it, paint it, have architects who are poets build the thousand and one dreams of the thousand and one nights, add gardens, basins, gushing water and foam, swans, ibis, peacocks, suppose in a word a sort of dazzling cavern of human fantasy with the face of a temple and palace, such was this building. The slow work of generations had been necessary to create it […] This wonder has disappeared.”

He added, almost prophetically, that “all the treasures of all our cathedrals put together could not equal this formidable and splendid museum of the Orient.”

Meanwhile, in response to the Notre Dame disaster, the National Palace Museum (the organization that oversees Beijing’s Forbidden City) held an emergency meeting on fire safety on Tuesday. Imperial Palace Manager Wang Xudong issued a statement, describing the preservation and safety of cultural relics as a top priority.

baidu notre dame

Tech giant Baidu has put an interactive tour of the cathedral online using panoramic imaging

Tackling preservation in a slightly different way however, is Chinese tech behemoth Baidu. Their Baike encyclopedia arm’s Museum Project was quick to put a “virtual reconstruction” of the pre-fire cathedral online using panoramic 3D-imaging technology and offering readers the opportunity to “visit” the monument in pre-fire condition from the comfort of their phones.

So for Baidu Baike users, at least we’ll always have Notre Dame… on our phones.

Shalena Adams
    Shalena is an obsessive learner of all things related to East Asian Languages, with a special love for Chinese. When not catching up on the latest Korean or Taiwanese Dramas, she is fiddling with her natural hair or dancing to the rhythms of afrobeat and Caribbean music. You can check out her wild journey on Instagram at @ai_lenaak

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