I know Kissinger speaks French. I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that Henry Kissinger spoke French with Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiao Ping, but cannot find any reference to it. Nor can I find any reference to any of his written correspondence being in French. I would assume it was. It was the lingua franca of diplomacy, after all. I hope someone can help me verify whether or not Kissinger communicated in French with the above Chinese leaders. I look ward to your feedback.
A weird fact is that a lot of recent Chinese leaders barely spoke what we now call Chinese. When the Communists took over most of China, one of the reforms they instituted was establishing a national language, Putonhua (a modified form of the Northern Mandarin dialect), in 1956. Putonhoa became the official language of China. It was used for government statements, it was taught in schools, and it was the language of mass communications. So most modern Chinese people speak Putonhua.
But the people who led the revolution grew up long before 1956. They grew up speaking their local provincial dialect, many of which were so distinct that often they were unintelligible to people from other parts of China. Mao Zedong (born 1893) spoke Xiang (Hunanese). Zhou Enlai (born 1898) spoke Gan (Jiangsunese). Deng Xiaoping (born 1904) spoke Southwest Mandarin (Sichuanese). Hu Jintao (born 1942) spoke Putonhoa but with a noticeable accent. When Xi Jinping (born 1953) took power in 2012, Chinese media openly noted that he is the first Chinese leader who speaks Chinese (ie Putonhoa) as his native language.
Thanks Leo Bloom. That makes sense. I have never seen any interview with Kissinger conducted French. I haven’t been able to find film footage on youtube of him talking to reporters in Paris during the Vietnam War where his announcements aren’t dubbed over by narrators. Perhaps he spoke only English to the reporters, other than just occasionally.
Thanks Little Nemo. For my reading Mao Ze Dong spoke Putonghua (Mandarin) badly, as did many other Chinese leaders. Zhu Enlai and Deng Xiao Ping spent their formative years in France. I don’t know how well they spoke English. Perhaps they needed interpreters at all times.
Is there any evidence of this? I did some web searches just now and couldn’t find any clips of him speaking French, even when he’s being interviewed by French reporters for French TV. If he does speak French but doesn’t consider himself fluent enough to talk to journalists, then I don’t see why he would conduct diplomacy in French.
(Incidentally, and perhaps not so surprisingly, it is not hard to find videos of him speaking German.)