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What if We Share Cultures?

The narrative of Hu starts towards the end of December 1721. When a French Jesuit named Jean François Foucquet is set to depart China with a treasure trove of empirical evidence, technical and linguistic abilities, books and manuscripts, and, not least, progressive views on the worth of Chinese rites, in his perspective. For Father Foucquet staunchly agreed with what the Second Vatican Council would consider being on the side of the angels. He spent his life studying ancient Chinese religion in the hopes of persuading his skeptical higher-ups in Rome that the Chinese version of Catholicism, with its rites and customs, was not contaminated by Taoist superstition and may be allowed to flourish, through careful argument and elaborate commentary. However, Foucquet had a tough time copying the manuscript, and he quickly needed a Chinese secretary. He swiftly asked one of them, John Hu, a 40-year-old widow and convert, the day before his departure. Hu has a dark complexion, is physically unappealing, and has “a desperate expression,” but he doesn’t have time to investigate further: “It’s that Chinaman or nothing at all.” Hu and Foucquet were sailing virtually at high tide.

The venture was a flop. Hu’s narrative in France was a headache for Foucquet from beginning to end. Instead of seeing what could be seen, the prospective secretary declined to study French or even transcribe Chinese, as he was paid to do. On the other hand, Hu showed no signs of assimilating to the society he encountered. For instance, He comes to a lone horse tethered to a post, grabs it, and rides across the countryside. When questioned in Chinese by Foucquet, Hu responds, “Why, if a horse isn’t being utilized, can’t someone else use it?” As the response demonstrates—and the Jesuit never knows whether Hu’s argument is clever or not—the Chinese do not lack words, logic, or an attractive purpose when he chooses to speak. Hu, for example, takes his Christian beliefs very seriously, which causes his master a great deal of bother and discomfort. He bows down at crucifixes, hopscotches over church floors to avoid stepping on cruciform ornamentation, and respects the nuncio as if he were the Chinese emperor. Hu believes in strange hunches, and superstitions, throws open windows in the cold, moves furniture about in strange ways, and harangues Parisian audiences in Chinese, becoming a familiar anomaly in the Marais.

A member of the Charenton staff provides him with a cozy, high-quality blanket to keep him warm during the night. He rips the blanket in half. As a Chinese tourist, Hu had many customs and ideas that were different from European culture. Understandably, some of the stuff he experiences in a foreign land would’ve taken Hu aback. Foucquet, who refused to help him cope with his problems, treated him as a kid and a servant. Hu’s scenes and episodes of disappearance worried Foucquet greatly. He left a note for Argenson, a Paris police lieutenant. Hus’ absence was a breach of his contract with Foucquet, but when Foucquet decided to send Hu to a mental institution, he went through the appropriate processes with zeal. For Foucquet’s associates to feed and accommodate Hu while they waited for four days for the documents to commit him to an asylum, it needed a lot of convincing, two personal visits, and more money than they thought. When the persons supposed to take Hu away arrived, they slipped a pair of manacles around Hu’s wrists and slammed them shut. He was fully aware that Foucquet and others were attempting to dominate him, and he fought back. He did not tear the blanket when the asylum workers gave it to him since he couldn’t stop himself. He explained, “Because it was given to me, the blanket was mine to destroy.” Hu deliberately decided to rip up the blanket in defiance of his captors.

Hu was also prone to acting rashly when confronted with new technologies, such as windmills. He has to jump out and look at anything new whenever he sees it. He must climb up atop a windmill and inspect its structure if one exists. He also believes that men and women should be kept apart. Men and women should be maintained in separate areas; Hu fashioned a little flag with Chinese lettering. By forcing Hu to dress in European clothing, Foucquet can dominate and modify him. If Foucquet wants to keep up with the rich, he’ll have to purchase Hu a suit of European clothing. For the impending fall, he orders Hu a full suite of finely woven, strong material, replete with a tight-fitting over-tunic. While he does wear his new attire and participate in certain parts of European society, he strives to maintain some of his traditional comforts. For example, when he had to sleep in a European bedroom, he found it stifling and disliked the fact that the bed was raised off the ground. He fought with some of the personnel at a hotel where he stayed, but he won in the end. Hu would now sleep on the floor, surrounded by the late summer air.

The priest longs to be free of the Chinese and plots with ambassadors, police lieutenants, and bishops to help him become one less than six months after arriving in France. Hu, still a silent chinese man, was eventually sent to a mental institution at Charenton, where he remained for two years. Finally, another Chinese-speaking Jesuit showed more patience and did not believe Hu was insane. Hu, on the other hand, was enraged because he had not been paid. Hu’s freedom is certain, however, to be fair to Foucquet, who is now a bishop and must defend his treatment of Hu, he acts no less weird upon his release than he did at Charenton or previously. Despite his desire to return home, he was compelled to join boats and ships bound for China. Hu sits under a banyan tree in the fading light, recounting Western stories but not in French, as the narrative concludes.


Spence, J. D. (1988). The question of Hu. In Open WorldCat. Retrieved from


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