Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

April 12, 2011
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The desire for literature, language, and culture, are all highlighted in Dai Sigie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress through his flawless writing. The short novel focuses on the re-education of two Chinese boys in a small mountain village. They both have a longing for knowledge, and when they are exposed to a book written by Balzac through their friend, Four-Eyes, they are drawn in by what exists outside of their world constricted by the government. I feel a connection to their passion for learning, and found their story intriguing because I have been so encouraged to learn rather than disregard it. Luo and Ma bring the Chinese re-education to life, and expose the gravity of the ban of foreign books during that time.

Ma arrived in the village with his violin, knowing many pieces by Mozart, and other musical geniuses. When the village found his violin, and Ma played them a piece of music by Mozart on it, they were cautious to accept this foreign object into the village. When they asked about the music he played Luo and Ma explained, “‘Mozart…’ I muttered. ‘Mozart what?’ ‘Mozart is thinking of Chairman Mao,’ Luo broke in,” (Sijie 5). The answer Luo provides is perhaps the only one the villagers would accept. They have only been taught to regard Chairman Mao with high honor, and believe he is the center of their world. Their lack of exposure to books lead them to this belief, enforced by the strict government of China. Even today, Google is closely monitored, banning some search results, and Facebook is banned as well. Luo and Ma, rebel against the government, and steal all of Four-Eyes’ books, and use them to expose both themselves, and the little seamstress to the works of literature.

The books contain valuable information that Ma eventually goes so far as to use it as currency, “The deal we had made was that I would give him our copy of Ursule Mirouët, but upon reflection I decided to extend his reward to include the book I treasured most of all – Jean-Christophe, which had been translated by the same Fu Lei,” (Sijie 173). Ma is forced to bribe a doctor to perform an abortion for the little seamstress, and does so by offering him books. I believe knowledge is a currency, and though it was illegal, I would easily have accepted the books in order to gain knowledge and become more cultured. The whole idea of re-education in China, is a corrupt one, and affected many peoples’ lives for the worst, and allowed many to die without experiencing the wonders of foreign literature, and the exposure to ideas other than those of Chairman Mao’s.

Dai Sijie portrays the environment, the characters, and the situation they are put in flawlessly. He managed to place me in the story so that I could feel the traumatic effects of Chairman Mao’s dictatorship, and his strangling grasp on the culture and influences on the Chinese people. The book impacted my view on the privilege I have to attend a school that is not corrupt and have the opportunity to read the books I like, and have such and educational and cultured life.

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