Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

The Privilege of Books: (Chinese Week)

In continuation of Chinese week and Mao Tse Tung’s (aka Mao Zedong) tyrannical rule, I would like to recommend a short and poignant book that follows the Great Chinese Famine of 1958-1961 which Lisa See brought to light in Dreams of Joy.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie relates the story of two boys during Mao Tse Tung’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).  In this political/social revolution, intellectuals including scientists, writers, engineers, physicians, and other educated people posed a threat to the government. They, along with anyone in opposition to the government, were persecuted, publicly humiliated, harassed, imprisoned, and even tortured.  Schools were closed, books were banned, and youth were exiled to the peasant mountainous regions to be “re-educated.”

In this book two boys, who are working in the mountains, discover that one of the workers in another village has a secret suitcase full of books. They set about on a quest to obtain the banned books. Once they have them, the world opens up to them again with the writings of Balzac’s Père Goriot, The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, and other classics.  One of the boys begins reading the stories to a little seamstress. Both boys are attracted to her, but Luo soon wins her heart.

Though the circumstances the boys live in are oppressive, the book is not. This book is a quick read with gentle humor and compelling storyline will keep you turning pages.  As I have mentioned before, historical fictions often teach me more than a history class. Cultural Revolution?  Re-education?  Before this book, I don't remember any of that from school.  My ignorance knows no bounds. Thank goodness for historical fictions; they revive the brain cells just a little bit. This book was eye-opening lesson where I realize how lucky we are in many ways, one of them the privilege and access to books.

What about you?  What’s a good book with a setting in China that you have enjoyed? Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer.

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email:


  1. Another book that sounds interesting, you make it hard to choose which one to read first., Thank you.

  2. I really enjoyed this book and again it reminds me how privileged we are.