On Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Essay by reilenaCollege, UndergraduateA, March 2008

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Dai Sijie’s first novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, is something that appeals for both Feminist and Marxist readers. It is a story of love, beauty, awakening of desires, romance, literature, and how all these “people” the lives of those involved in the re-education movement in the height of the Cultural Revolution of China in Mao Tse Tung’s reign in the 1970’s.

Part of the reeducation program at that time was the automatic suspicion on intellectuals, who are then sent to provinces or countryside to “cleanse” themselves of their bourgeois ways. Two of the main characters in the story, Luo and the narrator (whose name, as translated in English means "Horse Sword Bell") were sent to the fictional mountain named Phoenix of the Sky to be reeducated by carrying natural fertilizers (i.e. animal dung) on their backs and working in the dangerous copper mines. Luo is a son of a famous dentist, who has been labeled as “an enemy of the state” for once performing dentistry on Chairman Mao’s teeth and for hinting the imperfection of Chairman Mao.

The narrator (we shall address to him as Ma), on the other hand, is a son of a pulmonary physician. Ma is also a gifted musician and is dubbed as “the fiddler” for he plays the violin.

It has been stated in the novel that only the books approved by the government (books about human labor and manpower) is allowed to be read. Upon Luo and Ma’s arrival, the village Chief goes through their possessions, throwing “bourgeois” stuff on the fire and nearly doing the same thing with Ma's violin (thinking it was toy) before Luo convinces him to let Ma play Mozart on it. Ma charms the villagers with the sonata and is allowed to keep his instrument...