Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

This paper reviews an unusual novel written in French by Dai Sijie, “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”. He describes it as a playful, fable-like fairytale about life in Communist China.

This paper explains that Communist China is not at all a bad place to set a fairytale because there are several important elements to a good fairytale, including he “once upon a time” element, the involvement of royalty, good and evil characters, magic, a problem, a happy ending, and the heroes and heroines are almost always living under adverse conditions. The author points out that the story revolves around two thoroughly modern, young bourgeois men placed in a re-education camp in Communist China. The paper concludes that one of the reasons that the novel works is that the world of the Communist China is shrouded in mystery to many of us in the Western world just as “the beautiful palace that has been cut off from the world for a thousand years” terrifies us.
“Another important element of the story, with regards to the setting, is magic in relationship to Communist China and the re-education camps. China is almost like the Arthurian Europe so many of Western fairytales. It is a place where palaces are still built, people labor in the fields. It seems to be unmoved and unchanged, from the perspective of outsiders. It is a place stuck in time, much like the settings of many fairytales. Case in point, Sleeping Beauty, the princess is asleep for one hundred years and the world around her has barely changed at all; only the characters change. Fairytales are set in places where time does not seem to matter. Communist China is one of those places. The bonus, of course, is that dragons, an important element to many fairytales, is still alive and well in China. Much of the magic that lives in the world of fairytales, lands that exist outside of time, has some how disappeared from the land where time seems to go by so fast. So in a place like Communist China, in a location like a re-education camp, magic is still alive and well.”

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