Discovering Mao’s Cultural Revolution through Books and Film

I read Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie soon after its English translation came out in 2002.  A few years later in 2005, we drove about sixty miles to see the Mandarin language film with English subtitles. Checking Amazon recently, I saw 344 customer reviews with an average of 4.2 out of 5 stars for the novel. The film had a 4.5 average.

This short novel spent twenty-three weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. The author, born in China, moved to France where he learned to read, speak, and write French. The book was originally written in French and translated into English by Ina Rilke.

The story is about two likable, teenage boys and their struggle after being banished to a peasant village for “re-education” during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Sons of doctors and dentists, the boys work at muscling buckets of excrement up the mountainside and mining coal. Then there is the little seamstress of the title, whom Luo, one of the boys, falls in love with. He dreams of transforming the seamstress from a simple country girl into a sophisticated lover. He succeeds beyond his expectations, but the result is not what he expected.

Discover more about Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China through Joan Chen’s film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl and Anchee Min’s memoir Red Azalea. Joan Chen’s film earned high marks on Rotten Tomatoes from both critics and the audience.  Min’s Red Azalea was a national bestseller. The Vogue Review said, “”The book sings. It is a small masterpiece. . . [No one] has written more honestly and poignantly than Anchee Min about the desert of solitude and human alienation at the center of the Chinese Communist revolution.”  The New York Times called it “[An] extraordinary story. . . . This memoir of sexual freedom is [both] a powerful political as well as literary statement.” And the Miami Herald said Min’s memoir was “Brave and heartbreaking.”

The best way to learn about the Mao era in Chinese history is to read it from those who were there and lived through it; not from some foreigner that wasn’t there and/or has never been to China.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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3 Responses to Discovering Mao’s Cultural Revolution through Books and Film

  1. […] In fact, understanding how the past determines the future will also help you understand why Mao caused so much suffering with his failed Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution. […]

  2. Behind the Story says:

    I loved Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and Red Azaleas. Reading these two excellent novels is one of the best ways to understand the Cultural Revolution.

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