Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

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Book and Author

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress:  China–at the height of the Cultural Revolution.  Two boys–relocated to a remote village and forced to work like peasants.  One remarkable discovery–a hidden stash of Western classics.  Suddenly, their lives will never be the same again. Published in 2001, 197 pages.

dai sijieDai Sijie: Born in China in 1954, Dai Sijie is a filmmaker who was himself “re-educated” between 1971 and 1974. In 1984, he left China for France on a scholarship. There, he acquired a passion for movies and became a director. His first book, the semi-autobiographical Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse chinoise (Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress) (2000), was made into a 2002 movie, which he himself adapted and directed.   For more about his life go to

Quote from the book: 

I was carried away, swept along by the mighty stream of words pouring from the hundreds of pages. To me it was the ultimate book: once you had read it, neither your own life nor the world you lived in would ever look the same.


Topics for discussion that this book will bring up include:

  • The way it portrayed China’s Cultural Revolution and the way the group members reacted to they way it portrayed this historical event.
  • The role of storytellers in our societies–as the narrator of the book states: “The only thing Luo was really good at was telling stories. A pleasing talent to be sure, but a marginal one, with little future in it. Modern man has moved beyond the age of the Thousand-and-One-Nights, and modern societies everywhere, whether socialist or capitalist, have done away with the old storytellers—more’s the pity.”
  • The power of books to transform–as Luo says “With these books I shall transform the Little Seamstress. She’ll never be a simple mountain girl again”.

More discussion questions are available from


This book lends itself to celebrating the culture and cuisine of China at your meeting.

Suggested snacks from Buttery Books

Suggested snacks from Buttery Books

Check out this post from Buttery Books for ideas on how to decorate, music to play, food to serve, and things to talk about at your meeting.

For more about the Chinese Cultural Revolution you may want to check out these books and DVDs from our collection.

We also have a DVD copy of the movie Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: A Tailor Made Romance–which was written and directed by the Dai Sijie himself.  Your group might want to plan a movie night to watch the movie and compare it with the book.  By the way, the dialogue in in Chinese with English subtitles.


Have you or your book group read Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress?  Would you recommend it to other groups?  Write a comment on this post to share your thoughts with other book group members.