The Impact of Education and Literature in "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress".

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The Impact of Education and Literature in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was published in 2000 by Dai Sijie a Chinese-French author and filmmaker. The novel was based on the author’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution when he was sent to a re-education camp in rural Sichuan from 1971 to 1974. The story is about two male teenagers in their late adolescence being sent to a small farming village to be re-educated during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. At the same time, the story highlights the absurdity and irony of “re-education” during the Cultural Revolution. Throughout the story, characters are aware of the power of education and literature and use it as means to influence others: Mao denied the population education and literature to restore his influence in China, Luo and the narrator intellectually liberated themselves through Four-eye’s literature novels, and they transformed the Little Seamstresses through exposing her to foreign literature.

Mao initiated the Cultural Revolution movement to regain his former political control in communist China through the crackdown of intellectuals and the permanent banning of education and foreign literature. Since the failure of the Great Leap Forward, a five year campaign aimed at accelerating industrialization in China, and his resignation as State Chairman, Mao’s prestige within the CCP party slowly faded into obscurity as moderates reformers successfully revived the damaged Chinese economy. Mao was fully aware that his failed and disastrous policies had lost the respect and support of the intellectuals who were slowly asserting their control over China through specialized knowledge, undermining his control in China and the Chinese government. In a desperate attempt to restore his control, Mao initiated the Cultural Revolution to purge opposing party members and intellectuals in the country and to permanently ban education and foreign literature. In the story, the narrator and Luo were sent to rural China to be “re-educated” and both their parents who specialized in medicine were declared enemies of the state and publicly humiliated by the Communist state. By denying the population access to education and foreign literature and creating widespread illiteracy, Mao had re-established his political control in China.

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Despite being trapped in the re-education camp, the narrator and Luo found spiritual and intellectual liberation from foreign literature novels which were locked in Four-eye’s suitcase. The narrator is highly enlightened by Balzac’s novel. He discovers “awakening desire, passion, impulsive action, love, all the subjects that had, until then, been hidden” (57). Four-eye’s locked suitcase of literature novel is a symbolic of the authorities’ obligation to limit education in order to maintain their control over the population. The narrator also reveals how the ideas from literature novels influenced his philosophy. His quote “Jean-Christophe...fierce individualism...untainted by malice...was a salutary revelation. ...

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