Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Little Chinese Seamstress and the Big, Bad Government

the New York Times features an article on Da Sijie, the Chinese filmmaker turned novelist turned filmmaker once more. Da Sijie's first novel was the best-selling "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress." He wrote the novel in French; it was a surpise hit, translated into 25 languages.

But although Da Sijie is not a political exile (he still carries a Chinese passport and returns home to China as he wishes), he still has not gained acceptance in his native country. "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" is a semi-autobiographical tale, set during the Cultural Revolution, when like so many other young people, Da Sijie was sent to a remote village in the countryside for "political re-education":
The story takes off when the boys meet "the little seamstress" (played by Xun Zhou in the movie), who helps her grandfather, a local tailor. Both Ma (Ye Liu) and Luo (Kun Chen) fall for her. She loves the attention, but is even more thrilled when the boys find some Chinese translations of Western classics and read the likes of Balzac, Flaubert and Dumas to her. In her mind, she has found the key to freedom.

It was precisely here that Mr. Dai ran up against problems. Chinese authorities banned the book, and then, having allowed him to make the film in China, they also banned the movie. "It wasn't that I touched the Cultural Revolution," Mr. Dai said over lunch in this town west of Paris near studios where he is editing his new movie. "They did not accept that Western literature could change a Chinese girl. I explained that classical literature is a universal heritage, but to no avail."
Not one of Da Sijie's films or literary works is legitimately available in China today (though I'm sure the pirate DVDs will be easy enough to purchase).
"With some money over the last three years, I had a dream that I would be able to write and live in China," he said, "but it hasn't worked out. The censors won't accept my books, films or projects. My dream of writing in my own language has not been fulfilled. It is very sad."

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