Who is Dai Sijie?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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Dai Sijie, born in China in 1954, is an author and filmmaker who is particularly famous for his novel Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, a book about two young men who undergo a period of re-education during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Much like the two young men in the story, Sijie was re-educated between the years of 1971 and 1974. During those years he spent time working in a camp in a rural part of the Sichuan province. After his re-education, Dai Sijie completed high school and university in China. As a student, he focused his studies on art history.

In 1984, Sijie departed from China and went to France on a scholarship. In France, he began his career as a film director and writer. He directed the film Chine, ma douleur which translates to China, My Sorrow, which was released in 1989. He also directed Le Mangeur de lune and Tang, le onzième.


Sijie’s first novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, was originally penned in French under the title Balzac et la Petite Tailleuse chinoise. It is quite clear upon comparing the events in the novel to the author’s biography that there is a good deal of auto-biography in the book. In Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, the main character and his friend Luo gain access to a secret store of contraband European novels. Although possessing or reading such novels is a serious offense under the rule of the Maoist government, the boys are so taken with the works of fiction that they hazard the risk. They spend many hours reading these forbidden texts in the back room of a tailor’s shop which is manned by a young seamstress, with whom they are both in love.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress became a national bestseller in America. It has been translated into 25 languages and distributed internationally. However, it has not been translated into Chinese and is banned in China. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress was adapted into a movie which was released in 2005. The author wrote the screenplay for the film and directed it as well.

The author’s second novel, Le Complexe de Di won the Prix Femina in 2003. In 2007, Dai Sijie published a new novel, Par une nuit où la lune ne s'est pas levée. He currently lives and works in Paris, France.


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