Episode 5: Balzac and the Chinese Cultural Revolution
In this episode of East Asia for All, we discuss Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, a semi-autobiographical film based on a novel of the same name by Chinese-French author and filmmaker Dai Sijie. The film recounts Dai's experiences as young man from an intellectual family sent to rural Sichuan during China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Both within and outside of China, the Cultural Revolution remains a controversial topic. Marked by political struggles in the upper echelons in the Chinese Communist Party, but also political struggle at the grassroots, the Cultural Revolution is often characterized as a violent uprising in which the youth were manipulated by Chairman Mao to help him grasp at power before his death in 1976.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress begins in the early 1970s, and like many of the sources available to English-speaking audiences, is told from the perspective the young, urban protagonists, Ma and Luo, who fear never being able to escape the countryside and return to their home, Chengdu. In this way, the film conforms to a genre of post-Cultural Revolution literature which emphasizes the pain and suffering of the intellectual class. However, it also provides a point of entry for thoughtful reflections on the rural-urban divide and the daily lives of sent-down youth.
We are thrilled to be joined on today's episode by Dr. Emily Honig and Dr. Chris Connery of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Dr. Honig is a professor of history whose research focuses on twentieth-century China, including gender and sexuality during the Cultural Revolution and the sent-down youth movement. Dr. Connery is a professor of literature and cultural studies whose research includes the global 1960s and the Cultural Revolution.
You can find this EAFA episode on the iTunes store or stream it below. Thanks for listening!
- Blue Sky Bones by Cui Jian (trailer, IMDB, and douban review)
- Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era, edited by Xueping Zhong, Zheng Wang, and Bai Di
- 11 Flowers (IMDB)