During China’s Cultural Revolution young intellectuals, who were described as men and women that graduated from high school, were sent to the countryside to be re-educated and learn about hard labor. During their re-education men and women were pushed to their limits to endure hard labor. These men and women were also prohibited to have anything reactionary because it was against their Chairman Mao. In Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Luo and Ma, the main characters, are sent to Mountain of the Phoenix of the Sky to be “re-educated by the poor peasants,” but to their surprise they end up educating the peasants and the daughter of the local tailor, the Little Seamstress. Luo and Ma were two of the young men that were sent to the countryside and learn about labor. Although, these two young men only had a middle school education, it can be argued that their presence at Mountain Phoenix was contrary to their re-education.
Instead of Ma and Luo being the students they became the educators and made a big difference in one of the characters life. Luo and Ma served not only as workers, but as educators. Although Luo and Ma only had a middle school education they were sent to re-education because their doctor parents were seen as enemies of the state. During their stay at Phoenix Mountain they befriended Four Eyes who was a young intellectual getting re-educated. Four eyes plays an important role in Luo’s and Ma’s education of the people. Four eyes possess a treasure trove of forbidden reactionary Western novels, which Luo and Ma desired and eventually stole. Ma and Luo stole the novels when Four Eyes was about to leave the mountain, they take the novels with them and fall in love. Another, person that plays an important role in Luo and Ma’s education of the people is the Headman. He sends Ma and Luo on trips to the city to watch movies.
Luo and Ma are sent to watch the movies, but have to return and tell the movie to the people of the mountain. One of the most important characters is the Little Chinese Seamstress. Luo and Ma fall in love with her, but Luo stereotypes her and says she is “not civilized” enough for him. With this being said when Luo and Ma come across Four Eyes books they have the idea of educating the Little Seamstress and teaching her how to read. The books that the boys take from four eyes help them take their mind of where they are and what they are going through, but also help them improve the mentality of the Little Seamstress. The Little Seamstress has lived her whole life in the mountain and doesn’t clearly know what is outside of that area. When the boys read her the stories she imagines a completely different world than the one she is used to. The reader is able to see the impact the novels have on the Seamstress when she starts to make her clothes differently and starts dressing differently.
The Little Seamstress begins to wonder more what is outside of the mountains. She wants to know about other places and different people. When the Headman sends Luo and Ma to the city to watch a movie he does it with an intention of having them fail when they return to explain the movie to the people. To his surprise the boys come back and explain the movie better than anyone and the Headman sends them back every time so they can tell the movie. The boys go so many times that every time they come back they tell the movie better each time. They make the people feel as if they are right their watching the movie. The people become emotional and start crying at times, but that is just a sign that they are entertained by what they are hearing. The way they tell the story helps the people imagine what’s happening and feel the emotion of what’s happening to the characters.
The movie telling becomes a way of entertainment for the people it’s a way of getting their minds out of their everyday tasks. The boys help the people think of new and different things every time they tell a movie. The Luo and Ma made a difference in the other people’s lives without realizing that they did anything. They changed the lives of the people listening to their movies and they changed the life of the little Seamstress. They educated the people listening ot their movies in the sense that they opened their mind to new things, to things that are outside of their surroundings. Luo and Ma may not have taught them how to read or how write but they opened their mind to new things. As the Etymology dictionary explains, to educate means to “bring forth and have a formative effect on the mind.”
Luo and Ma made an effect in the people’s minds by telling them stories that they were able to visualize and feel. The biggest person they had an impact on was the Little Seamstress, they left a big effect on her that it made her want to change and become a new person. Without knowing what they did to her, they opened her mind to new things. The stories left her wanting more, in the sense that she wanted to see what’s out in the world without having to read about it. She not only wanted to read about it but wanted to experience it on her own. The knowledge they gave to her is most noticeable in the end of the novel, when she leaves. Without having the intention of making an impact on her mind they realized that they gave her more than just short stories and novels.
Readers may argue that Ma and Luo did nothing other than what they were told which was to tell the movie, but Ma and Luo did more than just explain what happened in a movie. Ma and Luo acted out a lot of the scenes and tried to be as explanatory as possible. They even went a step farther and made “snow” appear in one of their scenes. Even though they acted out the scenes, people may still argue that one cannot educate others from just acting out a movie. It is true Luo and Ma didn’t teach the people any of the basic skills like reading, writing, and math, but they taught them how to visualize and how to explore a new world outside of theirs. Also, people may argue that they did not educate the Little Seamstress, that they only read her novels. Luo and Ma opened up a door to the Little Seamstress that she has never witnessed before.
Reading her the novels let her imagine images from the novels that she would have never seen before or thought about. They let her imagine and wonder about new things. The Little Seamstress learned about other people, their lives, and what they think about. To her it was something new and out of the ordinary. Luo and Ma taught the people and the Little Seamstress to imagine and feel new things. They were like parents reading a story to their children before bed. In the end when the Little Seamstress leaves she takes notice that she learned something, but she doesn’t acknowledge she learned because of Ma and Luo.
She says, “She had learnt one thing from Balzac,” in this moment she is acknowledging she learned something and that’s the reason she is leaving. If she had not learned anything she wouldn’t be leaving. The Little Seamstress acknowledgement of learning something goes to show that the Ma and Luo did not only go to Phoenix Mountain to get re-educated, but to educate the re-educated.
Without acknowledging that their movie and storytelling would make a difference, the Little Seamstress leaving shows that they did more than just telling stories. They helped the Seamstress gain confidence in her and knowledge, enough to want to leave and explore what is outside of the mountain. As for the people they would tell the movies to they learned that there is more outside their mountain and they learned how to grow their imagination. Luo and Ma were sent to the mountain to gain new knowledge on hard labor, once they were their they did not just learn they taught.
* Harper, Douglas. Online Etymology Dictionary. N.p., Jan. 2001. Web. 4 Nov. 2010.
* Sijie, Dai. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. New York: Anchor Books, 2001. Print.
* Luo and Ma were sent to Mountain of the Phoenix of the Sky to be “re-educated by the poor peasants,” but ended up education the some of the peasents especially the little seamstress.
* Describe what happens in the countryside like why the boys were sent their, how they got a hold of the books, how they met little seamstress and how they decided to educate her. * How the books help the boys with educating the seamstress * How the movie telling helps the boys educate the people * They made a difference without realizing they did anything Refutation:
* People may argue that they didn’t do anything that all they did was follow orders of watching the movie and how does reading to a young lady educate her?
* They educated the people without realizing they opened their eyes and imagination to a new place. It is most convincing that they did anything when the little seamstress leaves and says that what she learned is that a woman’s beauty is a treasure beyond price.