Hannibal Free Public Library
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
July 25, 2011
In 1971, as Mao's Cultural Revolution sweeps over
1. What does Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress reveal about the nature and purpose of
2. Why have the narrator's and Luo's parents been named “enemies of the people?” What were their crimes? How does this classification affect the fate of the two boys? Why did
Early in the novel, the narrator says,
"The only thing Luo was really good at
was telling stories…" [p. 18]. Is he
right about the marginal status of the
storyteller in the modern world? In what ways
is this novel an argument for the importance
4. When the narrator first reads Ursule Mirouet, he is transformed by Balzac's story. What is it that enables him to identify so strongly with characters and situations he has never experienced? What does his experience suggest about the power of literature? In what ways does Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress exert a similar power on its readers?
5. What is the ironic result of Luo’s success in making the Little Seamstress more sophisticated? What does the novel suggest about attempting to change others according to one's own beliefs or desires?
6. In what ways does
7. Why does Four Eyes object to the authentic mountain songs Luo and the narrator bring back from the old miller? How does he alter them to make them politically correct? What ironies are involved in the effort to make peasant culture conform to communist ideals?
8. When Luo later burns Four Eyes' novels, it is the characters, rather than the books, that seem to go up in flames. Why does he regard these books as being so alive?
9. When the tailor and the Little Seamstress come to stay at the house on stilts, the narrator observes, "It would evidently take more than a political regime, more than dire poverty to stop a woman from wanting to be well dressed: it was a desire as old as the world, as old as the desire for children." [p. 122] Do you agree with this statement? Are such desires inspired by cultural pressures or inherent in human nature? What does this passage suggest about a political system's ability to shape and control a people's basic wishes?
10. When Luo suffers a bout of malaria, the narrator is called upon to tell a story: "I embarked on the strangest performance of my life. In that remote village tucked into a cleft in the mountain where my friend had fallen into a sort of stupor, I sat in the flickering light of an oil lamp and related the North Korean film for the benefit of a pretty girl and four ancient sorceresses" [p. 39]. Why are the rural Chinese so fascinated by film, or the stories they tell? What does this scene suggest about the convergence—and compatibility or incompatibility—of ancient and modern ways of life?
Adapted from: http://www.readinggroupguides.com/guides3/balzac_and_the_seamstress1.asp