Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is another book I have also seen as a film. I really enjoyed the film, but I enjoyed the book more. Somehow I missed the humour in the film; perhaps it is a little too gentle and subtle, but in the book I much appreciated it.
The book is set in a mountain village during the Cultural Revolution. Two boys from intellectual families are sent to be re-educated by working in the countryside. They take a cheerful and robust approach - courting the beautiful daughter of the local seamstress with readings from Western classics they've found hidden in a suitcase under the bed of another emigré. Much is made of the differences between urban and rural; not just in terms of living conditions and hygiene but also in beliefs in how the world works. For instance, it is generally accepted by everyone in the village that toothache is caused by the worms that tunnel into teeth.
Judging from my reading of this era, the seemed to two completely different sorts of people in China at this time, and they had very little to do with each other. This is perhaps one reason why Chairman Mao decided on his policy of re-education - sending the sophisticated urban intellectuals to experience, at first hand, the extremely hard life of the rural population (although Gao Anhua says it was also to alleviate the urban unemployment).