On Sunday we spent the afternoon at Glamour Bar. No, not to drink cocktails, but for a much more noble purpose: to attend Dai Sijie’s session at the Shanghai International Literary Festival (SILF). The session was in French only, and Dai talked about “la part personnelle d’implication dans l’écriture” (to what extend one can use one’s personal experiences in one’s writings).
Dai Sijie (戴思杰) is obviously the ideal guest to talk about this kind of topic. He was born in Fujian province in 1954, and when he was a student, he was sent in a reeducation camp in Sichuan from 1971 to 1974. He then came back to his studies (mainly art history and cinema), and thanks to a scholarship went to Paris (where he still lives) to study at the IDHEC (a prestigious cinema school). He directed his first movie in 1989: Chine, Ma Douleur (China, My Sorrow), which received several awards. Then he directed Le Mangeur De Lune and Tang, Le Onzième. His first novel Balzac Et La Petite Tailleuse Chinoise (Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress, in English), published in 2000, was turned into a movie (2002). He wrote his second book Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch (Le Complexe De Di) in 2003 and just finished his third one, Par Une Nuit Où La Lune Ne S’est Pas Levée which was published in France last January. His latest movie, Les Filles Du Botaniste, was released in 2006.
Over the course of 90 minutes, Dai Sijie told us, in almost perfect French, how he uses his personal anecdotes and past experiences in his books. For example, he had a Chinese friend back in the 1980s, who was deeply interested in psychoanalysis. He came all the way to France and asked Dai to find him a good shrink to analyze him for three years, three times a week, and of course … for free. Dai found one (yes, apparently you can find such a person), and his friend, who couldn’t speak French, got analyzed by a French guy who couldn’t speak Chinese. This anecdote is in Mr. Muo’s Travelling Couch, in which the main character is a Chinese man who, after being analyzed in France, comes back to China, and plans to be the first Chinese psychoanalyst.
Also, when Dai was in a reeducation camp in rural Sichuan in 1971, he discovered a stolen suitcase full of books from Freud, translated into Chinese. He read them all and practised by analyzing all the villagers. Sounds familiar? Well, in Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress, the two male characters find a suitcase full of classics of French and Russian Literature.
One of the questions the audience asked Dai concerned the Chinese translations of his books, and whether they were successful in China. For Balzac, only between 40,000-50 000 copies were sold (it is considered a success when 100,000 copies or more are sold) . And of course, the book begins with a note from the publisher, saying that Dai Sijie, a poor intellectual who fled to France, is having a very hard time being a successful writer. His movies are forbidden in China, at least officially. Last month, we found China, My Sorrow on DVD, on which Dai Sijie, after his talk, proudly wrote a dedication.