Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie's first novel, was published in 2000.
Although Dai is a Chinese national, he wrote the novel in French, his second language. The story follows two 'city youths' who are sent to a mountain village to be 're-educated' during China's Cultural Revolution. Although the plot of the novel is fictional, its setting and its details are based on Dai's own life. Like the boys from the novel, Dai was born in Chengdu and was sent to a mountain village to be re-educated at 17, despite his fairly modest origins as a tailor's son. There, he acquired a stolen suitcase full of Chinese translations of Sigmund Freud's work. He used these texts to understand and psychoanalyze the villagers. This situation inspired the suitcase full of classic novels that Luo and the unnamed narrator steal in the book.
The novel received positive reviews, and sold well in Europe and North America. Although it sold 40,000 to 50,000 copies in China, it was not considered a success there. It was ultimately banned in China after officials complained about its portrayal of re-education and the Cultural Revolution. Dai, who had also directed several films prior to writing the novel, adapted it to film in 2002. Like the novel, the film was popular with audiences and critics alike. Dai attempted to film it at the mountain where he was re-educated, but the location proved too difficult for a film crew to access. Ultimately, a nearby village was chosen, and many of its villagers appear in the film as extras.