The unnamed narrator of the novel is a thoughtful, intellectual 17-year-old who is sent to the countryside for re-education during China's Cultural Revolution. He lives there with his best friend Luo. He falls in love with the Little Seamstress but never acts on it, and is transformed by the power of literature. In some translations of the novel and in the film adaptation, the character's name is identified as Ma.
Luo is the narrator's childhood friend who travels to the countryside with him for re-education. His father is a famous dentist who once worked on Chairman Mao's teeth, but is now a class enemy. Unlike the narrator, Luo is outgoing and theatrical, and is less pensive. He becomes the Little Seamstress's boyfriend.
the village headman
The village headman is the authoritarian head of the narrator and Luo's mountain village. He controls the work schedule and occupies a privileged position in the village social hierarchy. He frequently threatens to report the narrator and Luo for various offenses, but also has a human side – he enjoys music and is fascinated by Luo's alarm clock.
The Little Seamstress is the beautiful daughter of a tailor from a neighboring village. Unlike many of the villagers, she can read and write, although her abilities are limited. She has a bold personality and is fascinated by city ways.
The tailor is the Little Seamstress's father. He is loud and brash, but also good-natured. Because his skills are always in demand, he frequently visits other villages.
Four-Eyes is a city youth who is being re-educated in a village near that of Luo and the narrator. Though he is initially friendly with them, he is stingy about sharing the books that he keeps in a locked suitcase, and later reveals that does not care much for them at all.
Four-Eyes's mother is an elegant, worldly poet whose work is famous in her home province. She arrives on the mountain to fetch her son.
the police officer
The police officer from Yong Jing was fired for sleeping with two women. The narrator unsuccessfully asks him for advice about procuring an abortion for the Seamstress.
The elderly Christian preacher in Yong Jing was forced to take a job as a street sweeper after the Red Guard found his Latin Bible. The narrator tries to approach him for advice about the Seamstress's abortion, but finds him dying of cancer.
The middle-aged gynecologist from Yong Jing agrees to perform the Little Seamstress's abortion after the narrator promise to give him a Balzac novel as payment.
Though Chairman Mao never directly appears in the novel, his influence is everywhere. As the head of both the government and the Communist Party, Mao has established the authoritarian principles of the Cultural Revolution.
Four elderly sorceresses who live near Yong Jing are recruited to both save Luo from malaria and later to perform an exorcism before Four-Eyes's goodbye banquet.
the elderly miller
The elderly miller lives near the narrator and Luo's village, and teaches them songs that they give to Four-Eyes, hoping to procure books in exchange. They are enamored of his singing, though do not enjoy his lice-ridden home.
Several young men from the Little Seamstress's village wish to marry her, and attack the narrator when he keeps her separate from them.
Though Fu Lei never appears directly in the novel, his influence as the Chinese translator of Balzac is important to the narrator.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The Seamstress’s choice to leave without warning, is in many ways inspired by the boys themselves. For much of the book, Dai seems to implicitly approve of Luo's patronizing attempts to 'educate' the girl. Though he certainly feels real affection...