Dai Sijie was born in Putian, China in 1954, to a tailor. He spent much of his youth working in his father's shop.
In 1971, Dai was sent to the Sichuan countryside for 'reeducation,' along with three other urban youths whom he knew. They stayed there for three years. Dai's best-known novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, was inspired by his experiences during this period. After completing his 're-education,' Dai studied art history and pursued a career as a filmmaker.
At age 30, Dai received a scholarship to study Western art and cinema in France. After finishing his studies, he remained in France, where he directed three films. Dai had applied to produce each of these films in China, but was refused permits each time.
None of these films proved popular, so Dai turned to writing in 2000, when he published his first novel, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Because he was "chasing an audience," he wrote the novel in French (Riding). The novel received critical acclaim, and has been translated into more than 30 languages. Dai directed the film adaptation himself in 2002. Although Chinese authorities banned the novel, they allowed Dai to film the adaptation there. However, they banned the film after he completed it.
Although Balzac and its film adaptation remain Dai's most stunning successes, he has published several other novels and continues to direct films.