In his award-winning work of fiction, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, largely based on his own experience, Dai Sijie expresses the harsh realities of re-education in China during the Cultural Revolution of the mid 1960’s-1970’s. Re-education involved young adults being forced to leave school in order to work with peasants. In the book, the narrator mentioned that he had “not enjoyed the privilege of studying at an institution for advanced education.” The education and experiences you will have at WashU are invaluable and it is a true privilege to not only get the opportunity to learn from professors in a classroom setting but also your peers on a daily basis. The Common Reading Program combines both of these learning environments as it invites you to take part in a discussion with your floor and be guided by a dynamic faculty member. It serves as the first of many traditions to help create a community in which the privilege of education is uncensored and thrives. You will get the chance to spend time with your residential college through countless traditions, feel the uniqueness of your new home while cheering as loud as you can at Convocation, get to know new people through Bear Beginnings and WUSA hours, and feel supported by the caring people you will meet.
The language in this novel comes alive to demonstrate the exact sensation the very real characters feel– the power of literature. As this book expresses, once in the hand of the reader, the influence of literature cannot be suppressed. Sijie cleverly uses a seemingly unfamiliar experience to spark discussions on very relatable and necessary topics such as accessible education, gender and women’s rights, what it means to be an adult, censorship, freedom of expression, and social class. His book expresses universal themes that are extremely empowering and warrant discussion.
College will be a transformative experience for all of you, and we look forward to being a part of it. To paraphrase Sijie, a tiny glimmer of hope for the future can transform someone so utterly. It is my hope that at WashU, you gain the confidence of Luo, the love of stories of the narrator, the genuineness of the Little Seamstress, and the warmth of the elderly miller. I look forward to having you meet all of these characters, and discussing the impact with your peers as you begin the privilege of studying at this amazing institution for advanced education.