This map plots the settings and references in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
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The setting for Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a remote village at the base of the fictional Phoenix of the Sky mountain in southwestern China, near Tibet. The village is very primitive, and has little contact with the outside world. The neighboring mountains are described as having jagged peaks and unforgiving terrain. The local people are farmers and miners, and many live in stilt houses.
The author, Dai Sijie, was born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, and he himself was sent for re-education in rural Sichuan. Therefore it is reasonable to assume the setting is somewhere in Sichuan. The Province is mountainous in the west, while the fertile Sichuan Basin in the east is a major agricultural center, producing rice, wheat and other grains.
Pol Pot was the Cambodian revolutionary who, as leader of the Khmer Rouge, the Radical Communist party in Cambodia, was responsible for the deaths of between two and four million Cambodians. He banished citizens to the countryside to work in forced labor camps where many were executed and buried in mass graves.
Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China. Chengdu is one of the most important economic, transportation, and communication centers in Western China. Its population is currently upward of seven million, according to the 2010 census.
Beijing, formerly known as Peking, is the capital of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Located in a basin in Northeastern China, Beijing is subject to harsh winters and stifling summers. In Chinese, Beijing literally means "Northern Treasure."
Today, Beijing is one of China's biggest and most urbanized cities, having benefited from China's economic miracle. The city hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately, Beijing also ranks among most polluted cities in the world.
According to the People's Republic of China, Tibet is a "Special Adminstrative Region" of the PRC, meaning that Tibet is Chinese Territory in the same way that Hong Kong and Macau are. However, Tibetans consider themselves a separate political entity. Located to the Southwest of China, Tibet features rugged terrain (including Mount Everest) and harsh climates. Tibet is the original home of the exiled Dalai Lama, and is a major religious site for Buddhists. Recently, Tibet has been rocked by violence, as riots opposing Chinese encroachment intensify.
There is a town called Yongjing in western Gansu province, on the Yellow River (Huang He), north of the Liujiaxia Reservoir, or Bingling Lake. It is in a mountainous and hilly region. However this is some way from Sichuan and Tibet, so it is not clear whether this is the town Dai Sijie had in mind.
The book takes place in Saumur, France, and is about the miserliness of a young girl and the family troubles that attend her when her father kills himself and her uncle decides to send his nephew overseas to make his fortune.
Marseille is the second largest city in France after Paris, with a population of 850,000. It is located on the southeast coast of France, and is the country's largest commercial port. Marseille is the capital of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur district, as well as the capital of the Bouches-du-Rhonoe district.
The Côte d’Azur, commonly known as the French Riviera, is the southeast coast of France. It stretches from the border with Italy to Saint Tropez, and is approximately 560 miles long. The coast is a vacation spot popular with the wealthy of the world, particularly those with yachts.
Paris is the capital of France. Located on the River Seine, Paris remains one of the most important economic powerhouses of Europe, hosting 33 of the World's Fortune 500 companies and home to a population of more than 10 million. Thanks to its reputation as the Food, Fashion, and Art capital of the world, Paris is one of the world's iconic cities.
From a Chinese perspective, Paris was seen as a conduit for cultural exchange, with its numerous universities and intellectuals. Indeed, before the Communist Revolution, many professional Chinese were educated in Paris. Even today, Shanghai is colloquially known as the "Paris of the East."