Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress Part 2, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator wears a copy of Chairman Mao's jacket, made by the Little Seamstress, and a green army cap. Luo borrows an army uniform and poses as a translator and they head for the Thousand-Meter Cliff. When they arrive at the mill, the narrator greets the miller in Mandarin rather than the provincial dialect. The man doesn't speak Mandarin, and Luo explains it's the official language of Beijing. The miller doesn't know where Beijing is, startling the boys with his ignorance. Luo explains that Beijing is the new name for Bai Ping, and at that, the old man looks at the narrator with respect.
Though the miller is unaware of the particular changes the Chinese government has been through, his change of attitude towards the disguised narrator shows that he still holds the government and its power in high regard. The miller's lack of knowledge illustrates just how remote and isolated the mountain is. It's a place where people can exist for decades without any idea of what's happening in the cities.
Themes
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Luo tells the miller that the narrator has traveled from Beijing to collect folk songs from the region. The miller looks suspicious and says that the folk songs aren't "proper songs." Luo assures him that the narrator is hoping to collect "authentic, robustly primitive" songs. The miller tries again to convince Luo that the narrator won't want to hear the songs, but a group of peasants arrive with grain to be milled.
Despite his ignorance, the miller seems very aware of the government's censorship of art and music. His unwillingness adds tension and more evidence for the possibility that his songs aren't at all what Four-Eyes is looking for, and that the Revolution isn't actually rooted in peasant traditions.
Themes
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Storytelling, Censorship, and Power Theme Icon
The narrator helps the peasants with their heavy loads and the miller tells the peasants proudly about how revolutionary the narrator is. Luo translates the narrator's Mandarin responses and the peasants shake hands with the narrator.
Even in disguise and around people he doesn't know, the narrator behaves in a way that reinforces his helpful nature. Note, too, that even though Luo is disguised as the helper, he still takes charge.
Themes
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
When the peasants leave, the miller leads Luo and the narrator upstairs. He offers them liquor and motions for them to sit on the bed. The narrator's skin crawls thinking about the lice, and Luo suggests they sit outside. The miller refuses and the three sit on the bed and drink. The narrator can feel the lice as the miller fetches a platter of rocks with a bowl of saltwater and three sets of chopsticks. Hesitantly, the narrator and Luo join the miller in dipping the rocks in the saltwater, sucking on them, and spitting them across the room.
The lice are indicative of the miller's lack of civilization—he doesn't even wash his bedding. His dish of choice also shows how different he is from Luo and the narrator. Learning to accept people like the miller for who they are and what they know is one positive aspect of the narrator and Luo's re-education, and it also helps them mature and gain a more diverse worldview.
Themes
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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The miller stops the grindstone and closes the windows to improve the acoustics of the mill. He fetches an instrument with three strings and begins to sing. The narrator and Luo are captivated by the miller's contorting and rolling stomach as he sings a song about lice and nuns. The song is crude and funny, and the narrator and Luo laugh. Luo fills their glasses and raises a toast to the miller's stomach. The miller allows the boys to touch his stomach as it rolls and undulates. They all drink and, breaking character, the narrator asks in the local dialect what the alcohol is made from. Luo, the narrator, and the miller spit out what they drank: lamp oil, not alcohol.
The novel finally confirms that the songs aren't as revolutionary as Four-Eyes thought they'd be. Interestingly, they have more in common with forbidden western literature, given the songs’ sexual nature. This makes them all the more appealing to the narrator and Luo, who want very much to experience these forbidden works. This shows again that such things are universal.
Themes
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Storytelling, Censorship, and Power Theme Icon
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon