Simon Leys: Navigator Between Worlds
Pierre Ryckmans ( pen-name: S. Leys) (1935-2104)
- Author: P. Paquet
- Title: Simon Leys: Navigator Between Worlds (550 pg)
- Published: 2016 (English translation 2017)
- This book explores an extraordinary life.
- Pierre Ryckmans was born in Belgium, where he trained
- in art history but wanted to become a painter.
- He first went to China when he was nineteen.
- Later, he became a scathing critic of Mao and Maoism
- He moved to Australia in 1970 with his wife and four children.
- He wrote the controversial book The Chairman’s New Clothes (1971)
- He also wrote The Death of Napoleon (piece of alternative history )
- and many masterful essays published in The Monthly and Quadrant.
- Pierre Ryckmans came under attack
- when he exposed the brutal reality of
- …China’s Cultural Revolution to the West.
- This expert on China dared to criticize
- …Mao’s cultural revolution and
- …the gullibility of western sinophiles.
What did he publish in 1971?
Controversial book: The Chairman’s New Clothes
Subject: assessment of the first two decades of Chinese communist regime
Goal: exposed the brutal reality of Maoism…just report the facts.
What was Simon Leys’ core message?
- The Cultural Revolution
- ‘had nothing revolutionary about it except the name.’
- It was basically a ‘power struggle waged at the top between a
- handful of men and behind the
- smokescreen of a fictitious mass movement.’
- The name Simon Leys probably does not ring a bell.
- He was rarely heard on the radio or TV.
- He boycotted book fairs and writer’s festivals.
- But Leys is considered one of the greatest
- intellectuals to have lived in Australia.
- Leys writes in English and Chinese.
- “His style is immaculate
- …as a marble staircase in a palace
- …..he cleans it 20 times a day”.
- I loved the epigraph that Leys used
- …in the book The Chairman’s New Clothes
- “The yes-yes of the crowd carries
- …less weight than the no-no of one decent man.”
- (Sima Qian, great Chinese historian 145 BC – 86 BC)
- While reading this biography of Pierre Ryckmans
- ….I am also watching the changes in China at the moment.
- Xi Jinping can remain as a life long president.
- The power remains still with a handful of men.
- This book was very detailed and long.
- I had to skim some parts and concentrate on the more
- …important information.
- I was not interested in the day-to-day struggle that
- …ensued to get Leys’ book published in Paris in 1971.
- Simon Leys thought any Western reader
- …no matter how unprepared
- he is to approach the Chinese universe can acquire a simple and
- just intuition to the human condition by reading two little books:
- Six Records of a Floating Life (Shen Fu, 1763-1825) and
- The Execution of Mayor Yin (Chen Jo-hsi, 1938) 8 short stories.