Simon Leys is the pen name of Pierre Ryckmans, who was born in Belgium and settled in Australia in 1970. He was a Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney from 1987 to 1993. Ryckmans adopted the pen name of Simon Leys in 1971 on the advice of his editor in order to protect his ability to continue travelling to China.

Ryckmans was a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Humanities and Member of the Academie Royale de Literature Francaise (Belgium). His works, some of which have been awarded prizes in Australia, France, and the UK, include Chinese Shadows (1977), The Death of Napoleon (1991), a new translation of the Analects of Confucius (1997), and The Angel and the Octopus, a collection of his essays from 1983-1998.

Ryckmans studied law and art history at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven. After participating in a month-long youth delegation to China in 1955, Ryckmans began studying Chinese language, art, and literature in Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Last Updated: July 9, 2018

He Told the Truth About China’s Tyranny

Simon Leys from New York Review of Books
Better than the assent of the crowd: The dissent of one brave man!—Sima Qian (145–90 BC)Records of the Grand HistorianTruth will set you free.—Gospel according to JohnThe economic rise of China now dominates the entire landscape of international...

‘Ravished by Oranges’

Simon Leys from New York Review of Books
How can we be informed? Chesterton famously observed that when we read in today’s newspapers that one window-cleaner fell to his death, our general understanding of window-cleaning is distorted; the information that 35,000 window-cleaners actually...

One More Art

Simon Leys from New York Review of Books
1.The discovery of a new major art should have more momentous implications for mankind than the exploration of an unknown continent or the sighting of a new planet.1Since the dawn of its civilization, China has cultivated a particular branch of the...

The Art of Interpreting Nonexistent Inscriptions Written in Invisible Ink on a Blank Page

Simon Leys from New York Review of Books
1.In any debate, you really know that you have won when you find your opponents beginning to appropriate your ideas, in the sincere belief that they themselves just invented them. This situation can afford a subtle satisfaction; I think the feeling...

After the Massacres

Simon Leys from New York Review of Books
A historian of contemporary China who is considering the events of three years ago, of ten years ago, of twenty years ago, must feel dizzy: each time, it is the same story, the plot is identical—one needs only to change the names of a few characters...

The Curse of the Man Who Could See the Little Fish at the Bottom of the Ocean

Simon Leys from New York Review of Books
Since the Beijing massacres, the question has already been put bluntly to me several times: “Why were most of our pundits so constantly wrong on the subject of China? What enabled you and a tiny minority of critics to see things as they really were...

Chinese Shadows: Bureaucracy, Happiness, History

Simon Leys from New York Review of Books
In the sixth century BC, at the time the Tso Chuan refers to, China’s social hierarchy had only ten degrees. We have progressed since then: the Maoist bureaucracy today has thirty hierarchical classes, each with specific privileges and prerogatives...

Chinese Shadows

Simon Leys from New York Review of Books
In handbooks on Chinese traditional painting, an advice commonly given to the artist who wishes to learn to paint trees is to sketch them in winter, for then, without the seductive yet confused and blurry effect of their leafy masses, through their...