Pierre Ryckmans, a Belgian-born scholar of China who challenged a romanticized Western view of Mao Zedong in the 1960s with his early portrayal of Mao’s Cultural Revolution as chaotic and destructive, died on Monday at his home in Sydney, Australia. He was 78.
His daughter, Jeanne Ryckmans, said the cause was cancer.
Mr. Ryckmans, who was better known by his pen name, Simon Leys, fell in love with China at the age of 19 while touring the country with fellow Belgian students in 1955. One highlight was an audience with Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. The man-made famine of Mao’s Great Leap Forward and his Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966 and ended about the time of Mao’s death, in 1976, were still in the future. There was much to be admired in the new China.
Yet pursuing his studies of Chinese art, culture and literature in the People’s Republic itself was not an option for a Westerner, so he settled in Taiwan, where he met his future wife, Han-fang Chang. He also lived in Singapore and Hong Kong.