Pierre Ryckmans died in August. He was a Belgian trained in law who lived in Taiwan, where he studied Chinese language, culture, and literature, and then made an academic career in Australia. In 1971 he published The Chairman’s New Clothes—a book that spoke honestly about the brutalities of Mao’s cultural revolution. Concerned to maintain his contacts in China, he wrote under the pseudonym Simon Leys. I only recently discovered his pungent essays on religion, French literature, Chinese culture, and academic life, collected in The Hall of Uselessness, also published under his pseudonym, perhaps because he felt his literary alter ego provide him with a certain freedom from the confining pieties of academic culture. The essays are remarkable expressions of intellectual clarity, literary grace, and real wisdom about the human condition. A man of faith, he was an exemplary Catholic intellectual. He had the confidence to affirm truth where he found it—and the courage to denounce convenient falsehoods that so often pass for truth.
Just last month I made an inquiry to an Australian friend, asking if he know how to email Ryckmans. I had hopes of publishing him in First Things. Too late. May he rest in peace.