Simon Leys is the pen name that a Belgian art critic and professor of Chinese literature, Pierre Ryckmans, used when writing about current affairs in China. His books and articles are imaginative, insightful, and heavily spiced with sometimes caustic epigrams: his own and many that he credits to others.

To Zhou Zuoren he attributes the capsule summation related to art: “All that can be spelled out is without importance.”

About Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), an early Jesuit missionary to China, Leyes writes: “Ricci accurately saw-and it remains his most momentous contribution-that the question of how China could become Christian was first the question of how Christianity should become Chinese.”

Writing about Jonathan Spence’s book on the same Ricci, Leyes comments: “The life of Ricci is so gripping a story… It took a very clever man to reduce it to the proportions of a mere literary game… one deplores that he wasted such noble and inspiring material in the fabrication of what is, after all, a rather quaint bibelot.”

In a chapter on Zhou Enlai: “Alone among Maoist leaders he had cosmopolitan sophistication, charm, wit, and style… He was the kind of man who could stick a knife in your back and do it with such disarming grace that you would still feel compelled to thank him for the deed.”