Pierre Ryckmans was born on September 28, 1935 in Brussels, Belgian. He studied law and art history at the Catholic University of Louvain. At the age of 19, he was one of a delegation of young Belgians invited to China on a trip that included a meeting with Zhou Enlai, the premier under Mao. He spent 12 years in the Far East, where he became an expert on Chinese painting, calligraphy and poetry. In Hong Kong, he monitored the Chinese press on behalf of Belgian diplomats. He taught at the Australian National University in Canberra in 1970. He primarily wrote under the pen name Simon Leys. He criticized Mao's cultural revolution in his first two books, Les Habits Neufs du Prï¿½sident Mao (The Chairman's New Clothes) and Ombres Chinoises (Chinese Shadows). His other works included The Death of Napoleon and The Wreck of the Batavia. He died of cancer on August 11, 2014 at the age of 78.