From a desperately poor village in northeast China, at age eleven, Li Cunxin was chosen by Madame Mao’s cultural delegates to be taken from his rural home and brought to Beijing, where he would study ballet.
In 1979, the young dancer arrived in Texas as part of a cultural exchange, only to fall in love with America-and with an American woman. Two years later, through a series of events worthy of the most exciting cloak-and-dagger fiction, he defected to the United States, where he quickly became known as one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world.
This is his story, told in his own inimitable voice.
Dapto library’s ‘A Novel Idea’ met on September 24 to discuss the book ‘Mao’s Last Dancer” by Cunxin Li. We were a small group, only 5, as unfortunately many of our members were unable to attend this month. But those who could not attend were certain to call the library to make sure everyone knew how they felt about it.
One of our members found it brought back memories of her own daughter practicing ballet. Others felt they now knew alot more about China, and the extreme poverty they experienced in a time when Australians were watching TV, or playing cricket in the backyard.
This book brought up many cultural discussions, such as the Chinese use of bound feet, and the impact that communism had on these families.
The book follows the story of Li Cunxin, a young boy who lives in impoverished China with his parents and 5 brothers. Oftentimes, the Li family are starving and survive only on dried yams, but their spirit and family loyalty keeps them together, and keeps them happy. Li is enrolled in a local school, and one fateful day he is picked to attend Madame Mao’s ballet school as one of Mao’s political ballet dancers. Through years of gruelling training (which is often quite hard to read about), Li rises through the ranks to become one of America’s, then Australia’s finest ballet dancers. The book is incredibly raw, as though Li has absolutely no secrets from the reader. It is funny, honest and often quite painful to read.
The book recieved very high ratings from us, ranging from 7.5 to 10. Many of us were interested in seeing the film, and some went so far as to reserve copies of Wild Swans by Jung Chang, so they could learn more about the people of China.