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Mao's Last Dancer Hardcover – Mar 30 2004


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Hardcover, Mar 30 2004
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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (March 30 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039915096X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399150968
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.5 x 3.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 748 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,996,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

An extraordinary memoir of a peasant boy raised in rural Maoist China who was plucked from his village to study ballet and went on to become one of the greatest dancers of his generation.

In 1961, three years of Mao's Great Leap Forward-along with three years of poor harvests-had left a rural China suffering terribly from disease and deprivation. Li Cunxin, his parents' sixth son, lived in a small house with twenty of his relatives and, along with the rest of his family, subsisted for years on the verge of starvation. But when he was eleven years old, Madame Mao decided to revive the Peking Dance Academy, and sent her men into the countryside searching for children to attend.

Chosen on the basis of his physique alone, Li Cunxin was taken from his family and sent to the city for rigorous training. What follows is the story of how a small, terrified, lonely boy became one of the greatest ballet dancers in the world. One part Falling Leaves, one part Billy Eliot, Mao's Last Dancer is an unforgettable memoir of hope and courage.

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My parents, as newlyweds, lived with my father's six brothers, their wives, his two sisters and their children, a total of over twenty people crammed into a six-room house. Read the first page
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Linda Ibberson on Jan. 1 2009
Format: Paperback
I wasn't sure what to expect when my book club recently selected this book, and I had visions of reading horror stories and learning of the atrocities of life during Mao's regime.
It turned out to be quite the opposite -- it is a deeply personal, heart-warming story of family love and triumph over adversity. I did learn about life in China during this period, but the focus of the story was on the author's relationships and his discovery and subsequent struggle for personal freedom.
The book was engaging and inspiring, and I found myself crying and laughing out loud at times. I especially enjoyed his description of arriving in the US for the first time. A thoroughly enjoyable read!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 24 2004
Format: Hardcover
A very quick and enjoyable read - not a dull moment. Very interesting to learn how the peasants of communist China lived and their delusions of this side of the world. I felt both inspired by his struggle to succeed and grateful for all those things we have that make our life far less arduous.
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Format: Paperback
This story struck a chord with me as I considered the fact that the writer was born in China within a year of my own Canadian birth. How different were our childhoods. It is gently and simply written, full of family memories in rural China and the whole Cultural Revolution experience as lived out by a child, teen, young man. The boy in this story led an extraordinary life, but kept his priorities right. His harsh childhood gave him the discipline needed to become a fabulous dancer. I bought the book for my parents who share with me a fascination for the nation of China. It is heartbreaking, yet full of passion and hope, and the most cherished of human possession--a loving family. Having read the biography of Chairman Mao, The Joy Luck Club, White Swans, some Pearl Buck novels, Life and Death in Shanghai, and books about Gladys Aylward, I found this book to broaden my understanding of what it is to be from China, this time through the life of one of my contemporaries. Read it by the fire this Christmas. It will warm your heart.
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Format: Hardcover
When my wife and I moved to Texas in the early 1980's, the Houston Ballet's performances were a refreshing antidote to the Southwest's unrelenting commercialism and fixation with football and barbecue. Under Ben Stevenson's lively direction, this troupe of superb athletes pushed the bounds of gravity with grace and verve. Among the foremost in their number was a supple young oriental dancer who was obviously feeling his way toward familiarity with American culture, but always showed uncommon spirit, sensitivity, and vitality in his approach to movement. This was Li Cunxin (pronounced Shwin-Sin). He became our favorite male dancer, and his photos are on our walls today.
This marvelous autobiography by Mr. Li opened our eyes to the unimaginable gulf he had to leap in order to appear before us. When he was plucked from among millions of other peasant children to attend Beijing Dance Academy, the train ride to Beijing was his first. His meals at the Academy were the first time he'd ever had enough to eat. His untrained tendons and muscles were ruptured repeatedly by the contortions he was forced into. Beijing's approval for him to leave China on scholarship to Houston Ballet Academy was China's first such concession to an artist in almost forty years. The first time he ever felt air-conditioning was on the plane to America. His first automobile ride was from the Houston airport to Ben Stevenson's house. And so on - the simple dance outfit purchased for him upon his arrival cost the equivalent of two years of his father's salary in China.
The book contains hundreds of poignant reminders of the risks Mr. Li took in breaking the bounds of his peasant heritage and infuriating both the Chinese government and his American friends when he defected.
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By A Customer on April 12 2004
Format: Hardcover
I agree with the other reviewer-this was a most addictive read! I saved it for vacation and was so happy I did-I simply could not put it down. One of my all time best books.
Having studied in China for one summer in the 80's, I wish I'd had a better understanding of the peasant life and hardships the people in China faced as described in this book. The government was very careful as to what we were told and what we could visit during our studies. It is a beautiful country, made even more so by this book.
We adopted our daughter from China in 1999 and I am so anxious for us to make a return visit so she can see her country and share the pride of their hard work and efforts as described so well by Li Cunxin.
The first part of the book deals with his childhood and family. Li Cunxin's remarkable recounting of his childhood in China is so vivid with details that I could feel and taste the food and items he describes. Because of the great details, I became so emotionally attached to the family. I found myself crying each time he mentions how he missed his family (in part 2 and 3 of the book). His pain and longing were so real.
Against all odds, he becomes a successful ballet star in America (Part 2). He describes our extravagance and lavish living conditions and the cultural shock to him. I laughed out loud at some of these instances! He recounts with humor his amazement at being served food on the airplane, feeling guilty someone was serving him, and asking the flight attendant if he could help her wash dishes. As he shares his delight in the simple things we take for granted (taking a bath), he gives great insight into what was going on in his mind as he experiences freedom for the first time.
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