Maos Last Dancer Hardcover – Apr 1 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
This is the heartening rags-to-riches story of Li, who achieved prominence on the international ballet stage. Born in 1961, just before the Cultural Revolution, Li was raised in extreme rural poverty and witnessed Communist brutality, yet he imbibed a reverence for Mao and his programs. In a twist of fate worthy of a fairy tale (or a ballet), Li, at age 11, was selected by delegates from Madame Mao's arts programs to join the Beijing Dance Academy. In 1979, through the largesse of choreographer and artistic director Ben Stevenson, he was selected to spend a summer with the Houston Balletthe first official exchange of artists between China and America since 1949. Li's visit, with its taste of freedom, made an enormous impression on his perceptions of both ballet and of politics, and once back in China, Li lobbied persistently and shrewdly to be allowed to return to America. Miraculously, he prevailed in getting permission for a one-year return. In an April 1981 spectacle that received national media attention, Li defected in a showdown at the Chinese consulate in Houston. He married fellow dancer Mary McKendry and gained international renown as a principal dancer with the Houston Ballet and later with the Australian Ballet; eventually, he retired from dance to work in finance. Despite Li's tendency toward the cloying and sentimental, his story will appeal to an audience beyond Sinophiles and ballet aficionadosit provides a fascinating glimpse of the history of Chinese-U.S. relations and the dissolution of the Communist ideal in the life of one fortunate individual. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
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“[A] fascinating memoir…told simply but passionately, with subtle humor and unguarded emotion.”—The Houston Chronicle
“Mix Billy Elliot with Torn Curtain and you’ll have some of the tale in very broad outline…well-paced…full of adventures.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Fascinating reading…unfolds with honesty, humor, and a quiet dignity. This book has wide appeal, for it concerns not only a dancer’s coming of age in a turbulent time but also individual strength, self-discovery, and the triumph of the human spirit.”—Library Journal
“The facts of his life are astonishing on their own, but what makes Li Cunxin’s engrossing autobiography so captivating is his enthusiastic retelling of every twist and turn.”—Vogue (Australia) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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!
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I was captivated by this book. liked the characters and felt I learned a lot about the control put upon Chinese people by the regime. Read morePublished on May 30 2013 by email@example.com
This was a most interesting story of life under a Communist system. It will make you feel like you are there with the author growing up under a very different political system... Read morePublished on April 13 2013 by Ken and Judy Robertson
I was very happy to be able to get this book that I had heard so much about. It arrived in good time and in good shape.Published on Feb. 4 2012 by Jan Church
I received a child's edition of this book. There was no prior indication that it was not the full adult version.Published on Feb. 28 2011 by Invicta
Whilst this wasn't a great work of literature, the story was tender and embracing. I couldn't put it down and even on closing the book I was still left with the emotion of Li's... Read morePublished on July 16 2004
It begins in 1961 .. not back in the 20's or 30's, when it would have been easier to believe such poverty was possible. Read morePublished on July 5 2004
This book is wonderfully written, and once you start it, you will not be able to put it down. I know many Chinese people who grew up in China during Mao's Cultural Revolution and... Read morePublished on June 4 2004
Mao's Last Dancer is the best book I've read in a while. It's a book that grabs you and pulls you into thier celebrations, and their traditions. Read morePublished on May 28 2004 by Hannah B. Lee