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Maos Last Dancer Hardcover – Apr 1 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: GP Putnam And Sons (April 1 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039915096X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399150968
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 4 x 23.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 703 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,637,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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 Ballet—the 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 aficionados—it 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Li Cunxin has displayed the ultimate in perseverance and determination throughout his life―from excelling in the grueling ballet training demanded by the Beijing Dance Academy to his 16 years as one of the premier dancers from the Houston Ballet to his latest career as a stockbroker and motivational speaker. He now lives in Australia and travels extensively around the world giving presentations. Visit his Web site at

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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