Today I finished reading Mao’s last dancer, and I must say it was an enthralling memoir. I could not help but feel pained reading about young Li Cunxin being separated from his niang (mom) as a boy of eleven when he went off to study dance at Madame Mao’s ballet school. Readers will admire Li Cunxin for perservering through separation from his family, and his decision to practice harder when it came to dancing, especially after seeing his peasant family struggle during his holiday trips back home. Li’s dedication paid off, and at the age of eighteen he was invited to dance in with the Houston Ballet for several weeks. After his first visit Li Cunxin realized that Mao’s propaganda had taught them many lies about the US and the world at large, and he enjoyed the freedom to come and go as he pleased for the first time in his life.
Li Cunxin made a second trip to the US a few months later, and after that stay he decided to defect from China. He was held against his will at the Chinese consulant in Houston for almost an entire day, but was able to defect once he was released.
I had never read a biography about a ballet dancer before, but this one intrigued me because it was about living in Mao’s China. Recently I also read the novel Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, which I wrote a blog post about back in May, and since then I have been interested in learning more about what life was like during that period of Chinese history. Li Cunxin was a very brave and hardworking boy with the tenacity to live through the separation from his family during his years in ballet school, and then later when he was not allowed to travel back to China because of his defection. Li was eventually reunited with his family, but you will just have to read the book to find out the rest. Mao’s Last Dancer is a memoir that allows you to experience a part of China most of us have never heard about.