Li Cunxin was born in 1961, in the New Village, Li Commune, near the city of Qingdao on the coast of north-east China. The sixth of seven sons in a poor rural family, Li's peasant life in Chairman Mao's communist China changed dramatically when, at the age of eleven, he was chosen by Madame Mao's cultural advisers to become a student at the Beijing Dance Academy. After a summer school in America, for which he was one of only two students chosen, he defected to the West and became a principal dancer for the Housten Ballet. Li went on to become one of the best male dancers in the world. He is now a senior manager in a major stockbroking firm and lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife Mary and their three children, Sophie, Tom and Bridie. Li's autobiography, Mao's Last Dancer has sold over 400,000 copies and has been published in over 20 countries. A children's version of the book was released in 2005.
Cunxin, before the age of 40, had an amazing life: he grew up in a Chinese commune near the Northeastern city of Qingdao; at age 11, he was chosen by Madame Mao's cultural delegates to leave home and learn ballet, but his chances of being selected were one in a billion! His life in the very poor but loving commune, his time at the Beijing Dance Academy, and, finally, his defection to the West in 1981 are presented in bittersweet detail. The author was a kind and warm family member and friend who realized his fortune and remembered his past. Few stories of immigration capture the sorrows and joys as well. It must be noted that this is also a lesson of what it takes to become a world-class ballet dancer. Paul English enhances the beautiful tale with his wise and sensitive presentation; Cunxin's excruciating sorrow and exhilarating joy are equally well rendered. A necessary purchase for large public and academic libraries and all those that serve immigrant communities.-Susan G. Baird, Chicago Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Gr 6-9-In 1961, just three years after Mao's disastrous Great Leap Forward, Li Cunxin was born, the sixth son in a family of Chinese peasants who eked out a meager existence on a rural commune. During his childhood he endured unimaginable poverty and hardships and witnessed the shooting of 15 "counter-revolutionaries" by Mao's Red Guards. When chosen to audition for Madame Mao's Beijing Ballet Academy at age 11, ballet became his chance for a good job and enough food for life. Many years of training, two U.S. trips, one premature marriage, and a defection later, Li joined the Houston Ballet as a principal dancer, paving his way to international fame. Although told in a rather bland style-mostly in basic declarative sentences-the information about the country at this time and the danger and angst that accompanied the dancer's decision to defect will be of interest to teens. This Young Reader's Edition of the adult book (Putnam, 2004) gives a much fuller portrait than the author's picture-book version, Dancing to Freedom (Walker, 2008). The black-and-white photos, the abbreviated history, and time line will help students place Li's life story into historical context. With the current interest in all things Chinese, and with the immigration debate in full swing, this is a good choice, both to promote an understanding of Chinese culture and to provoke a discussion about the issues facing today's immigrants.-Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
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. (Apr. 5) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.