Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

mp’s rating: 3/5

As soon as I started the book, on a 20-hour plane flight to US, I was unable to stop until I managed to finish it a couple of hours later. Mao’s Last Dancer brought with it a true story like no other, and as time passed, you felt how different life could be, and what could have happened in between.

“In a small, desperately poor village in north east China, a young peasant boy sits at his rickety old school desk, interested more in the birds outside than in Chairman Mao’s Red Book and the grand words it contains. But that day, some strange men come to his school – Madame mao’s cultural delegates. They are looking for young peasants to mould into faithful guards of Chairman Mao’s great vision for China.

The boy whatches as one of his classmates is chosen and led away. His teacher hesitates. Will she or won’t she? She very nearly doesn’t. But at the last moment she taps the official on the shoulder and points to the small boy. ‘What about that one?’ she says.

This is the true story of how that one moment in time, by the thinnest thread of a chance, changed the course of a small boy’s life in ways that are beyond description. One day he would dance with some of the greatest ballet companies of the world. One day he would be a friend to a president and first lady, movie stars and the most influential people in America. One day he would become a star: Mao’s last dancer, and the darling of the West.”

Although we knew the ending and we could have guessed the beginning, the story itself brought with it tears and happiness, both joy and sadness; every word came to live as I continued to read it. From his early teenage years, until his chance to study in America, falling in love, defying communism, questioning his values, and finally freeing himself and living his life. It was inspiring, how one tried to beat poverty by the chance he was given, and how he believed in his own idealism in the end. It reminded me, though, on thousands others who still lived in poverty, without that one chance that Li Cunxin has.

A pleasant read, and an honest one indeed.

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3 thoughts on “Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

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