Mao’s Last Dancer

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I’m enjoying the book Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin (pronounced Lee Schwin Sing) right now.  My dad gave it to me for Christmas.  I have a huge pile of books I got at Christmas and it’s quite a challenge to decide what to read next.  I’m glad I picked this.

 This is the autobiography of Li Cunxin who begins his life in utter poverty during the beginning of Mao Zedong’s communist regime.  The book begins with the wedding of his parents, an arranged marriage.  It’s told from his terrified mother’s point-of-view and is very interesting.  Cunxin is the sixth of seven sons (all with the generational beginning name of Cun).  The poverty they live under is astounding. 

At age 11, Cunxin is chosen to study at Madame Mao’s dancing school near Beijing, far from his family and everything he knows.  He is chosen because he can be put into strange positions and can tolerate a lot of pain.  For several years he is miserable, but must work hard and never speak of his misery to his family, for his honor at being given this opportunity is incredible.  He studies dance and history and politics, buying into Mao’s teachings completely.  He hears of the evils of the west and especially America.  Eventually, when he is 17, just after graduating, he is given the opportunity to study in America. What he finds does not match the image of the U.S. he’s been given for 17 years.  This causes him to question everything he knows about Mao and communism, finally leading him to defect to the United States. 

I’m not finished with the book and find it more exciting with each page.  What I’ve told you won’t give anything away, as you know the plot going in.  The magic is in the details.  I highly recommend it.  I learned a lot about China, Mao Zedong, and communism.  It is especially interesting given that Mao’s policies are part of the history of why there are so many Chinese orphans today.

You can read more about Li Cunxin at his official website

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One Response

  1. That sounds really good — I’m going to take a look at it. Thanks for the recommendation.

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