Mao's Last Dancer, Paperback Book
5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Raised in a desperately poor village during the height of China's Cultural Revolution, Li Cunxin's childhood revolved around the commune, his family and Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.

Until, that is, Madame Mao's cultural delegates came in search of young peasants to study ballet at the academy in Beijing and he was thrust into a completely unfamiliar world.

When a trip to Texas as part of a rare cultural exchange opened his eyes to life and love beyond China's borders, he defected to the United States in an extraordinary and dramatic tale of Cold War intrigue.

Told in his own distinctive voice, this is Li's inspirational story of how he came to be Mao's last dancer, and one of the world's greatest ballet dancers.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 448 pages, Black and white inset
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: True stories
  • ISBN: 9780141040226

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

"Mao's Last Dancer" was terrific, engaging, and suspenseful from beginning to end. A large section of the beginning is devoted to Li's boyhood in rural China in a large, very poor, but very loving family of 7 boys. Li is selected to study ballet as part of Mao's program to include dancers from all walks of Chinese life. He really knows nothing about ballet in advance, but discusses the extensive rehearsals, his classmates and teachers, how much he missed home, etc. Eventually the story moves to Houston and elsewhere. There is an afterword providing updates on many of the key characters. It's a powerful "family trumps all" message and an amazing life story.

Review by

This is a tremendous book for anyone who wants to understand life in the dying days of Mao's regime in China. Li Cunxin's story is one of hardship and poverty which, through sheer effort of will and a few lucky breaks, becomes one of freedom and fame. It's told with engaging honesty as Cunxin comes to realise that everything he has been taught to believe in by the Mao regime is based on a lie. Through it, he questions the essence of Marxism and the future of his country. But though the political context is critical to his story, it never dominates because first and foremost this is a story about one man and his ambition to rise to the top of his chosen profession. At times it's a painful story as Cunxin endures physical and mental anquish but its balanced by the strength of affection and love given first by his parents in China and then by his second family in the ballet world. Highly recommended.

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