Saturday, March 24, 2012

Learning about China by reading Mao's Last Dancer

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I have been in China three times now. During those three times I have spent a total of 8 weeks getting to know China but only on the surface. My husband and I have wandered here and there in Shanghai and in the countryside. But it wasn't until I read Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxi that I understood what really had happened to the Chinese people during the Cultural Revolution and as a result, what I had been seeing. The hurt from those years still can be seen in the attitude of it's older Chinese citizens.
Poster showing Jiang Qing promoting the fine a...
Poster showing Jiang Qing promoting 
the fine arts during the Cultural Revolution while holding
 Mao's "Little Red Book" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Li Cunxi is a world famous dancer on the ballet stage and performed with the Houston Ballet for many years. He ended his career in Australia where he still lives with his wife and three children. He success in life belies the life he left behind in China. For the first 11 years of his life he lived in extreme poverty in a commune in Qingdao. He was one of seven boys. Had fate not taken him elsewhere, he would have been destined to be a truck driver when his father retired. But one day he was selected by his teacher as a child to be trained in Madame Mao's ballet school in Beijing. At the age of 11 he became one of the Communist Party's possessions and was raised to be not only a dance but a member of the Red Guard. This simple beautiful book lets the reader get a glimpse of what life was like and how the minds of the Chinese people were controlled through propaganda and lies.

I have never read a book that said so much in such a simple way.  Li told the heart felt story beginning with his life as a small child, his life in the school of dance in Beijing and on to his time in Houston at the ballet.  The drama of his life unfolds in the story as he comes to the realization that he would never return to China willingly.

I would recommend this book to anyone that has opinions about international affairs and the true personality of the Chinese people.  It is a true eye-opener.

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  1. There is already, or soon to be released, a children's book based on this book.

  2. I will be looking forward to see that. Thank you for the information.


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