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Mao's Last Dancer

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  12,063 ratings  ·  1,280 reviews
From a desperately poor village in northeast China, at age eleven, Li Cunxin was chosen by Madame Mao's cultural delegates to be taken from his rural home and brought to Beijing, where he would study ballet. In 1979, the young dancer arrived in Texas as part of a cultural exchange, only to fall in love with America-and with an American woman. Two years later, through a ser ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published March 1st 2005 by Berkley Trade (first published 2003)
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The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Glass Castle by Jeannette WallsNight by Elie WieselAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourtEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Best Memoir / Biography / Autobiography
353rd out of 2,695 books — 2,924 voters
Wild Swans by Jung ChangThe Good Earth by Pearl S. BuckSnow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa SeeThe Joy Luck Club by Amy TanBalzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
Best Books About China
51st out of 412 books — 312 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Chrissie
I didn't love, love, love this book, but I found it interesting and inspiring. Three stars. I felt much of it read as a young adult book. I in fact stopped my reading to go and check if it was directed toward kids. What do I find? I see that there are two editions, this one, which is for adults, and another one just for kids: Mao's Last Dancer Young Readers' Edition! I have looked into how they differ and have discovered that the children's has less details and less historical facts.

The author
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David
Li Cunxin was the 6th of 7 sons born to a poor family in rural China. When Chairman and Madame Mao started their "cultural revolution" and decided to revive the Peking Dance Academy, they sent representatives throughout the country to find promising musical and artistic talent specifically from the children of peasants, workers, and soldiers. Li was chosen at age 11, taken from his family, and sent to the "big city" for rigorous training and indoctrination. He overcomes homesickness, lack of mot ...more
Ben
I started off unimpressed by this book; daily life in China during the Mao years is sad, yes, but familiar to anyone who has read anything set in that era. However once he was plucked away from his family and started his education proper the book really began; Li as an author found his voice around this part of the book and it was around this time that I decided to continue reading (I had been toying with the idea of giving up).

His struggles at school are familiar, but I'm not sure if Li examin
...more
Mary Etta
Dec 17, 2011 Mary Etta rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mary Etta by: Vicky
November book group choice. Loved the film. Vicky recommended the book.

Many reasons to really like this book. It's a remarkable story of an admirable life in unusual circumstances. There is a continuity of influences, the foundation of his parents and family as well as influential teachers and friends, the Chinese fables that encouraged him in very hard times--the mango and the well. Many keeper scenes/quotes.

“Mango is the most wonderful fruit with the most unique taste… Admire the unique shap
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Caroline
A simple and yet beautiful memoir of a ballet dancer, who was taken from his peasant classed family as a young 11 year old boy in Qingdao, and brought to Beijing, to attend a dance school that received the patronage of Madam Mao Tze Dong.

Cunxin takes us through his childhood, growing up as one of 7 sons of poor peasant family during China's Cultural Revolution. They are all subjected to Mao's communist propaganda, believing China to be a glorious nation and that despite the fact that they are po
...more
Christie
This is not the type of book I normally pick up, but after reading the first through chapters through my email book club, I requested it from the library. Tim thought it was an unusual choice for me so he picked it up and started reading the middle of the book, as he is wont to do. He told me I would like it and find it fascinating. I already suspected that! This book was pretty hard to put down, and I could only think of two pages that were boring (and they were summarizing what happened over a ...more
Vicky
A Goodreads friend had seen the film and recommended it so I watched the DVD first and highly recommend it both for the dramatic story and the beautiful dancing (Li Cunxin is played in the movie by a dancer) I liked it so much I went to the library and got book. I am a ballet fan and I am embarrassed to say that I had not heard of Li Cunxin, although he performed with the Houston Ballet for 16 years and made guest appearances with most of the major ballet companies. There are more elegantly writ ...more
Jelinas
Fact: I'm actually North Korean. My parents lived most of their lives in the South, but both of them originally hail from the North.

When we were kids, my dad would occasionally gather us all 'round the table and tell us tales of North Korea. He would tell us about how his family struggled to survive during the war, and how Communism had ruined the country so that everyone was poor. Families only got a small ration of beef every year, that they would boil over and over again in order to make it l
...more
Lilisa
Li Cunxin overcomes life's challenges and through sheer discipline, drive and the motivation to break through the shackles of communism, does just that. Born in a commune in northeast China, Li's impoverished family struggled to put food on the table, making sacrifices for each other as the bare essentials for basic living were virtually nonexistent. Despite the challenging conditions of everyday life, his parents taught him the values and principles that became his life compass as he overcame t ...more
Jeffrey Crimmel
Finished Mao's Last Dancer today. I saw the movie first and I found the book just as fascinating. The dept of poverty that Li came from and his luck to be chosen and became a dancer meant the stars were lined up for his success in the world. I now see how the Chinese are the best in gymnastics and other events they train for. The dedication that Li gave to dancing when he realized it was his way out of poverty, and the continued level of training he gave to dance after his defection to the state ...more
Aprile
This book was a gift from a friend. Apparently the difference between the Young Readers Edition she gave me and the original is that the original goes into greater detail. Maybe I'll end up reading the original later down the road if I find it.

This is the story of Li Cunxin, a boy born in the final days of Chairman Mao's reign over China, whose only future lies as a Peasant. One day a group comes to his commune, announcing they are choosing children from all over China for a ballet school. Li at
...more
Rhoda
This is such a beautifully written memoir. It's not so much the language that is beautiful, but the content and the emotion captured in the words. The author details the hardships of his childhood and the life of his parents and his brothers in Communist China. It's such a stark contrast to the life he ends up living in the West and I so enjoyed reading about all the vast differences he found between the two countries and cultures.

The writing about China during that period was certainly interest
...more
Tisha
I read this book in a little under 24 hours, almost unable to put it down. In this memoir, Li writes of an impoverished childhood in rural China in the 60's and 70's under the Mao Zedong regime. He deals frankly with his everyday realities: disease, starvation, accidental injury and the lack of basic survival needs intertwined with unconditional love, laughter and the incredibly strong value system of a proud family. He writes of being snatched from this world to the only slightly less brutal wo ...more
Jerjonji
"You're going to know more about Mao than most experts," commented my husband after seeing this book on the table.

While I may not have learned a lot about Mao, Li Cunxin did an incredible job sharing his experiences as a peasant child growing up under Mao's heavy hand. Written with a sense of love for his time spent with his family, he made the hardships seem real, but not unbearable with the presence of his family to share the misery. His early years at Madame Mao's School for Ballet were much
...more
Amanda
I don't remember exactly what attracted me to this book, Mao's last dancer. It might have been the fact that I had just finished all the 'Chinese cinderella's' or maybe just because the book itself was so big and tempting. Either way I loved it and didn't put it down again till I was finished.

The category Mao's last dancer fits into is: A book that teaches you about another culture. The amount I learned about chinese culture from this book is incredible. The way that Li described it all meant I
...more
Kani
Hooks you right in with the description of his parent's traditional wedding in China. This is a true story of a real person who is still alive and riveted me because he was growing up when I was and living this amazingly different life over there in China. That's the China of "Finish your dinner! Think of all the starving children in China." So it was really insightful for me to listen to a true account of what it was like for this starving child of China. The way Cunxin uses drive and disciplin ...more
Nan
When I lived in Houston I loved going to see their world-class ballet company perform, and Li Cunxin was one of my favorite dancers, so I was eager to read his autobiograghy. The book that I received from Amazon was the "Young Reader's Edition" and obviously simplified and shortened by about half from the original 480 pages. But it held my interest throughout, and I would love to read the adult version.
Amanda
I loved this book! I first saw the movie (I KNOW, that's not the way it's supposed to work. Sorry), and loved it, then found out it was also a book! The book had a lot more details and it also matched with what I'm reading in history with Nixon's visit to China in the 70's, so it was a perfect time for me to read this book. Hearing about Communist Propaganda and how it affected Cunxin was really amazing and saddening.

Also. The dedication that he had towards ballet was AMAZING!!!! I've considere
...more
Michael
I once met the daughter of a certain famous Russian ballet dancer and Soviet defector. I was buying garlicky humus and crackers at my local Co-op, and noticed the name tag of yet another granola crunching, carob-chip-cookie making Osh-Kosh-Bgosh overalls wearing co-op employee, and thought maybe her name seemed a little more socialist than the other non-corporate names, (you don't meet a lot of Madisons and Tylers at co-ops, do you), but I didn't realize who it was until a friend mentioned it to ...more
Wei Ye
Finally finished this book, Cunxin's story in America was a bit funny. It would be rather hard for an-eighteen-year-old boy to understand the huge gap between China and the West. I can see his struggle and maladjustment in a brand new environment. As a result, Cunxin's communism belief was shaken by his eager to freedom. I think his defection to China is still arguable. Was his first love a proper reason for the defection? I think Cunxin has more affection to the sense of freedom rather than his ...more
Mai
Dec 02, 2014 Mai is currently reading it
I feel really sad for Li Cunxin, because he had to leave his family to go to Beijing. He was glad that he is going to meet chairman Mao but sadness over wrapped the happiness. The last day that he was spending with his family, I had a connection with his feeling. He said that he should have spend more time with his brothers. I have thought the same thing as him before in my life. When I heard that I am moving to Malaysia, I really thought that I should have spend more time with my friends.

I thi
...more
Susan
Oh I cried!! I cried so much!! I laughed and was blown away by his honesty and by the fact that he made fun of his own culture. I read the extended version and am amazed even that Cunxin cares enough about his readers to continue his story past that which he had originally intended.

On completion of this book I felt connected to Li and felt as if I could have been the reader who travelled to China and asked his Mum to cook for him. Cheeky buggar!

For someone who's first language is not English th
...more
Dianna Kearney
This biography of Li Cunxin's remarkable life in communist China is definitely worth reading. Growing up in a very poor family and then miraculously being chosen to be a dance student in Madam Mao's dance school in Bejing takes this young boy from destitute poverty to a whole new world of opportunities, opportunities that require physical as well emotional pain from a very little boy. He is pushed up against the almost terrifying ironies of China's new form of government and sees the fallible me ...more
Suzanne
When he was 11 years old, Li Cunxin was selected from his peasant community and sent to Beijing to study dance at the Beijing Dance Academy. Mao’s Last Dancer is Li’s moving memoir of his rise from near starvation to being one of the top ballet dancers in the world.

Wow! What can I say about this wonderful book. I loved it from start to finish. Li Cunxin’s life is like a fairy tale. He was born into Communist China, taken away from his family at a young age, and given a gift that would change hi
...more
Rori
I downloaded this after watching the movie and wanting to know more about Li Cunxin. I didn't mean to get the young readers' edition, but that's what was available on my Kindle! This is fairly quick and easy read, but a wonderful, rich story. I'm not sure if there was more in the original version that may have been edited out for this edition, but the details of life under 1960s and '70s Communist China did not seem overly sanitized.

It was fascinating to watch Li's struggle to reconcile the par
...more
Victoria
We are able to understand in detail about how life was for Li Cunxin during the 1960s and 1970s (and even the 1940s when he describes his parents' wedding). He lived as a peasant boy in a small village. He tells detailed and sad accounts (and many happy and funny things as well) about the upbringing he had along with his six brothers. He then talks about how he was chosen as a dancer for Madame Mao's artistic program when he was 11 years old. From there we learn about how he grew, the people he ...more
Theresa
This is the autobiography of Li Cunxin, who as a young boy was chosen from his very poor peasant village in China to attend Madame Mao's Dance Academy in Beijing. This occurred during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960's and 70's, and Li details the brutality of growing up in the very rigid and oppressive environment of Communist China. Yet he also addresses the strengths of family, virtue and culture that lived on despite the harsh realities of the peasant life.
I suppose if I knew anything ab
...more
Kimberley
Interview with Li Cunxin’s Niang

Q. How old was Cunxin when he first started ballet at the Beijing Dance Academy?
A. He was 11 years old when he first went to the academy, though he had no idea what ballet was.

Q. Was it tiring to work in the fields all day while Cunxin danced?
A. All the field work took lots of energy and sometimes it was to hard to continue, but I knew I had to work to help and feed my family while Cunxin was away.

Q. How did you cope with being unable to read or write?
A. Of course
...more
Jeanine Allen
Jeanine Allen
Biography


Mao's Last Dancer is an autobiography by Li Cunxin who is a world class ballet dancer. This novel tells how Li was living in a poor village in China. Chairman and Madame Mao decided to create a cultural revolution and reopened the Peking Dance Academy. Li he was chosen by representatives of the communist government to be taken from his family to the big city and trained at the dance institute in ballet. Li overcame the isolated loneliness and the physical pain of training h
...more
Sam
This was inspiring, captivating and heartbreaking all in one beautifully written book. This isn't the normal sort of book I would read but I watched the movie and enjoyed it, then was told by many people that you MUST read the book as there's so much more in it. They were so right. I had to keep telling myself that this is a true story and all this really happened to someone. Li Cunxin's story really amazed and fascinated me, He led a truly rich life filled with many experiences even the bad tim ...more
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Bokt goodreads gr...: Mao's laatste danser 1 6 Jul 01, 2013 03:26AM  
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Li Cunxin (pronounced “Lee Schwin Sing”) is a remarkable man borne of a remarkable story. He has published a remarkable book about his extraordinary life. In his runaway best selling autobiography, Mao' s Last Dancer, Li recounts his determination, perseverance, vision, courage and hard work, and in particular, the sacred family values and integrity that he learned in poverty-stricken China, which ...more
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