Kengo's Reviews > Mao's Last Dancer

Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin
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U 50x66
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Jun 12, 2012

really liked it

Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin is beautiful autobiography about a poor kid in China rising up to the hight of a ballet dancer; a unbelievable story which caught my heart from the very first page.

The story has three parts to it “My Childhood”, “Beijing” and “The West”. The story starts with Cunxin’s early life in a village near Qingdao. He grows up in a family with seven children, himself being the sixth son, born on 26 January 1961. He tells tales about his childhood including how they had lived with his dad carrying heavy objects as his job everyday and only getting paid US$4.20 every month. In the latter part of this section, Cunxin starts going to school. It vividly shows the education they had gotten, being brainwashed that Mao Zi Dong is the greatest and that China is the most flourishing country. Cunxin continues to have the same life until his life changing experience occurs. He is tested to see his flexibility to become one of Mao’s Dancers. From there the story enters the section “Beijing”. He is then moved up to take more tests and in the end, is chosen to go to Beijing and to study Ballet over there. He then goes to Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy. Everyday for Cunxin turns out to be a new and exciting experience as he is overwhelmed by everything from food to Toilets. Although he was excited about learning ballet, he is surprised by all the rigorous practice and fails to have any improvement and comes home the next year with bad grades. However when he meets teacher xiao, in his second year, he gradually gets sucked in by the art and improves greatly. By the end of the six years, he becomes the best in his school. There the third and final section “The West” starts. Another opportunity that changes his life forever comes when he is given the opportunity to go to America and learn Ballet there. The experience teaches him the truth that China has been lying to him the whole life and makes Cunxin want to come back so badly that he even pleads to the pride minister to go back. Although the minister rejects at the start, Cunxin finds his way to America with persuasion. The second stay in America completly breaks his trust in China, as he learns even more about how China has been using him like a pawn. A few weeks before he has to go back to China, Cunxin makes a girlfriend called Elizabeth that he is desperate to marry. When the day of departure comes, Cunxin refuses to go back and is captured by Chinese officials. However with the help of his friends, his marriage is recognized as legitimate and Cunxin is set free. The story ends here and an afterword about the life of everyone after that is written.

I had three parts in this book that were my favorite which explains the reason I liked this book so much.

The first part I enjoyed reading was Cunxin’s first official lesson in school. It starts with his teacher teaching the students to respect Mao and to bow to his picture every day saying “Long,long live chairman Mao! Vice-Chairman Lin, good health, forever good health!” I found this part very interesting as it vividly described what life in China those day were like. The lesson continued with the teacher telling them to write “Long live chairman Mao” and a few more sentences about Mao. The difference between how I was educated was very surprising, as they went straight into writing without teaching them the basics at all. I was also intrigued by how everything was about Mao and his superiority.

The second part that I liked was when Cunxin came to Beijing and became homesick. As he reaches Beijing, he is startled by the huge roads, high buildings and cars zooming around. He sees and visits many famous places in Beijing and finally when he came to the academy, he was given so much food that he became so guilty and chooses not to eat. He starts remembering his home and sadness overwhelms him. I found this part connect to me of how I felt when I first came to singapore. I felt so confused, not knowing anyone, not knowing english. Like Cunxin for the first week I kept on wanting to go back to Japan.

The third part I found interesting was when Cunxin went to America. When they get out of the plane, the first thing they see is Ben, their instructor in America. They make their way to Houston ballet academy where they are to practice. Cunxin could not believe what he was seeing, all the gentle smiles, cool air conditioning, etc. I really liked how Cunxin showed his confusion and its description. “This is not what it is supposed to be like. smething is wrong here. They are our enemies. Behind their smiling faces will be a hidden agenda. I’ll find out soon.” (237) It was very funny what Cunxin thought and how he had been told lies all his life about America. It was also interesting how Cunxin’s thought about this slowly change until he trusts Ben.

This book was very interesting as it was a type of book that I would have not read that often and had a different autobiography style of writing. The information about China in the time was also interesting as it was something that I had never imagined. In my opinion the book was a bit lengthy and had quite a few boring parts at the first section making it have a rating of four out of five. I would recommend this book to anyone over the age of 13 because the language is a bit hard and the plot would be a bit boring for non- middle schoolers. This book was unique and very interesting proving to be a great story for me.
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