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Mao's Last Dancer

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  29,317 ratings  ·  1,913 reviews

The extraordinary memoir of a peasant boy raised in rural Maoist China who was plucked from his village to study ballet and went on to become one of the greatest dancers of his generation.

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
Paperback, 480 pages
Published March 1st 2005 by Berkley Books (first published 2003)
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Elle Presser Hi Livia! I read this as an eight year old (the adult version, not the young reader's edition) and I still treasure it to this very day. Whilst some o…moreHi Livia! I read this as an eight year old (the adult version, not the young reader's edition) and I still treasure it to this very day. Whilst some of the bigger themes really flew over my head, I still believe that it is a great read. I highly recommend!(less)
15CatterfeldD This book has family values flowing throughout it, from when he is extremely homesick at the ballet school, to treasuring their fathers story's at nig…moreThis book has family values flowing throughout it, from when he is extremely homesick at the ballet school, to treasuring their fathers story's at night, to giving their grandmother a proper burial though they may be imprisoned for it. All throughout the book there are many family values and how he treasures his family as the most important thing in his life. (less)

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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  29,317 ratings  ·  1,913 reviews

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Em Lost In Books
Always thought non-fiction wasn't for me but this story surprised me. Loved it. ...more
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
Well, it took me four months but I did finally finish this book!

WARNING: This review may contain minor broad spoilers. (Details will be spoiler-tagged)

It's not that it was bad, or boring, or anything like that ... it's more that it was hard for me to relate to. I generally hate reading about poverty on all occasions (which is why I stay away from war stories) so the early days of his life were just a real struggle to get through. I hate the thought of people having to live in such conditions.

Oct 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
It was ok. There were interesting parts and humorous parts, but a bit too meandering for my taste. Some of it was repetitive as the author seemed to really want to get certain points across.
Aug 13, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jülie ☼♄ 

I read this book a long time before joining Goodreads and writing reviews, so I didn't add anything here except my rating.
I do remember that I enjoyed (if you can enjoy such) reading about the cultural demands that were placed on those people. He truly was a brave young man!
I love historical and cultural books about Asia and Asian people.
Feb 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Jeann (Happy Indulgence)
What an inspirational and touching book! My heart soared and I shed some tears of happiness about Li Cunxin's story, a peasant boy who lived in poverty during Chairman Mao's rule. With hard work, determination and perseverance, he goes on to achieve his wildest dreams as one of the greatest ballet dancers of all time.

Full review on Happy Indulgence Books.
La Tonya  Jordan
Jul 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to La Tonya by: Palladium Bookies
Shelves: good-read
It was an interesting book. I knew so little about Chinese culture when I read this book. The author told his life story through vivid detail imagery. He began with his parents wedding, the birth of his brothers and himself, poverty, government, and traditions. His love for ballet is evident on every page.
Jul 05, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Mary Etta
Oct 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
I really enjoyed this. I listened to it as an audiobook and enjoyed Paul English’s accents. It still astounds me to read about people living in communist states who have nothing but think they are living in better conditions than the rest of the world. It’s amazing to think of the work that goes into brainwashing the people.

It’s sobering to think of how hard life was for Li Cunxin (and the rest of his family) in his early years. I enjoyed reading the wedding customs of his mother and father - th
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, china
This is a wonderful memoir of a young man’s life during the Mao’s regime.
He lives in a very poor village in North East China. He is given the opportunity to go to Being to study ballet. He is only eleven years old and must leave his beloved family. He is the 6th son in a family of 7 sons. He misses his family dearly and is very homesick. His training is very rigorous and he succumbs to many painful injuries, but his determination prevails.
This is Li Cunxin’s own story and is truly remarkable. It
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 04, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Rebecca Carter
This book is written in a simple style, yet is still incredibly inspiring and thought provoking with its glimpses into communism in China and the stark differences with the west.
I loved the little Chinese fables that were included to show where Li got his drive to succeed and strength to grow from.
It's not often a book can bring tears to my eyes, but this managed it on more than one occasion!
You don't have to be a fan of dance or ballet to enjoy this book, although being a ballet fan I may be
Feb 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Wow, this was such an amazing read! It inspired me so much! It was the perfect mixture between ballet and history. I would highly recommend it!
Jul 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
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
Elyse  Walters
May 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I got this book from a friend --- when he brought it back to me from Australia. My friend was leading a 'trading' workshop, and this author was in his course. The book was sooooooooo good. I never saw the movie. Has anyone? You, Susan? ...more
America! I heard everyone there carries guns. If they don't like you they'll just shoot you.
There was a time when I believed reading autobiographies/memoirs/nonfiction (however 'non' it actually ended up being) of that sort would get me closer to the 'truth,' whatever that was. These days, I know that anywhere between 75%-95% of the works of that sort put out these days are written by those who don't attempt to accurately contextualize themselves in the bigger picture. That alone would
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How disappointed am I that I have the Young Adult version? In case you haven't guessed - VERY. Apparently my edition of this book is missing a lot of the history of China.

But having said all that, let me talk about the book I did read. Li Cunxin's life was definitely unusual. The reader cannot help but admire his tenacity and determination. He is a man who has deserved every ounce of fame and respect he has for his dancing because he has worked for every inch of it.

This story starts with Cunxin'
May 08, 2018 rated it did not like it
Autobiography with Wrong History

Mao’s Last Dancer was published in 2003 and quickly became a best seller in Australia. Li, Cunxin, the author, was an acclaimed ballet dancer before he wrote the book, which eventually was cast into a touching movie in 2009. He is a celebrity. His extraordinary experience was shared with thousands of readers. Many people, especially young readers, get the book as it is either required by the school or the book club they join, including my daughter.

After she bough
Apr 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Li Cunxin narrates his story in a matter-of-fact fashion that comes off as incredibly naive or coolly detached. His childhood narrative is expected since its set in Mao era. Poor people become poorer or just manage to get through the day while the propaganda machine churns faster and makes lives of these peasants volatile.

Li Cunxin provides anecdotes from his childhood that characterizes Mao's philosophy. His young mind tries to find parallels between the folktales he is told as a child and imp
Jun 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Mao’s Last Dancer was our last bookclub read, and apparently I have been living under a rock, since I had not heard of the book OR the movie! Since a lot of my reading is escapist and a means to disengage from real life problems, I seldom delve into autobiographies – and am finding that I may be missing out! Li Cunxin’s account of his life, from a childhood in rural, poverty stricken China to his rise to fame, was interesting, humbling and inspiring in equal measures. It certainly provided a lot ...more
Jeffrey Crimmel
Aug 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pri-sch-sec-1
This was my childhood (the book, not Communist China)– I think I read it over 5 times from age 6-9. For some reason my dad never let me buy new books so I had to reread the ones in our garage over and over again. Anyway all of the books I refer to as "my childhood" were passed down to me by my godsister– prevailing themes of Australian and/or Chinese identity. I remember going into the garage and alternating between these several books and Rainbow Magic over and over again... anyway 5 stars out ...more
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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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