Mao’s last dancer

I’m an avid reader, but am often reluctant to recommend specific books as gifts because reader taste varies so widely. 

However one book that I loved reading and has been highly regarded by a wide range of people is “Mao’s Last Dancer”, Li Cunxin’s autobiography about how he was picked from obscurity – on the basis of his physique alone – in a rural Chinese backwater to become a trainee ballet dancer under Mao’s Communist regime.

The story spans how he grappled with life in the big city away from his peasant family, struggled to reconcile his glimpses of Western prosperity with the Communist propaganda he’d been told, and eventually defected to the USA, becoming a successful dancer there and in turn Australia, where he later emigrated to.

Mao’s Last Dancer is nothing less than fascinating, not simply because of the unusual subject matter, but because the book is very well written.  In other hands it could, despite the exotic and dramatic content, have nonetheless been a dull read.  But Li Cunxin writes his story off the page.  Literally, in fact – a movie is being made of it too.


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