Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

October 28, 2010
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"Mao’s Last Dancer" is a heartwarming autobiography which reflects on the past of Li Cunxin, the author, who went from living a life of extreme poverty to becoming an international dance star. In particular, this novel stresses the importance of rising against the odds of your place in society to achieve even the most impossible dreams.


Li Cunxin was born to a poor Chinese family living under the harsh communist rule of Mao. Oftentimes, his family didn’t have enough food to go around the table, and there was absolutely no money to spare for extras, like toys or pencils. In addition, the future of most children was similar to that of their parents: bleak and colorless. As niang (his mom) says on page 15, “We are born with a hopeless fate.”


Despite the low chances of success, Li Cunxin was presented a rare opportunity when, at 11 years old, he was offered a slot in the Beijing Dance Academy. Whilst leaving his family at such a tender age was tough, niang said, “My dear son, this is your lucky chance to escape from this cruel world. Go, go and do something special with your life!” Hence, he began his journey through the dance world.



At the Beijing Dance Academy, Li Cunxin attained a high standard, and even had the chance to dance with numerous ballet companies worldwide. After many years, he decided to grasp the opportunity to stay in the Western World. In the 1970’s, he defected to the United States and joined the Houston Ballet Company—the ultimate proof that the tables can be turned if you give something your all.
The themes and central ideas of this book remind me especially about the movie "Seabiscuit." Set in the midst of the Great Depression, the plot details about a young man named Red Pollard who jockeys a prized racing horse named Seabiscuit. They are said to be the winning pair, destined for success. During a race, though, Red falls off his horse and fractures his leg, while at the same time, Seabiscuit is injured. The doctors were adamant that neither the jockey or horse would ever be able to race again. However, using their similar personalities as a passageway to bonding, Seabiscuit and Red heal with each other, in the end collecting the most-wanted horse racing prize of the year.



Even though one story is mainly about a poor dancer and the other about an injured horse and jockey, the two share a commonality. In both plots, the protagonist must overcome an obstacle--in the case of "Mao's Last Dancer", adversity and a trapped future, and in "Seabiscuit," severe injury.


To reflect the upbeat moral of both plots is a quote that follows, "A pessimist sees only the dark side of the clouds, and mopes; a philosopher sees both sides, and shrugs; an optimist doesn't see the clouds at all - he's walking on them." --Leonard Louis Levinson





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