Mao's Last Dancer. Li Cunxin
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Raised in a desperately poor village during the height of China's Cultural Revolution, Li Cunxin's childhood revolved around the commune, his family and Chairman Mao's Little Red Book. Until, that is, Madame Mao's cultural delegates came in search of young peasants to study ballet at the academy in Beijing and he was thrust into a completely unfamiliar world. When a trip to Texas as part of a rare cultural exchange opened his eyes to life and love beyond China's borders, he defected to the United States in an extraordinary and dramatic tale of Cold War intrigue. Told in his own distinctive voice, this is Li's inspirational story of how he came to be Mao's last dancer, and one of the world's greatest ballet dancers.
then, and hid in a cornfield. I couldn’t believe my third cousin was really one of my own brothers. My eyes filled with tears, and from that moment on I regarded Cunmao as one of my real brothers. In the end Cunmao respected my parents’ position and remained a faithful son to my uncle and aunt. My eldest brother, Cuncia, we called Big Brother. He was thirteen years older than me. I was only four when, in August 1965, he was sent to Tibet by Chairman Mao. In the 1950s there was a popular
carry mirrors, combs, cups, food, drinks, and a lot of fake paper money. The procession began from Na-na’s house. Only men were permitted to go to the burial site. The women were left to cry in the house and cook the feast. My eldest uncle carried a big clay pot on his head. At one point he had to drop the pot on the ground. It broke in pieces, the signal for everyone to begin crying, one of the occasions when crying in public was acceptable. The Li funeral entourage was impressive. Many
waking hour. Many relatives, friends, and neighbors visit during those three days. On the fourth day, the bride takes her new husband to visit her own family. They like their new son-in-law, and are happy for their daughter. “Don’t look back,” her mother tells her. “Now you belong to the Li family.” When Reiqing gets into the back of the cart and looks back at her familiar village for the last time, she has no tears. Her name and place are changed forever. Her destiny lies ahead. So it was
window. The buildings around the Square seemed to stare at me. Why are you, peasant boy, here in this magnificent city? Here among fifteen million people, I felt like a feather swept up in a whirlwind. We traveled through the city streets and gradually the tall buildings of Beijing were left far behind. We drove on, heading toward a village called Zhuxingzhuang, about 118 miles away, which was to be our new home. The wide, open fields of the countryside seemed flat compared to the terraced
neck and cracked it with amazing force. A few days later the pain disappeared, but my neck often gave me problems after that accident. A few weeks before our midyear exams, Teacher Xiao finished our class late. I was desperate to go to the toilet before our next class. As usual there was a long line. I was late for Gao’s Beijing Opera Movement class. He stopped the music. “Here comes my prized student with the brainless big head! Why are you late?” he shouted. I had intended to apologize and