Mao's Last Dancer

By: Li Cunxin
Narrated by: Paul English
Length: 15 hrs and 16 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (1,417 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

This is the true story of how one moment in time, by the thinnest thread of a chance, changed the course of a small boy's life in ways that are beyond description. One day he would dance with some of the greatest ballet companies of the world. One day he would be a friend to a president and first lady, movie stars, and the most influential people in America. One day he would become a star: Mao's last dancer, and the darling of the West. Here is Li Cunxin's own story, a beautiful, rich account of an inspirational life, told with honesty, dignity, and pride.
©2003 Li Cunxin (P)2004 Bolinda Publishing Pyt Ltd by arrangement with Penguin Group (Australia)

Critic Reviews

"[A] heartening rags-to-riches story." (Publishers Weekly)

"[Paul English] exercises such an intense and masterful concentration on the text that the listener's interest never flags.... He imbues the narrative with ingenuousness and enthusiasm, which endearingly befit the image Li is attempting to present of himself. The result is an audiobook that is superior to its source." (AudioFile

What listeners say about Mao's Last Dancer

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Has the "ring" of truth

Having been to China during the time period covered in this book, and more recently - this book seemed very "on point" to me. I enjoyed the pure wonder that the main character - a newcomer to the "west" - experienced in America and would highly recommend this to anyone wishing to take a look behind the "bamboo curtain". Very, very interesting and insightful read.

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Life in perspective

As someone who is neither a dancer nor well educated about life in China during the Cultural Revolution, the information in this book was out of my usual interest zone, and I am so glad that the Audible blurb caught my attention and lured me in! This is a fascinating book, and despite its length it captured my attention throughout. I kept having to remind myself that Li Cunxin is slightly younger than I am, although the experiences of his childhood and youth sound as though they must have occured a century before. Compared to the freedom and comfort of average American life in the past four decades, Li's life was grim. However, his attitude, determination, and family support are all the more inspring because of how much he had to overcome. I highly recommend this book. While the narrator's voice is wonderful, I would have preferred an Asian narrator, because the British accent at times became overwhelming. I am a visual listener, and I had trouble visualizing a young Chinese male when listening to this narrator. Other than that, I have no reservations about this book. I just wish I could have the opportunity to see Li dance!

54 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent Book

My friends couldn't understand why I would liked a book so much about a Chinese ballet dancer. This is the ultimate rags to riches story. The narration was superb. This is one of my favorite books.

28 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Way Beyond Dance

I first passed up this gem because I had no interest in dance much less the world of ballet. What a mistake that was. Li Cunxin takes you into the fascinating lives of peasants in rural socialist China under Mao and his struggles to find his way in a dangerous and changing world. His story is unique, totally engaging and extraordinary. This autobiography is far from simple rags-to-riches success story. His style is down-to-earth and crafted with artistry. The book is beautifully narrated and I remained totally engaged from beginning to end.

43 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Beautiful!

This is the most beautiful book. The Narrator is so good and the book is fantastic. The words come alive. You can feel the damp chilly dance studio, taste the dumplings and feel the cold wind on your face.

I love the richness of this book and the insight into life in Mao's China. This is a MUST Listen in my book. Do not pass it by.

24 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Enlightening!

Thoroughly enjoyable! The first part relating Cunxin's childhood especially touched me in the way it revealed the love, humour and even small moments of happiness possible in such a desperate situation. I have to agree with other comments that an asian narrator probably would have sounded more authentic, but Paul English did a wonderful job none the less. If you have seen the movie and think you know the story, think again! The book is definately worth the listen, as the movie probably only contained 10-15% of the original story (as most movies often do, understandably because of time restraints) and most of my favourite parts weren't there! Get the book - You wont regret it!

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A Life Story Beautifully Told

As a Chinese American born in Taiwan, I can relate to the Chinese custom and tradition in the story. But I was struck by the poverty living in the Communist China in that era.

The story was truly inspirational. It taught us that determination combined with hard work paves the way to greatness. And yet Li's deeply-rooted Chinese family values and love for his family still came through all along. This is the "hero's journey" at its best.

The narration was excellent. At times, I thought there were several people speaking for each role. The British/Australian accent didn't take much time to get used to and the pronunciation of Chinese names were pretty good.

This is among one of the best memoirs I have listened to.

29 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

So Much more than I expected

This books was nothing of what I expected. I laughed, I cried, I cheered and held my breath. I was caught up into the story until I felt apart of the family. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. It inspired me to push myself as a person and opened my eyes to China of the early 1900's. I consider this a must listen.

37 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A wonderful bio of an amazing dancer

Mao's Last Dancer is an audiobook that I've come back to over and over again. Listening to Cunxin's story of hard work and dedication leading to a life of freedom and fame is absorbing and uplifting. This is the tale of a man who has had to overcome many obstacles. He makes me grateful for my life. I'll never look at a yam the same way again.

Anyone who enjoys interesting biographies will enjoy this book. His descriptions help the listener to feel the breaks and pains of learning to dance and the heartbreak he endures brought tears to my eyes. Please, give this one a try for those days when you think your life is too hard.

9 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

got me hooked

I too found the narrator very difficult to get used to and only in the second half felt I could settle into his style. But I loved the book, it inspired me and opened my heart and my mind in so many ways. Wonderful!

16 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • First Impressions
  • 10-22-19

Despite flaws I recommend this story to anyone

Mao’s Last Dancer was published in 2003 and is an astonishing story that combines many absorbing elements - I thoroughly enjoyed it. A movie was made from the book in 2009. Li Cunxin was the 6th son in a poor family in rural China. He overcomes the challenges of life under Mao's communism, culture shock in America and the incredible demands of the ballet world - to become an award winning dancer. Inspiring and thought provoking stuff. I am removing half a star from my overall grade because of the simple, plodding writing style - and cool detachment - that might take some of the joy out of the story for some. But it is well-narrated and I suspect this helps. I am also removing another half star because I sense that much has been withheld from this memoir. This isn't a "warts and all" account, it feels diplomatic and censored. I don't blame Li Cunxin as his own family, whole extended family, teachers and at least 3 countries will be reading it [China, America and Australia]. Despite it's flaws, I recommend this story for anyone with even the least interest in ballet, China, politics, romance, travel - or human life in general.

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  • Christine H.
  • 10-20-19

Incredible

What a fabulous memoir, the trials and tribulations of Chinese life and the positivity of Lin Cunxin was inspiring.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 07-08-17

A great read!

I don't find many books readable so I'm glad I found this one. It is an entertaining and educational read from beginning to end and I especially enjoyed the first half about the childhood and youth in China. I warmly recommend everyone to read Mao's last dancer.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Dan
  • 09-19-20

sensational

Brilliant read full of hope, courage and persistence highly recommend to any reader from any walk of life.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Sarah
  • 08-08-20

I could not stop listening.

I totally loved this book. What an inspirational and fascinating life. Very emotional and well narrated.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Nicole Tucker
  • 05-12-20

An extraordinary account of Li Cunxin's life

As a young peasant boy growing up in a remote village in Northern China, becoming a ballet dancer is furthest from Li Cunxin's mind. Li's story about how ballet changed the course of his life and his freedom, is extraordinary and a story everyone will enjoy. The narrator Paul English, was excellent and he had me captivated the whole time listening to Li's story. I loved this personal account of Li's life and challenges during the Chinese Communist regime. I highly recommend this story to anyone who is willing to listen to such an amazing story. Thank you Audible for making this story into our Audio libraries.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-18-20

great story, poor choice of the narrator.

I love the book, story is amazing and very well written, the pace is perfect in my view. but you selected the wrong narrator, there are plenty of Chinese words and phrases in the book, but the narrator consistently mispronounced them. ruined it for those who understand the language.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Michelle Richter
  • 08-10-19

Beautiful

Heartbreaking and so beautiful. I laughed, cried, empathised and marvelled at this Man’s amazing story. Thank you Li Cunxin for sharing

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • May
  • 10-22-18

beautiful

I don't read much. but this was beautifully worth it. and this is just to fill the word limit

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Holly Goodacre
  • 06-27-18

WONDERFUL book, I absolutely loved it

Absolutely loved the book, one of the best I've listened to. Both the story and the narration are outstanding. Highly recommended!!!

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Jacqueline Benz
  • 03-09-18

Exquisite portrayal of a humble mans life

This was an insight to someone ‘s personal life under extremely hard circumstances, my heart was in mouth for much of the story. It shows how adversity can bring about such fee termination and in this case wonderful results. ✔️love d this book! Jacqui