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In a small, desperately poor village in rth-east China, a young peasant boy sits at his rickety old school desk, interested more in the birds outside than in Chairman Mao's Red Book and the grand words it contains. But that day, some strange men come to his school - Madame Mao's cultural delegates. They are looking for young peasants to mould into faithful guards of Mao's great vision for China. This is the true story of how that 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.
Li Cunxin was born in 1961, in the New Village, Li Commune, near the city of Qingdao on the coast of north-east China. The sixth of seven sons in a poor rural family, Li's peasant life in Chairman Mao's communist China changed dramatically when, at the age of eleven, he was chosen by Madame Mao's cultural advisers to become a student at the Beijing Dance Academy. After a summer school in America, for which he was one of only two students chosen, he defected to the West and became a principal dancer for the Housten Ballet. Li went on to become one of the best male dancers in the world. He is now a senior manager in a major stockbroking firm and lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife Mary and their three children, Sophie, Tom and Bridie. Li's autobiography, Mao's Last Dancer has sold over 400,000 copies and has been published in over 20 countries. A children's version of the book was released in 2005.