Li Cunxin (pronounced “Lee Schwin
Sing”) is a remarkable man borne of a remarkable story. He has published a
remarkable book about his extraordinary life. In his runaway best selling
autobiography, Mao' s Last Dancer, Li recounts his determination,
perseverance, vision, courage and hard work, and in particular, the sacred
family values and integrity that he learned in poverty-stricken China,
which has driven him to become one of the best dancers in the world. He tells
of how the sixth of seven sons born to peasants grew up worshipping Mao
Zedong before defecting to the United States.
Li was born into bitter poverty in rural Qingdao, China. Certain years the
peasants in his village even ate tree barks to survive. Despite the harsh
reality of life, his childhood was full of love. The love of his parents
gave him hope and courage.
One day, a delegation from Madame Mao's Beijing Dance Academy arrived at
Li's commune school to find suitable children to study ballet and serve in
Chairman Mao's revolution. At first they passed Li without taking any
notice, but just as they were walking out of his classroom, the class
teacher hesitated, and suddenly tapped the last gentleman from Beijing on
the shoulder and pointed. `What about that boy?'. And that boy
And so began Li's remarkable journey. He was 11 when he left home to begin a
seven-year harsh training regime from 5.30 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week at the
Beijing Dance Academy. Once he found his passion, he worked hard and gave
his all. He would practise his turns at night by candlelight, and hopped,
one-legged, up and down stairs with heavy sandbags tied to his ankles to build
his leg strength at 5 am in the mornings when others were still asleep.
With incredible determination, resilience, perseverance and vision, Li
graduated as one of the best dancers China has produced. He was discovered
by Ben Stevenson, one of the world’s most respected teachers,
choreographer and the Artistic Director of the Houston Ballet as part of
the first US cultural delegation to communist China. And became one of the
first two cultural exchange students allowed to go to America to study
under Mao’s regime.
In a dramatic defection, Li was subsequently locked up in the Chinese
Consulate in Houston. This created a standoff between the Chinese and the
American governments. Even George Bush senior, then US Vice President
intervened. FBI agents surrounded the consulate in Houston, and
negotiations between Chinese and US diplomats had begun. His defection was
the headline story in America. Twenty-one hours later, Li walked out of
the Chinese Consulate as a free man.
He then danced with the Houston Ballet for sixteen years and became one of
the best dancers in the world. He guest performed around the world with
some of the best ballet companies and won two silver and a bronze medal at
three International Ballet Competitions. While dancing in London, he fell
in love with an Australian born ballerina with a major ballet company in
England, Mary McKendry. They married in 1987, and in 1995 moved to
Melbourne with their two children where Li became a principal dancer with
the Australian Ballet.
At age thirty-four, Li started to plan his next career after dancing. He
enrolled in accounting and financial courses. In 1997 he began his study
at the Australian Securities Institute by correspondence with a view to
becoming a stockbroker. For his final two years with the Australian
Ballet, he rose at 5am to start ballet training, then racing to the stock
exchange by 8am to work as a stockbroker until noon. By the time he joined
the rest of the Australian Ballet dancers for rehearsals, he had already
put in a full day's work (Li is now a senior manager at one of the biggest
stockbroking firms in Australia).
Li’s Autobiography, "Mao's Last Dancer", was recently published and
immediately hit the top of Australia’s best sellers list. It was number 1
in the non-fiction category and won the Book of the Year Award in
Australia, the Christopher Award in America and it was short-list for the
National Biography Award among other prestigious literary awards. It
stayed on the top 10 Bestseller List for over one and a half years and it
is in the 32nd printing, it has been published and sold in over 20 countries and
a featured film is in the pipeline.
His book is an unique story of determination, passion, integrity and love.
His journey filled with dreams shattered and revitalized. It is an
empowering tale with so many lessons. This combined with the moving
supporting ballet sequences and still photographs create an experience to
As a motivational and inspirational speaker, Li’s unique real life story
works so effectively with corporations and conferences’ various themes and
objectives. It is a story that can touch people deep in their hearts.