Review of “Mao’s Last” Dancer By Li Cunxin

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“Despite our hardships, there were also joys in our childhood”. Explore the ways in which Li’s childhood was both one of great deprivations and one of great riches. The novel, “Mao’s Last Dancer”, was written by Li Cunxin. It tells his riveting tale of growing up in a poor family of six boys, living in a village in China under Mao’s reign. It goes on to share his eventual defection to the United States as an artistic dancer. His childhood was filled with both hardships and joys. But both helped him to grow as a resilient person to achieve once-thought impossible goals.

In Li’s commune, the housing was not up to today’s standard. They lived in abject poverty. There was barely any available space in the house to accommodate everyone. Today, we are considered very fortunate. Our facilities are much more developed than Li’s time. Li states, “There was no refrigeration and no running water, only a huge clay pot for storing drinking water. ” They had to walk to the village well to collect drinking water. Most of us would not be able to imagine life without these amenities. Their bathroom was just a simple hole, dug in the ground outside.

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They were walls surrounding it but no roof. To shower, they had to heat water in their wok. There was another “public bath in the commune shared by over ten thousand people, but my family couldn’t afford to use it. ” Li’s family continually struggled with their harsh living areas. Each family was allocated to a piece of land so Li’s family had to “make use of every inch of their yard”. They weren’t given much but they manage to survive their dire living conditions under Mao’s reign. Each year, Li and his family looked forward to celebrations such as Chinese New Year.

It was a time where hunger wouldn’t be a problem. Where friendships would become stronger and where the Li family would celebrate the festivities. Li described Chinese New Year as an occasion where “Happiness filled everyone’s hearts. We would forget hardship. We felt privileged. ” They enjoyed it to a great extent because it was such a contrast to their usual life. Normally they wouldn’t spend that much money in one day. They wouldn’t get to eat as much food. They wouldn’t be enjoying their precious time with their family.

Instead they would be working hard in the fields to earn a sufficient living wage. But Chinese New Year was a time when they felt they were on top. They thought that they were living the high life. They “all looked forward to, the one time when we would be guaranteed wonderful food, was the Chinese New Year. ” It was one joyous occasion that helped them to endure their destitute lives. Every year, Li’s family struggled to survive with the limited amount of food that was accessible. Poverty surrounded them. They couldn’t get away from it.

Li remarked, “There was never enough food to feed the people, let alone the pigs. ” They may have owned pigs and chickens but they could never provide them with enough food to fatten them up to eat or for them to produce eggs. Eggs were a rarity. Meats in their diets were uncommon. They mainly “ate a lot of dried yams. They were the easiest things to grow. ” They lived off yams. They relied on yams as their food source. Everything they could “grow and earn from the land depended on the weather and luck. ” Every family received basic foods that the government controlled.

They were “allocated a very small quantity of meat, seafood and eggs, along with oil, soy sauce, sugar, salt, wheat, and cornflour, rice and also coal each month. ” The Li family tried their best to preserve as much of their valued foods as possible. But having enough food to feed six growing boys was just too hard. As a result, every night, food was passed from plate to plate. Li’s parents argued which one of them should get the food. His niang said that Li’s dia deserved the best food because he was their “breadwinner”. But they both thought that it was essential to feed their children well.

They “always ate slowly to allow us more food. ” Hunger was always a part of the Li family’s lives. They only had a limited supply of to sustain them throughout the day. But this was only one of the various hardships that the Li family had to endure. Despite all the hardships in Li’s life, he also had many joys. One that he missed dearly while at dance school was the freedom that he was able to enjoy as a child. He had experienced many great memories of excitement. He especially loved looking for crickets. “Night or day I would follow the crickets’ singing until I caught one, but we had to take care because we ften looked in dangerous areas where there might be snakes. ” Li had a lot of freedom in searching for crickets. He was allowed to look for crickets at night while knowing that snakes were around. That would be unheard of today! Li’s parents were not worried whereas today we would have probably already called the police. He loved spending his free time looking for crickets. It was one of his hobbies. Li was very thankful to his parents for giving him such freedoms to enjoy his deprived life. Li’s childhood lacked the attention of medical care.

They had to put up with the pain. Li’s niang had many Chinese healing methods to cure regular ailments. For example, when her kids had severe coughs, she would force them to eat snakeskin. You would not hear of anyone today attempting to do anything like that! But surprisingly Li claimed that “it was the most effective treatment for sore throats and coughs we had. ” The Li family’s last resort for medical care was to go to the hospital. For other little things, they would ask around for advice for local remedies. They were all tough nuts who could obviously take a lot of pain.

They did not go to the hospital because they “could not afford to take me to the hospital. ” Even if they did have enough money to go to the hospital, the quality of their facilities and expertise was mediocre. It was not up to standard. They even “used the same needle to inject everybody. ” Today, that would be considered very unhygienic. Although Li’s childhood was deficient in medical care, thankfully none of Li’s family suffered life-threatening illnesses. Throughout all Li’s hardships, he was lucky to have a loving family who always supported him.

No matter the circumstance, they were always there for him. He was pleasured in many simple things. He especially thought it was a highlight to “hear my parents laugh again. ” Today we take for granted many of the little things that he would have found a delight to have. His niang was always looking out for Li and his brothers. She made sure that their “patched clothes were always clean. She took immense pride in making her seven sons look well cared for. ” Li loved his niang very much and he treasured every moment he shared with her.

Li and his brothers fought over their niang’s attention because she had very little spare time after tending to all her duties. Due to all the limited times shared with his niang, Li “rarely saw a smile from my niang, but when I did, my heart would blossom like a lotus flower. ” In Li’s book, you could tell that he was very grateful to his encouraging family for always being there to support him to achieve the best result possible. Li’s life was balanced with both hardship and joy. Together they helped shape Li as a person, hence changing Li’s life forever.

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Review of “Mao’s Last” Dancer By Li Cunxin. (2016, Dec 25). Retrieved from

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