Li Cunxin


Li Cunxin

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Father of the Year 2009

Li Cunxin (pron "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 international 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 that 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". There was never enough food to go around in his family's two-bedroom home in rural China. Certain years the peasants in his village even ate tree barks to survive. But, he is quick to point out, it was a happy upbringing in a home full of love. The love of his parents gave him hope and courage.

One day, a delegation Madame Mao's Beijing Dance Academy arrived at Li's commune school, part of a national tour aimed at finding young people they could whisk away 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, but just as the people Beijing were about to walk out of the room, she suddenly tapped the last gentleman Beijing on the shoulder and pointed at one of the students. 'What about that boy?' she said. And that boy was Li.

And so began Li's journey. He was 11 when he left home to begin a harsh training regime at the Beijing Dance Academy. Li hated dancing during his first two years away home and pined for his family. But fear of what he would return kept him going, and he took to heart his mother's advice: "Go and do something special with your life. Don't look back!" At first his grades were poor, but within a year his astounding capacity for work became apparent. He practised his turns at night by candlelight, and hopped, one-legged, up and down stairs with sandbags tied to his ankles to build his strength at five o'clock in the morning when others were still asleep.

"I worked as hard as I knew how," he tells. "I once fell asleep in bed in the splits position and when I woke up I had to be helped up by my classmates because I couldn't feel my legs at all. By now I was practising in those studios five times a day compared to the usual once-a-day routine of the other students." Li was 18 when the first US cultural delegation went to China. There was Ben Stevenson, one of the world's most respected teacher, choreographer and the Artistic Director of the Houston Ballet, offering two summer school scholarships to the Houston Ballet Academy. Li was chosen.

Li's Western experiences were of shock and disbelief. He eventually defected.

As a motivational and inspirational speaker, Li's unique real life story has inspired so corporations and conferences. It is a unique story that has touched people deep in the heart. Li is one of the top international speakers today. He has been invited speak at some of the most prestigious conferences and to some of the biggest corporations in the world.


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