Monday, April 16, 2012

Mao's Last Dancer by Lin Cunxin




What about that boy?

In 1995 Li Cunxin moved to Australia with their three children,
where he became a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet.
where he became a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet.
His journey filled with dreams shattered and revitalised.
His journey filled with dreams shattered and revitalised.
'What a beautiful world,' he thought entering Melbourne, the birth city of his wife.
'What a beautiful world,' he thought entering Melbourne, the birth city of his wife.
'What a cruel world, it was,' he thought, 'where we had to back home compete with rats for food.'
'What a cruel world, it was,' he thought, 'where we had to back home compete with rats for food.'
And yet, despite their poverty, his parents always taught him to have dignity, honesty and pride. Their good family name was most sacred and should be protected with all our might.
And yet, despite their poverty, his parents always taught him to have dignity, honesty and pride. Their good family name was most sacred and should be protected with all our might.
"Never to steal or do things that would harm others," his father gave him lecture: " Although we have no money, no food and can't buy clothes, and although we live in a poor house, one thing  we do have is pride."
"Never to steal or do things that would harm others," his father gave him lecture: " Although we have no money, no food and can't buy clothes, and although we live in a poor house, one thing we do have is pride."
"Never loose your pride and dignity, no matter how hard life is." He remembered those words walking the Melbourne's streets...
"Never loose your pride and dignity, no matter how hard life is." He remembered those words walking the Melbourne's streets...
and also remembered how many times he cried, not only with tears but also with his heart. He was soaked with sadness so many times in his life.
and also remembered how many times he cried, not only with tears but also with his heart. He was soaked with sadness so many times in his life.
And yet, how his life changed. Confucius once said: 'One cannot fully believe it and yet one shouldn't disbelieve it'
And yet, how his life changed. Confucius once said: 'One cannot fully believe it and yet one shouldn't disbelieve it'
Now it is time to pass his long life wisdom to his children too.
Now it is time to pass his long life wisdom to his children too.
He thought about Confucius a lot, lately, especially in this fortunate part of the world, where everyone has so much.
He thought about Confucius a lot, lately, especially in this fortunate part of the world, where everyone has so much.
'Everyone has an appropriate role to play in the family and society', Confucius once said: 'When the perfect order prevails, the world is like a home shared by all.'
'Everyone has an appropriate role to play in the family and society', Confucius once said: 'When the perfect order prevails, the world is like a home shared by all.'
Is that possible?  'A sense of sharing displaces the effects of selfishness and materialism, and a devotion to public duty leaves no room for idleness...'
Is that possible? 'A sense of sharing displaces the effects of selfishness and materialism, and a devotion to public duty leaves no room for idleness...'
Is that possible? He didn't know but what he knew by heart is that great things don't come easily.
Is that possible? He didn't know but what he knew by heart is that great things don't come easily.
"Nothing is impossible," he said to his son, practising his violin at home and dreaming to be a famous musician.
"Nothing is impossible," he said to his son, practising his violin at home and dreaming to be a famous musician.
His son tried and tried but the harmonious sound evaded him. He saw the disappointment in his son's eyes and he felt terrible.
His son tried and tried but the harmonious sound evaded him. He saw the disappointment in his son's eyes and he felt terrible.
"Experience, only experience will help you," he said to him and asked his son to follow him out into their garden.
"Experience, only experience will help you," he said to him and asked his son to follow him out into their garden.
He picked a mango from a nearby tree and offered it to his son. His son took it absent-mindedly ready to peel it, but he stopped his hand.
He picked a mango from a nearby tree and offered it to his son. His son took it absent-mindedly ready to peel it, but he stopped his hand.
"Mango is the most wonderful fruit with the most unique taste," he said to his son, taking the fruit back from his hand: "Once can only get it in certain parts of the world and only for a short season."
"Mango is the most wonderful fruit with the most unique taste," he said to his son, taking the fruit back from his hand: "Once can only get it in certain parts of the world and only for a short season."
"So," his son said impatiently, wanting his father to finish his speech so he could go and practice his violin: "It is just food."
"So," his son said impatiently, wanting his father to finish his speech so he could go and practice his violin: "It is just food."
"It all depends how you look at it," his father sighed and handed the mango back to him: " Treat it with respect it deserves, admire its unique shape, the colour, enjoy that heavenly smell..."
"It all depends how you look at it," his father sighed and handed the mango back to him: " Treat it with respect it deserves, admire its unique shape, the colour, enjoy that heavenly smell..."
"Sorry, no time for that Dad, you can have it," his son threw it back to him and rushed away.
"Sorry, no time for that Dad, you can have it," his son threw it back to him and rushed away.
Li Cunxin stood there feeling the weight of the mango in his hand, then he slowly cut the skin and savoured the fragrance.
Li Cunxin stood there feeling the weight of the mango in his hand, then he slowly cut the skin and savoured the fragrance.
He thought about his favourite teacher back in the Beijing's Ballet school: " ...taste it's skin and even the nut if you are daring, then comes the ultimate satisfaction, the pulp."
He thought about his favourite teacher back in the Beijing's Ballet school: " ...taste it's skin and even the nut if you are daring, then comes the ultimate satisfaction, the pulp."
Li Cunxin stood there tasting it all and the teacher's words rang in his ears: " Taste the many layers of the fruit and enjoy it for its full value. Be daring."
Li Cunxin stood there tasting it all and the teacher's words rang in his ears: " Taste the many layers of the fruit and enjoy it for its full value. Be daring."
" Be daring, if you don't go all the way and taste the pulp someone else will. I dare you!" Li Cunxin shouted after his son but he was gone.
" Be daring, if you don't go all the way and taste the pulp someone else will. I dare you!" Li Cunxin shouted after his son but he was gone.
"Once he will get it," he shook his head sadly and tasted the pulp savouring it in his mouth thinking to himself: "He has to get it, otherwise his dream will never comes true."
"Once he will get it," he shook his head sadly and tasted the pulp savouring it in his mouth thinking to himself: "He has to get it, otherwise his dream will never comes true."
I have visited Melbourne in many occasion and was lucky enough to see Li Cunxin to dance in his last three years as a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet.
I have visited Melbourne in many occasion and was lucky enough to see Li Cunxin to dance in his last three years as a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet.
I don't know if his son has been daring enough to taste the mango from his father's hand, but I also believe once he will. He is his father's son.
I don't know if his son has been daring enough to taste the mango from his father's hand, but I also believe once he will. He is his father's son.
And on behalf for all of us, other mortals, who have wasted so many lifelong opportunities, I can only say...
And on behalf for all of us, other mortals, who have wasted so many lifelong opportunities, I can only say...
I have tasted my first mango, really tasted it and the feeling is sensational.....
I have tasted my first mango, really tasted it and the feeling is sensational.....
What you need is to find a cause that pulsates every fibre of your heart and work towards it. Liberate yourself from limitations and reliance on society.
What you need is to find a cause that pulsates every fibre of your heart and work towards it. Liberate yourself from limitations and reliance on society.
Find the strength to stand alone free of fears and therefore free of manipulation by circumstance, opinion or force. Allow yourself to feel your own pain and the pain of the world.
Find the strength to stand alone free of fears and therefore free of manipulation by circumstance, opinion or force. Allow yourself to feel your own pain and the pain of the world.
Only through your will strength, determination, compassion, persistence, forgiveness, humility and connection arise our humanity.
Only through your will strength, determination, compassion, persistence, forgiveness, humility and connection arise our humanity.
Our desire to love and to be loved connects us all.
Our desire to love and to be loved connects us all.
Create something, that inspires you, give your life purpose and meaning and you will grow tremendously as a person.
Create something, that inspires you, give your life purpose and meaning and you will grow tremendously as a person.
The beauty of following your passion is you. You create meaning in your own life and the lives of others.
The beauty of following your passion is you. You create meaning in your own life and the lives of others.
You connect people...the temple bell tolls and beckons us back...
You connect people...the temple bell tolls and beckons us back...
like sheep we cleave to familiar tracks...
like sheep we cleave to familiar tracks...
the past tense demands we turn again...
the past tense demands we turn again...
rebuild the bridges we burned back when...it all just started...
rebuild the bridges we burned back when...it all just started...
an endless struggle that will go on...
an endless struggle that will go on...
to the very last moment of our lives.
to the very last moment of our lives.
What about that boy?
What about that boy?
Nobody is born a hero, nobody is born an average man, we make ourselves into one or the other... if we have OPPORTUNITY.
Nobody is born a hero, nobody is born an average man, we make ourselves into one or the other... if we have OPPORTUNITY.

Nobody is born a hero,

nobody is born an average man,
the temple bell tolls
and beckons him back,
like sheep we cleave to familiar tracks.
The past tense demands he turns again
rebuild the bridges he burned back when...

He was 11-years-old
in February 1972
chosen for Madame Mao's
new Beijing Dance Academy.
One of the fifteen
the most fortunate...
from Shandong Province.
One of the chosen
from over 70 million
the most desperate...

Leaving behind
the childhood in Qingdao,
the harsh reality
of not having
enough food,
his fascination with birds
his envy of their freedom.
Long live Chairman Mao,
I love Chairman Mao,”
he repeated each phrase
after the teacher
until he had
memorised them
for life.

Everything changed under Mao,
the way they lived...
the way they died...

Witnessing many rallies
during the Cultural Revolution,
the Red Guards said
they were killing the class enemies,
they loaded them onto a truck
to a nearby field
put them agains a mud wall,
the accused crumbled onto their knees
and started to scream: “I am innocent, please let me live!”
The sound ripped through his heart.
He saw blood,
splattered everywhere.
The bodies fell down.
It haunted him in many of his childhood dreams.
He was one of Mao's young guards, too.

He got out of that hopeless,
vicious cycle
of slavery and starvation,
he can not remember
how many times
he had wanted
to let go of his life
and relieve some of his parents' burden,
but would it have made much difference?
Who did his life belong to anyway?

Beijing is his chance,
he is carrying their dreams
as well as his own,
his mum said never look back.

His heart leapt
as their bus pulled
into Tiananmen Square,
guards seemed to be everywhere
their hands firmly grasping
their semi-automatic guns,
ready to pull the trigger on anyone.

It was here,
on the gate of Heavenly Peace,
facing millions of jubilant people
that Chairman Mao declared the birth
of their People's Republic
on the 1st October 1949
a date that all the children of China
had etched into their minds.

They arrived to the Central Performing
and Arts University,
it was an isolated site,
surrounded by commune and fields.
A metal-barred gate
and behind
a grey three-storey building,
their home for next six years.
Ten students per room,
the beds crammed close together.
They put their belonging away
then lined up
according to height,
he was one of the smallest boy,
his place was at the back.
A strong man in a green army uniform
said to them: “You grow up being dancers
and revolutionary guards.
Your weapon is your art.”
Then identical small bowls of rice and sleep.
Next morning at half past five,
the harsh sound of the wake up bell,
schedules and rules,
speed and efficiency.
Ballet and political studies would fill their days
for the next five years.

Ballet is an art form
that originated from dancing
in the French imperial courts.
Their syllabus was based
on the Russian method
and the Chinese terminology.
The first two years
their foundation days
were crucial,
“Keep your knee straight,
legs up on the barre..”
strict orders had to be
rigidly observed.

The first two lonely years,
the pain was excruciating,
and was increasing
at an alarming rate.
He felt traumatised,
embarrassed,
trapped in his own
emotionally torrid world.
The boys would be laughed at
if discovered
sobbing.
He couldn't wait
for the year to end
so he could return home .

On his first visit home,
he knew with a sudden shock,
that he could never go back
to the life he used to have.
His elder brothers,
who longed to
but can not leave the village
and pheasants' lives behind
looked starved,
far worse than the lack of food
were their dying souls,
reflected in their eyes.
If he hadn't got out
he too
would face
the same fate.

In 1974 he was 13-years-old,
when he pledged his allegiance
to the 'Communist Youth Party':
The party's interests come before mine,
I'm ready to give my all,
including my life to its glorious cause.”

For the first time he felt confident
in his ballet class,
he practised hard
his backward somersault,
then he crashed down
from the shoulder height,
his back and head
landing on the hard wooden floor...
he was knocked unconscious...
When he opened his eyes,
his pain neck
was intense and persistent,
but he was told to stick
with the normal routine
and went outside
to keep practising
more and more and more
backflips in the snow.

How could a 14-years-old peasant boy
think about being the best dancer in the world?

Cunxin, I would dearly love
to make you see ballet
through my eyes,”
his favourite teacher said to him:
“Nothing is impossible,
physical imperfections
are easier to overcome
than mental deficiencies.”
In February 1975 in his 4th year,
the teacher who taught him to love dance
was considered not good enough,
his only crime
had been his knowledge
of Western Arts.
“ Cunxin, to be the best,
first you have to DARE TO TRY...”
That last day,
his teacher's words had touched him,
deeply,
and he knew that he cared.
“Cunxin, life is not meant to be fair,
as an artist you have to remain honest
to your art.”
He saw him to leave through the metal gate
and felt very lonely and lost again.

That year was one of the worst autumns
because of massive fuel shortages
every tree in and around
had been cut.
The strong winds blew up
the treeless soil
covering the ancient capital in dust.
Then the Chairman Mao died
and Madame Mao was arrested.
No more political studies in Academy.
To honour his lost teacher,
he challenged himself to go a step further,
pouring his passion and his heart
into pirouettes.

By the end of 1977, in his sixth year,
the political pressure waned,
selected Western books,
and performing groups
began to appear.
Getting hold of a foreign coloured film
became everyone's obsession.
He was desperate for Western knowledge.
By the end of 1978, in his final year,
the London Ballet visited his school.
A few days before the exam,
he made the breakthrough,
by changing his weight in the air
and bending his body backwards
as far as his flexibility allowed.
The feeling was sensational.
Here he was,
one among
the last
generation of Mao's dancers
about graduate.

The first cultural delegation from America
ever to visit communist China
the Houston Ballet came to teach his class.
He was offered the scholarship
to the annual summer ballet school
in Texas
and went to the Ministry of Culture
to be briefed by the officials:
“Resist capitalist influences and bring back knowledge,
was their advice.
Here he was,
one of the first
official exchange artists
between China and America since 1949.

He called home to inform his parents
and they were worried:
 Please be careful. Stay away from the evil people in America.
Don't they kill coloured people there? These foreigners are wild.
They are different from us. Don't trust them.”

On the plane back to China
after his two months in the Western world,
he knew that China's most hated enemy
and the system it represented
had given him something
that was his heart's desire.
He had now tasted freedom,
and couldn't lie to himself about that.

In November 1979,
he left China for the second time.
It would be many, many years
before he could come back.

America,
the Christmas trees were everywhere,
incredible
but most incredible of all
was the money.
His host spent nearly five thousands dollars
on presents in only a couple of hours,
his father's salary for sixty-five years,
his family could live on this amount
for over half a century.
How could here be such disparity in the world?

'Cunxin' means 'keep my innocent heart,'
he whispered into the ear of his first lover,
an young American dancer.
In 1981 he was due to return to China,
instead,
he married her secretly
two days before the departure.

Entering the Chinese Consulate
the big metal door shut behind them.
His heart sank.
Defection.
The atmosphere was tense.
He was on Chinese territory.
Four security guards stormed in,
heading straight for him.
Consul came into the room:
You are the property of China,
your marriage is not legitimate in our eyes.”
His new wife and his friends refused to leave
and soon the press surrounded the consulate:
“ We are not leaving until you release him,
you are in violation of US law!”
The consul came back: “We are sorry and sad,
that we lost you to America. You are now a man
without a country and a people.
But I want to warn you, what you say,
now or in the future,
will have a direct effect on your family back in China.”

Although he had his wife's love,
his dancing job
and his precious freedom,
he couldn't shake off
a nagging dark shadow across his heart.
Feeling guilty for having so much.
His wife left him,
eventually,
and another thing concerned him,
he didn't want to be
like most of the Chinese people in America,
he didn't want to be
always on the fringe.
Ballet was the only thing he knew how to do.
It was his salvation
as he tried to survive
on his own
in the Western world.

In 1983 he met the Australian born
ballerina,
he fell in love
with her artistry.
Just like him,
ballet was her passion,
her identity.
Mary and him,
in the leading roles in Peer Gynt.
Together dancing
just before
they parted on stage.
Beautiful, intensely sad music.
They looked at each other and kissed each other goodbye.
At that moment they both had tears in their eyes.
They had no sense of time.
They knew instantly
their destiny together is inevitable.
They married in 1987
and continued to dance together.
In 1988 with Mary holding his hand,
he went back to the Chinese Consulate
where he had been detained
seven years earlier,
to ask the Chinese government's permission
to visit home.
It had been nearly nine years
since he had left,
things had changed.

Beijing had changed,
sign of prosperity everywhere.
'Got rich is glorious.'
greeted him
slogans
on enormous billboards,
and yet,
the massive number of bicycles,
the polluted air
the millions of pedestrians
were still there,
were they happier?
There seemed to have more freedom
still
the Chinese secret police kept an eye
on him.

Nobody is born a hero,
nobody is born an average man,
the temple bell tolls
and beckons him back,
like sheep we cleave to familiar tracks.
The past tense demands he turns again
rebuild the bridges he burned back when...

Along the dusty road
on the way to his village
the familiar country air
full of scent of human waste
used as fertiliser in the fields
the smell of his own town
at long last he knew
he was really home.
People lit up firecrackers
to celebrate his return.
All he could do
was nod and smile.

In the shady courtyard
of his old home
a small square wooden table
knee-high
a plates of roasted sunflower seeds,
peanuts and soughum sweets
every object was drenched with memories.
Each of his brothers cooked their favourite dish.
They had little idea of the ballet world
from which he had come
they were not celebrating
the famous dancer that night,
they were just happy
that their sixth brother had finally returned.

There was still no bath,
or shower,
no hot water,
the-in-the-ground toilet
was still there.
Within days of his arrival,
the local police came.

One-child policy had now been
strongly enforced.
If a woman did fall pregnant
with a second child,
even if she did run away,
the government would track her down.
Not producing a son to continue
the family line
was the worst betrayal
of your ancestors in China.

His eldest brother found
unwanted baby girl
so many of them,
left on the streets of his town
and raised her as his own.

Another brother had spent
his youth pursuing nothing
but propaganda,
it crushed and destroyed
his spirit and his soul.
Is trust in his society
had vanished,
and his sacred family values
he was not allowed to practise
any more.

Another of his brothers,
a pheasant without land.
“All land belongs to the government,
we are forced to put our faith
in the hands of a few officials,
who swindle our land away,
all in the name of reform.”
He sadly said.

He gave his brothers money,
as much as he could,
what they needed most
was the one thing
he couldn't give them:
OPPORTUNITY

Then he was going home
and he was leaving home too.
He was closing a full circle
within his heart.
He couldn't stop comparing his life
in the West
to theirs in Qingduo
and he was overwhelmed
with guilt.


Mao's Last Dancer

Mao's Last Dancer
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Mao's Last Dancer (Movie Tie-In)
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Mao's Last Dancer. Li Cunxin
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