Li Cunxin

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Li Cunxin
Li Cunxin.jpg
Li Cunxin in 2010
Born 李存信 (Lǐ Cúnxìn)
(1961-01-26) 26 January 1961 (age 57)
Qingdao, Shandong, China
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Mackey (1981–87)[1]
Mary McKendry (1987–present)

Li Cunxin (born 26 January 1961) is a Chinese-Australian former ballet dancer and stockbroker. He is currently the artistic director of Queensland Ballet in Brisbane, Australia.[2]

Early life

Li was one of 7 brothers, born into poverty in the Li Commune near the city of Qingdao in the Shandong province of People's Republic of China. At the age of eleven, he was selected by Madame Mao's cultural advisors to attend the Beijing Dance Academy, where students endured 16-hour days of training, which he attended for seven years.

Li Cunxin was found by the Beijing Dance Academy at the age of ten during a blue audition. After that, he was in the academy and did the daily training at the academy. The training in Beijing Dance was brutal, having to start each morning at 5:30. Li performed well in the Politics class, [3] but did badly in Ballet. This changed when he met Teacher Xiao, who had passion for Ballet. Teacher Xiao's passion influenced Li, and he became a really good dancer by the end of the seven years' training.[4]

Ben Stevenson taught two semester at Beijing Dance Academy, and he offered the full scholarship for Li to study at Houston Ballet summer school. After the study in the summer school, Li had a hard decision to choose whether stay in America with his lover and his dance dream or go back to China his own country. He chose to chase his dream so he defected to the West, but he was cut off from his family for an entire seven years. After a performance at Washington DC with the Houston Ballet, Barbara Bush invited him to go to the White House and offered help for him to communicate with his family. Chinese cultural attaché invited Li to the Chinese Embassy after his Swan Lake performance. He was really anxious but they said that Vice-President Bush had intervened on this matter. Li's parents finally got the permission to go to America and had the chance to watch his performance for the first in their lives. When he was little, his parents did not have the money to travel to Beijing to watch his show. That was a dream for Li to dance in front his parents.[4]

He was one of the first students from the Beijing Dance Academy to go to the United States with Zhang Weichang under the financial support by the central government of the People's Republic of China.

International incident

In 1979, Li joined Ben Stevenson's Houston Ballet company as an exchange student. He began to question his allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party, and began a relationship with an aspiring American dancer, Elizabeth Mackey. In 1981, they married so that Li could remain in the United States while avoiding deportation. Li wanted to be able to return to China to visit his family, but the Party detained him at its Houston Consulate. This caused a 21-hour international incident at the Consulate-General of the People's Republic of China in Houston, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation surrounded the consulate while American and PRC diplomats debated the issue. Li was eventually allowed to stay, but his Chinese citizenship was revoked.[5]


Li moved to Melbourne in 1995, joining The Australian Ballet as a Principal Artist. Li retired from ballet in 1999 at the age of 38. In July 2012,[2] Li was named as Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet.[6] He was named Queensland National Finalist Australian of the Year 2014.

Personal life

Li Cunxin married the Australian dancer Mary McKendry in 1987.[7] They have three children: Sophie (1989) Thomas (1992) and Bridie (1997).[8]

He was named the 2009 Australian Father of the Year.[9]

Mao's Last Dancer

File:Mao's Last Dancer book cover.jpg
Cover of Mao's Last Dancer (Young Reader's Edition)

In 2003 Li published his autobiography, Mao's Last Dancer. It has received numerous accolades, including the Australian Book of the Year award. In 2008, the children's version of this book, Mao's Last Dancer: The Peasant Prince (illustrated by Anne Spudvilas), won the Australian Publishers Association's Book of the Year for Younger Children[10] and the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards Children's Book Award.[11]

Mao's Last Dancer was adapted into a 2009 feature film of the same name by director Bruce Beresford and writer Jan Sardi.


  1. 'Mao's Last Dancer' follows Chinese defector Li Cunxin's odyssey
  2. 2.0 2.1 Queensland Ballet (2012). Li Cunxin returns to the stage as Queensland Ballet's new Artistic Director. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  3. "Mao's Last Dancer". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2015-10-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 "My Day: Ballet director Li Cunxin – BBC News". BBC News. Retrieved 2015-10-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Taylor, Christie. "'Mao's last dancer' tells his story." The Christian Science Monitor. 14 May 2004, retrieved 30 January 2009
  6. Li Cunxin speaker profile, Saxton Speakers Bureau
  7. Jillett, Neil (6 September 2003). "Dance of the peasant prince". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 1 June 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Penguin Books Australia – Mao's Last Dancer film Tie-In by Li Cunxin
  9. "Mao's Last Dancer is Australia's top dad", Australian Associated Press, Fri 28 Aug 2009
  10. "Brooks wins Book of the Year award", The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 June 2008
  11. "Queensland Premier's Literary awards 2008 winners". Department of the Premier and Cabinet (Queensland). 17 September 2008. Retrieved 17 September 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]

Further reading

External links