The ballet dancer Li Cunxin, the subject of a new film that is on my list for this weekend, writes about how he was discovered at the peak of the Cultural Revolution, how he was trained and how he felt when he first came to the US. His story is absolutely fascinating.
Prior to her losing power, Madame Mao was the Honorary Artistic Director of the Academy. She often visited us, watched our performances and gave orders. One of her strict orders was that we were required to project political values through our dance steps. As a result, our ballet training syllabus was modified and we were encouraged to carry images of the Red Army soldiers in the battleground holding guns or grenades in our hands while we pirouetted and leaped. We had to finish our adage exercise with a death-like eye stare that could spear a capitalist enemy. Madame Mao also supervised some so-called “Model Ballets” such as The Red Detachment of Women and The White Haired Girl. These were ballets full of red colored communist flags with plenty of swords, guns and grenades. It was political ideology gone mad.
Definitely read the whole thing. It’s not long, and it’s not easily forgotten. I especially enjoyed the story of his arrival in the US, a place he was taught was backward and awful. Not long afterward he would vote by foot and stay here.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.