Li Cunxin

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This article is about the dancer. For the Tang Dynasty general, see Li Cunxin (Tang dynasty).
This is a Chinese name; the family name is Li.
Li Cunxin
Born 李存信 (Lǐ Cúnxìn)
(1961-01-26) 26 January 1961 (age 54)
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.[2]

Early life[edit]

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.

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 People's Republic of China.

International incident[edit]

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 Li was eventually allowed to stay, but his Chinese citizenship was revoked.[3]


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.[4] He was named Queensland National Finalist Australian of the Year 2014.

Personal life[edit]

Li Cunxin married the Australian dancer Mary McKendry in 1987.[5] They have three children: Sophie (1989) Thomas (1992) and Bridie (1997).[6]

He was named the 2009 Australian Father of the Year.[7]

Mao's Last Dancer[edit]

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[8] and the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards Children's Book Award.[9]

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


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]