There is a lot I don’t know about China and the Chinese, but I know enough to recognize when someone is taking a sly dump on China’s government.
That’s what Peter Brunette does in a film review of Mao’s Last Dancer in The Hollywood Reporter.
However, my review of the film paints a different picture.
When Brunette writes “what the aspiring, ‘Rocky’-like, against-all-odds dancer is escaping is not working-class ignorance and poverty, but hard line Chinese communist officials,” he is wrong.
The Communists who ruled China in 1979 inherited that world, and we see what they have done with it in the last thirty years in China’s Capitalist Revolution.
In fact, life was that way when the Qing Dynasty ruled China (1644-1911), and after the Dynasty collapsed, the situation in China became worse—chaos, anarchy, famine, starvation, warlords fighting each other, then a rebellion between the Nationalists and Communists, interrupted by the Japanese invasion of China during World War II followed by Mao’s Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution, which ended abruptly when Mao died.
China’s descent into “Madness” didn’t start with the Communists. It stared in 1835 when the British Empire, and France (among others) launched the Opium Wars to force China to accept opium as a legal import.
With all that happening, when did China have time to become as glitzy and soft as the US? Even the US didn’t change that fast or against those odds.
The transformation of China that we see today had not started by 1979 when the eighteen year old dancer was one of the first students from the Beijing Dance Academy to come to the United States or in 1981 when Li Cunxin decided to stay in America and embarrass his family, friends and country.
Instead, he married an American woman he was having an affair with and claimed he wanted to stay with his wife. Soon after the event, they were divorced.
The fact that the Chinese embassy let him go shows that China was struggling to change the way things had been under Mao. Under Mao, there would have been no trip to the U.S. for the dancer.
Brunette was right about one thing when he says the director knew exactly what he was doing every moment, which was playing to a Western audience that sees China through a red-colored lens that blurs the picture.
Mao’s Last Dancer is a good movie. I recommend seeing it, but take off the rose-colored glasses first.
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