Li Cunxin's journey is simply remarkable. He was born into utter poverty in Mao's Communist China and selected, at the age of ten, to train at Madame Mao's Beijing Dance Academy. Seven years of stringent training at the Beijing Academy taught him discipline, resilience and perseverance. Li's astounding drive and work-ethic made him one of the best dancers in the world.
In 1995 Li moved with his wife Mary McKendry to Melbourne, where he made a successful career transition from ballet into finance. He was a senior manager at Bell Potter, one of the largest stockbroking firms in Australia, Councilor of the Australian Council for the Arts, and has served on the boards of the Bionics Institute and The Australian Ballet. He is currently the Artistic Director at Queensland Ballet.
Li was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2008 by the Australian Catholic University for his contribution to dance and literature. In 2009 he was named the Australian Father of the Year and in 2014 was the Queensland finalist for the Australian of the Year award.
Li's extraordinary and inspirational autobiography, Mao's Last Dancer, was published in 2003, and quickly rose to number one on Australia's bestseller list. A tale of talent, faith and determination, the book is a moving account of the moral complexities, personal costs and rich rewards of following one's dreams. It has been awarded the Book of the Year by the Australian Booksellers Association and the Christoper Award for Literature in the USA. Currently in its 52nd reprint, Mao's Last Dancer is an international bestseller, available in over 20 countries.
In September 2009, a movie adaptation of Mao's Last Dancer, directed by Australia's Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Driving Miss Daisy), was released to great critical and box office success. The highest grossing Australian film of that year, it holds the record for the 12th highest grossing Australian film of all time.
An inspirational and motivational speaker, Li Cunxin's story is a beautiful account of his extraordinary journey, told with honesty, dignity and pride.
Client Comments for Li Cunxin
- Li has left a lasting impression of courage and determination amongst those who listened to his moving story.
Townsville City Council
- Personally I found Li excellent to work with and a thoroughly lovely man with a great story.
- Riveting - how lucky we are. Without a doubt one of the best speakers we have had in many years, outstanding.
Australian Friendly Societies Association
- Comments included: 'Inspirational', 'Outstanding, excellent', 'Very inspiring, great choice as a keynote speaker', 'It has been a long time since I have heard such a wonderful delivery presentation. FABULOUS', 'Very emotional', 'Brilliant session.' and 'The best presentation I have ever attended.'
- Fresh and captivating presentation proof of the power of determination and taking the most of opportunities given to you in life. The delegates were totally transfixed by Li's powerful and uplifting story. Few speakers have his ability to engage an audience with a rich life story so beautifully told. One of the highlights in a highlight filled conference. So professional, so entertaining. Might still be light on his feet but his story is full of emotion and passion.
- Already we have many people and organizations that are preparing to return with their teams to the 2008 Conference. All of the speakers complemented each other, however, I would particularly like to thank you for your session and for the informative and powerful message that it brought to the delegates. Again, thank you for your participation in this wonderful event and I wish you well with your future personal and professional plans.
The Proteus Leadership Centre
- I would like to thank you for your contribution in making our conference such a success: you are in a class of your own. As your story was about courage, loss and challenge, it transported the listeners into your experiences and aspirations. Your delivery was powerful and effective and you certainly had the audience with you all the way, conquered, inspired and enriched. Your presentation was beautifully structured and tailored to our theme, and you skilfully intertwined a mixture of content, humour and inspiration. You are without doubt one of the better speakers we have heard and the standing ovation you received was testimony to this fact. Your contribution to the success of the PwC Conference was significant and for that we are most grateful.
- Great choice of speaker. Thank you for letting us hear the story. Inspiring for all, even those in business. Totally wonderful.
- Li was a fabulous speaker - we had an audience ranging from the CEO and executive management right through our outdoor staff. Everyone loved the presentation and at the end we sold four boxes of Li's book! The feedback was that it was the best presentation we have ever had.
Banyule City Council
- Brought relevance to teaching and finished off really well. Extremely positive feedback was received.
Dandenong Primary School
- Li Cunxin was fabulous this morning; what a charming man and a really fabulous, emphathetic speaker. The event went really well; everyone left with a smile on their face and Li had a queue of people wanting another personal message in their books. One couple even went down to Borders and bought a hard copy for him to sign! The clients were absolutely thrilled too - the event exactly fulfilled their brief.
ICMS Australasia Pty Ltd
- Li Cunxin is an absolutely wonderful speaker. His life journey is truly inspirational and is something from which we can all learn. Li spoke eloquently and from the heart stirring participants' emotions to the point where quite a few shed tears. His story touches on the inner strength needed to achieve excellence against all odds. 'Mao's Last Dancer' both in person and via the written word is a joy to behold. Li Cunxin's presentation would be very well received by all walks of life, occupations and professions. Li Cunxin dared to be the best and the world has been enriched by his magic!
Australian Friendly Societies Association
- Li spoke passionately about his story and was perfect for our event. It was refreshing to be with someone so humble and gracious.
- Outstanding, his personal journey was so touching and he was so accommodating with our delegates. Highly recommend such a great close to our conference.
New South Wales Minerals Council Ltd
- We received lots of positive feedback about Mr Li Cunxin and guests were genuinely captivated during his presentation and got a lot out of it. I believed that he appealed to both male and female attendees at our dinner event. He is undoubtedly one of the most expressive speakers that I have heard and I certainly thought he added great value to our event. I had previously read his book and he certainly matched my expectations.
The University of Queensland
- Li was fantastic; he even tied his very unique story into the theme of the conference and related some of his anecdotes back to the client.
- It didn't matter that I was familiar with Li's previous work, it felt like I was hearing it for the first time. I was also very impressed with Li's attention to detail and how he linked his story to the award theme. He was a highlight to the night.
- Li presented his amazing life story with poise, passion and dignity, infused with humour. Even though Li must have told his story many times before, his pain, battle and torment were still evident and his dramatic and passionately told story had a great impact on many of those present. Feedback sheets from the conference were overwhelmingly positive insofar as Li's presentation was concerned. Li very generously signed copies of his book and spent time acknowledging all those who spoke with him. He was a delight.
Anglican Diocese of Melbourne
- You could hear a pin drop in the room - always a good sign.
Sonic Healthcare Limited
- He is a wonderful sincere person with a fantastic story to tell, I wish him every success in the future - I think he's earned it!
- Li Cunxin was outstanding. His presentation was amongst the best we have ever heard at our school.
The Peninsula School
- Li was fantastic and I would recommend him to any organisation. His story is so deep the complete 170 audience was completely silent throughout his entire presentation. Thanks for recommending him!
- The World Presidents and their spouses are of course, an exceptionally critical audience. The reaction of this group to Li's enthralling and riveting presentations was simply astounding! Li reduced much of his audience to tears and as the participants left the auditorium, many said it was the most moving and absorbing presentation they had ever heard! This reaction was borne out when the final ratings appeared - Li scored 10.0 out of 10 in one presentation (unheard of) and 9.9 out of 10 in the other, making him easily the highest rating speaker (out of a field of some 40 presenters) at the University. China University became the highest rating event ever produced by WPO and Li's graphic presentations were certainly a major contributor to this rating.
World President's Organization (WPO)
- Without a doubt one of the most powerful and invigorating presentations we have seen. Extremely impressed by Li's impact, style, personable nature and overall attitude.
- The feedback we received on your presentation was amongst the best we have ever received on any speaker over the past few years. Our participants were very moved by your story, with many commenting that it was one of the most inspiring presentations that they had ever heard... thank you again for making a huge impact on our conference and our staff.
Goldman Sachs JBWere
- Li was a very personable and inspirational speaker, his relaxed style was a great way to finish a very business orientated and structured conference day.
- Li was simply the most outstanding speaker I have heard in the many years of attending Rotary District Conferences - and indeed any sort of conference! The fact that he received a spontaneous standing ovation from people who never give such ovations is testament to his incredible impact on his audience, and the feedback we have received from many of the attendees reinforces this. Li was such a delight to work with from an organising perspective, and his humility and humanity sat magnificently with the principles of Rotary. There are no accolades high enough for the warmth and beauty of Li as both a speaker and a human being. It has been a privilege to come to know him.
Rotary Club of Australia
- Riveting - how lucky we are. Without a doubt one of the best speakers we have had in many years. Outstanding.
Australian Friendly Societies Association (AFSA)
- Without a doubt one of the most powerful and invigorating presentations I have seen. Extremely impressed by Li's impact, style, personable nature and overall attitude.
- Li's performance was most impressive and inspirational. He is probably the best speaker we have ever engaged at the City of Whittlesea. His story is fascinating and he presents it with great passion, humility and dignity.
City of Whittlesea
- Mao's Last Dancer
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Wodonga Senior Secondary College
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