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Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin Essay

‘Non-fiction texts only deal with facts.’

Discuss the validity of this statement. In your essay response, you should discuss how composers of non-fiction texts present their point of view with specific reference to your non-fiction text.

Autobiographies, as a narrative non-fiction text, generally rely on the conventions of factual historical evidence while presenting a personal point of view. Non-fiction texts therefore, rely on objective detail and a subjective perspective. Throughout the autobiography Mao’s Last Dancer the composer Li Cunxin offers a personal evaluation of actions and speculates on the significance of certain actions and events. To engage and entertain the responder the composer uses opinionative language and emotive language throughout. Recounts rely intensely on memory, which can be fragile and misleading, and therefore one should question the validity of such a text. Such an autobiography also deals with factual events but includes a level of subjectively. By saying non-fiction texts only deal with facts is partially wrong because non-fiction texts such as autobiographies do deal with the things other than facts and it contrastingly brings immediacy to events that have been simply narrated by secondary versions. Consequently, non-fiction texts are not always objective when dealing with the events in a person’s life and this proves right through the novel.

Autobiographies by their very nature rely back on memories from the past. This can be fragile and can ignore certain facts. In Li Cunxin’s text, most of his writing relied back on his memory. He exaggerates and reinforces his points quite strongly. Hyperbole is used in this line, “My leaps were high…It felt like as if I was flying…gliding through the open sky, and if the music allowed it, I would have stayed in the air all night,” (p314) adjusting the truth to portray him in a positive light. Furthermore, Time does have an effect on memory as it can be clouded over time and cannot be as strong. For example when Li has a conversation with Teacher Xiao he includes the exact dialogue, which was spoken. “Cunxin I understand your anger and I think Teacher Gao was wrong. He shouldn’t name…”(p182)

The reader must question how the author remembers each detail from his past. This adds to the subjective nature of this genre. Li reflecting from his memory also shapes his emotion, full on life. Emanating from Li’s personal emotions this indicates that this is a subjective recount as well as objective, “My feelings about leaving her and going back to China became unbearable” (p289). Aspects of the story also describe how his parents were feeling before he was born through the short dramatic sentences, but is not essentially factual as he was not actually there, “She knows her family will no longer be her main source of comfort…looks back at her familiar village for the last time, she has no tears,”(xiv) and so this relies on memory and perspective once again.

The use of first person, it interoperates non-fiction texts such as autobiographies, an unreliable source of information. The purpose of writing in this style is to give the responder a personal effect, while reflecting back on their life story. Therefore, this reiterates the fact that the autobiography is only set on the personal and selective events being conveyed by the author. By doing so, the reader is presented with bias and limited factual content explored within Mao’s Last Dancer. They persuade the reader into believing its true; it could give the reader a wrong perception of true events and places because there is nothing else to judge them from. Aspects of one-sidedness are presented to us in Mao’s Last Dancer, which suggest the narrator is unreliable.

The use of omission is brought to our attention at the start of the ‘afterword’. The fact that the author finishes writing on the page about a particular event which occurred in the distant past (being released from the Chinese Government). And then starts a new page erasing a whole stage out of his autobiography. “My new life with Elizabeth began like an East meets West fairy tale…” (p308) simply reassures the readers that the legitimacy of the text is not all true. What has happened in the release and the meeting of Elizabeth? The reader does not hear what her point of view is on the circumstances or what she thinks about it, such as why their marriage failed, “but it didn’t work out the way we both had hoped.” (p308)

This merely gives the reader a one sided point of view. As we hear Li’s thoughts and emotions towards Elizabeth, the reader is manipulated into sympathizing with Li. Therefore Elizabeth is not given adequate characterization. “Our marriage eventually failed. We suffered greatly and I felt terribly alone in the world. I had no one to go to.” (p308) The use of this personal style makes this genre a subjective text.

However, autobiographies do include factual detail and are not all subjective. In Mao’s Last Dancer, the author includes an appendix, which outlines the historical events mentioned in the book. These include reference map, a historical timeline of China in the 20th Century and black and white photos with captions. These endorse Li Cunxin’s life story and set it within a historical context. Related evidence for the reader that these events actually occurred, “In 1921 the Chinese Government party was founded.” (p328). This references to historical figures, such as Chairman Mao Zedong, and the use of dates provided. However one must question why the author and their purpose selected these examples.

The written style of non-fiction text both deals with facts and emotional theories. Thus all this occurring by nature. Emotional theories, which are focused on in the text, Mao’s Last Dancer, involves the idea of memory in which the events occurred. Throughout the novel we witness from the author the numerous times the fragility in memory. The one-sidedness in autobiographies often gives the reader a bias view on all events and the author usually alters the truth. By saying non-fiction texts only deal with facts is highly debatable as facts are intertwined with the personal.


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