Mao’s last dancer Li Cunxin has been announced as Queensland’s Australian of the Year for 2014.

Li Cunxin, 52, was awarded the prestigious award for his contributions to the arts at the State Library of Queensland last night.

The Brisbane arts community was all abuzz last year when word got around that Li Cunxin was the new artistic director of Queensland Ballet. Ticket sales went through the roof and the company houses more season ticket holders than ever in its 53-year history.

Mr Cunxin was born into extreme poverty in rural China and became one of the world’s best ballet dancers. His award-winning biography, Mao’s Last Dancer, is an international bestseller that became a blockbuster film in 2009.

Mr Cunxin says he is glad he chose to take on the role of artistic director for a second season with Queensland Ballet.

“I knew this company had a unique spirit. That was one of the reasons that attracted me here. We are one of the most dynamic and vibrant ballet companies in the world.

“This year has been one of the most enriching, exciting and challenging times of my life. I feel inspired to come to work each day. And I’ve been made to feel very welcome by the people of this state. It’s not just the sunny weather!” he says.

He believes the notoriety of Mao’s Last Dancer, his best-selling autobiography and the subsequent Bruce Beresford film, has played only a small part in the success of Cinderella and the take-up of season tickets

Queensland Ballet principal dancer Rachael Walsh has no doubts that Li’s appointment has brought international focus to Brisbane as a centre for dance.

“It’s a great coup not only for Queensland but for Australia. He is able to communicate his love of dance with people from all backgrounds and he does it with such humility and unbridled joy. A great leader is one who inspires greatness in others – this is definitely Li’s way. Li inspires me every day.”

Three other recipients were announced on the night, including paediatrician and fundraiser Dr Robert McGregor as Queensland’s Senior Australian of the Year, Indigenous literacy champion Suzy Wilson as Queensland’s Local Hero and Queensland’s Young Australian of the Year Jordyn Archer, a 21-year-old who has been raising money to free girls from sex-trafficking for the past five years.