Here’s a quaint little artifact from those dark days when Chinese youth were raised to believe that everyone was starving in evil, imperialist America, that all any good Chinese citizen needed was a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book to get by.

OK, maybe it’s not so quaint, and not as dated as you might hope.

Bruce Beresford’s “Mao’s Last Dancer” is about a young dancer whose eyes are opened as he leaves his rural home and travels to the big city to study dance. Those eyes open further as he is deemed worthy of study abroad — in the Texas of the 1980s.

It’s a culture-clash tale based on dancer Cunxin Li’s autobiography. We see the Darwinian selection process that plucked this “sixth son” from his hamlet and his parents (Joan Chen is the flinty, emotional mom), who willingly give up a child they may never see again so that he might have the opportunity to excel at something the State approves of.

Li (portrayed as a boy, teen and adult by three different actors) doesn’t excel. Not at first. But as he finds his footing, he discovers there’s more to life than these ballet pageants about the glories of the Revolution, victory after the Long March or what have you. On grainy videotapes smuggled into school, Li learns to love classical ballet.

Raised to believe that “we have the highest living standards in the world,” Li is shocked when he comes to study with the Houston Ballet in a land of wealth he never knew existed.

The artistic director (Bruce Greenwood) is sympathetic and thrilled to have this rare East-meets-West feather in his cap, but a bit put out when the kid starts to enjoy his American freedoms a little too much. That could annoy the Chinese authorities who are always on the lookout for “counterrevolutionary” acts. Back in China, just enjoying a tape of Baryshnikov could get you arrested, because, as you may remember, he defected from the Soviet Union.

It’s an engrossing, well-acted but slow-moving and simplistic tale in the style of Beresford’s “Paradise Road,” a film with clear-cut villains if few true heroes. There isn’t much edge to this, but a charming romance (Amanda Schull, formerly a dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, plays the love interest), a melodramatic clash of ideologies and a warm, deeply moving third act lift “Mao’s Last Dancer” above politics and into the realm of emotion, art and beauty.

In other words, Chairman Mao wouldn’t necessarily approve. And even today, China won’t be showing “Mao’s Last Dancer.”