Hao Rizi

Zhang Ziyi: The One that Loves You Most is Me

March 01, 2002   |   Written by Wang Li

Zhang Ziyi, The One that Loves You Most Is Me

When it comes to Zhang Ziyi, it seems that the media can never get enough of their fill. The way that this young woman has captivated the world, rapidly becoming “Asia’s Hottest New Actress,” has led many to believe that the path she has taken to be smooth and unfettered. However, even Ziyi would admit that she has been susceptible to many lucky opportunities, as everyone can see from her success.

As a writer, it is not my intention to get caught up with this girl’s inescapable aura. Despite the status she has achieved as an international movie star, she still lives life one day at a time like the rest of us. And no matter how many times her face has appeared on countless screens, nor how many admiring fans she’s gained can ever change the origin of her happiness: her extremely loving parents and her protective Ge-ge [older brother]. Zinan has looked after Ziyi ever since he was six years old. It is through an interview with him that I expound on the nature of their relationship.

To make Ziyi happy, Ge-ge borrows a small wagon

Ziyi’s father was an economist in the Beijing Telecommunications department. Ziyi’s mother taught kindergarten, and with the six year old Zinan afoot, they were all a couple of regular Beijingers, born and raised in the city.

It’s hard to say why Ziyi was born that year, but it seems like Ziyi’s mother came to the decision some 22 years ago in a chance meeting with friends.

In a reunion with her school classmates, Ziyi’s mother recalls noticing that everyone there had two kids: either two boys or two girls. A little envious when returning home, she simply remarked to her husband: “We should have another.” And just like that, little Ziyi came into the world on February 9, 1979. With the implementation of the “One Child Policy” in 1980, some people in China joke that we “almost missed out on Ziyi.”

At birth, Ziyi weighed more than 7 jin [approximately 7 lbs, 11 oz]. Ziyi’s father took wife and child home, only to have Ziyi snatched up immediately by her grandmother. Standing to the side, Zinan saw his little sister that “fell from the sky — who he still affectionately jokes about. “What is that you’re holding?” he remarked. But very quickly, Zinan came to like his clever, adorable sister.

The day that Zinan was born was very fortuitous in Chinese astrology. Because he was born on year, month, and time of the Chinese character “Zi,” the mother decided to name him “Zinan.” It so happened that she had a son as well [“Nan” = “male” in Chinese], so this would be an easy name to remember. Then as her daughter was born, she named her “Ziyi.” Ever since, relatives have been following this precedent, with two younger cousins named “Ziping” and “Ziming.” Some family members are quick to say that Ziyi has the better sounding name of the two, while others claim that Zinan’s name is better.

Compared to many other brothers and sisters, Zinan and Ziyi’s relationship is quite close. Both parents worked while the two were at a young age, and they didn’t even have time to come back to prepare lunch for their children (one reason being that Ziyi’s mother is in poor health). So it was Ge-ge that cooked lunch for Ziyi, in addition to having the responsibility of sending and picking her up from school.

Ziyi started to study dance when she was in third grade. Every Tuesday at 6 PM, she would go to Shao Nian Gong (an extracurricular school in Beijing) following elementary school. It was a two hour roundtrip from her home, and Ge-ge always took her there, remaining outside until she was done. While waiting, he would do his homework at Tao Ran Ting Park, this being his only place for him to spend at his leisure. In time, Zinan even came to know exactly how many trees there were by the side of the lake. The two carried on like this for more than a year, until Ziyi attended Beijing Dance Academy.

Ge-ge took care of Ziyi for such a long time that she gained her brother’s absolute trust. Whatever situations they would encounter outside, Ziyi would never mention them to her father — particularly the conversations between her and her Ge-ge. She also never told Zinan of instances in which she’d get bullied, for fear of her brother’s bad temper. Ziyi basically felt that once he got angry, he’d get them both into a fight. In one incident in which Ge-ge was taking Ziyi to school, the two boarded a bus overcrowded with people. Passengers were pushing and forcing their way everywhere, with Ziyi getting the brunt of these shoves. Finally Zinan couldn’t take it anymore, exclaiming: “I won’t let you hit her! Come on, hit me!” Once again, they got into a scuffle, but Ziyi didn’t complain.

Ziyi was such a small child, never eating much. There was one occasion during which a neighbor’s pet squirrel escaped into a gutter. The neighbor went in to look after it, placing the manhole cover off to the side. A curious Ziyi came over to see what was going on, only to have the cover smash into her foot.

Ziyi’s mother quickly took her to the hospital, naturally feeling quite upset. She ended up crying at the hospital, even more so than Ziyi. Although Ziyi’s foot was still aching from pain, she held back her tears in an effort to comfort her mother: “Ma,” Ziyi said. “My foot doesn’t even hurt anymore. Don’t cry.”

For certain period of time, Ziyi couldn’t attend school. She was restricted to lying down at home everyday, with Ge-ge trying his best to make her smile. He borrowed a small wagon from the neighbor’s, pulling his little sister around on it outside. The two of them couldn’t have been happier.

As a youth, Zinan was a troublesome boy. The school sent many notices to the family, so Ziyi’s father would often punish him. Each time that Ge-ge would get a spanking, Ziyi always cried out: “Ba, don’t hit him.”

Upon hearing this, Ziyi’s father laughed: “If I knew that you two kids would be this good, we would have had more of you!”

Mother remarks, loving her means giving her more opportunities

At that time, Ziyi’s parents were both extremely busy with their jobs. The mother was an ordinary kindergarten teacher, with her own level of education not very high. The fact was, Ziyi’s mother never reserved any high expectations in life. During one wedding anniversity, her husband bought her a mink fur coat. Ziyi remembers the coat just hanging there on the coatrack, her mother unwilling to wear it. All Ziyi’s mother hoped for is that her family be healthy, and that their days pass by without conflict. She never really thought of making her daughter take up any grand pursuits.

Ziyi grew up to become an adorable child, leading everyone to advise her parents: “This small girl has such incredible beauty. It would be a shame if she doesn’t study anything.”

At first, Ziyi’s parents wanted to send her to train in gymnastics. But as soon as the instructor saw Ziyi, it was further remarked: “Such a pretty child should go into dance. Gymnastics would be such a waste for her.” Ziyi’s parents, unfortunately, didn’t have the proper registration at the time, nor any connections within the dance field. Somewhat embarrassed, Ziyi’s mother asked the teacher: “You say to go into dance, but we don’t know even which school…” And without another word, the teacher enthusiastically wrote Ziyi a recommendation slip to Shao Nian Gong in Beijing’s Xuanwu district — which she would later attend after hours as an extracurricular school. That very day, Ziyi’s parents took her there to sign up.

The dance instructor they saw that day was named Huang Xiufen. She sized Ziyi up and said: “This little girl is not bad at all. Leave her with me.” So it was during Ziyi’s third grade year that she came to Shao Nian Gong to first study dance. She’d come in braving bad weather, rigorously training in an art that needed much discipline. It so happened that since Huang Laoshi [Teacher Huang] was the one that introduced the students to dance, she had a friendly relationship with the Head of Beijing Dance Academy. Selecting her best students, Huang Laoshi sent Ziyi and two others to audition for the school during the following year.

By convention, a dancer’s legs should extend a single centimeter above the top of one’s body. However, not only do dance schools scrutinize each prospective student, but they also look deeply into the parent’s appearance. Even if a student meets the school’s physical requirements, they may not be accepted if both the parents are overweight. Since the Chinese government subsidizes these schools, a dancer’s life is certainly not easy. One cannot choose to dance a only a few years, as a typical career in the arts ends quite early.

Ziyi met all of those standards and in a year when over two thousand people applied to Beijing Dance Academy, only one applicant was selected from Beijing: our Ziyi.

Always a tough girl, Ziyi was able to endure a lot of hardship. She trained so rigorously that she was unable to speak with others when returning home. Ziyi felt that since she chose this particular path, it was up to her to train longer and harder than anyone else.

During each session, Ziyi did not hold back one bit. She practiced into the late hours of the night, her being the only solitary figure in the dance studio. She maintained a split, holding her legs high against the wall and lying low on the floor. It was very painful, maybe not in the first few minutes, but it was standard practice to hold these splits for up to half an hour. Afterwards, it took quite an effort just to move one’s body. Ziyi never said a word of this to her mother or other members of the family. Her brother openly recalls: “Ziyi spent so very much [in her years in dance]. I can quite honestly say that I really admire her for that. Being a girl must not be easy.”

Ziyi was at Beijing Dance Academy for six years. At age seventeen, she went on to attend Central Academy of Drama. While Ziyi didn’t actually meet the minimum age requirement of eighteen years, Chang-li Laoshi (a teacher at Central Academy of Drama) thought very highly of her. Ziyi was then willingly let into the doors of this prestigious acting school.

Father is so happy that he buys 100 copies of Ziyi’s magazine

When Ziyi got famous several years later, her biggest wish was to use her earnings to buy a big house for her family. While the house has since been bought, her family has yet to move in. Ziyi’s mother is unwilling to go since she’s too familiar with the old neighborhood and surroundings. She knows her neighbors well, and sometimes goes to the park nearby to dance or take a walk. But what’s most important is that she recognizes her daughter’s filial piety, which Ziyi gave quite willingly.

Although Ziyi provides for her family’s expenses, they have yet to spend a single cent of her salary. Ziyi’s mother looks at it like this: “The money you’ve given us is money that you’ve earned yourself. It serves you best to set it aside and of course, you should not squander it foolishly. Our family’s financial situation is actually not bad at all. Even if Ziyi wasn’t so successful, we’d still manage as a good and happy family.”

Every time Ziyi returns home, she still stays in the place in which she grew up. She frequently has a laugh with her family, while they gather around to hear news of her current projects and plans. Afterwards, Zinan usually jokes: “I remember when I used to give you a piece of mind. But now that you’re the “Crouching Tiger” girl, I don’t dare say anything bad. I sure wouldn’t want a kick to the head.” As Ziyi hears this, she can only chuckle.

Another consequence of Ziyi’s success is the presence of “fanatic Z-fans” whenever she returns home. All of them try to enter her building, asking for her autograph. Actually, the elevator operator in Ziyi’s building is quite proud to be a Z-fan. Whenever he goes home after work, he always remarks: “Do you know Zhang Ziyi? She lives in the building where *I* work the elevator!”

Since the very beginning, Ziyi’s parents treated their children with the same amount of love and care. And now that Ziyi is facing more obstacles that she’s not familiar with, their relationship has only gotten stronger. Even Zinan has felt no jealousy, whatsoever. Since the mother doesn’t have much time to cook and the father never orders out, it’s usually Zinan that comes home each weekend to prepare the meals.

On the business end, Zinan is the one that brings the news to the family (after discussing it with Ziyi). Ziyi’s father takes on any information with special interest, as it’s usually him that makes the most important decisions in business and family. With him and Zinan pondering Ziyi’s every career move, Ziyi makes sure that every choice is a smart one.

Ziyi’s father never even bragged about his daughter until the day Ziyi’s face appeared on the cover of Beijing Television. There she was as Zhao Di, making her first appearance on a magazine cover — wearing the red jacket that she so prominently displayed in The Road Home. His heart burst with happiness and he celebrated by buying one hundred copies, handing them out to all his coworkers at the bureau. Soon, he didn’t have many left and some of his coworkers thought he was handing out “TV Guides.” But because he was a natural leader, everyone was eager to grab a magazine. Ziyi’s father went outside to buy some more, but it turned out that none were available. Finally, he went around in his area, buying all copies of the magazines from street vendors.

Every time that Ziyi receives a script, she sends it to her father and Ge-ge for their opinion. Although neither of them has studied acting, the two can tell which characters are most suitable, particularly those that enhance Ziyi’s personality. When the Chinese TV series Xiao Ao Jiang Hu [Smiling Proud Wanderer] initially came their way, they didn’t even discuss this with Ziyi. In hindsight, we can say that this was a very good decision. If Ziyi came to accept that role, she probably would have never had the opportunity to star in Wo Hu, Cang Long [Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon] and Musa.

When it comes to the media and their sensationalization of Ziyi, no one in the family worries about this more than Ziyi’s mother. Ziyi, on the other hand, doesn’t take any heed to this nonsense, choosing instead to console her mother: “Let them be. They have to eat too, y’know.”

Although Ziyi is currently single, her parents do not give this matter much thought. Ever since Ziyi was young, she has never received any pressure from her parents to find a boyfriend. And now that Ziyi is twenty two years old, they certainly don’t urge her to marry. Zinan also feels that Ziyi isn’t ready to seriously pursue a relationship until she’s five years older. He also thinks that Ziyi should not get involved in any on-set relationships: “Our family, particularly the grown-up men [Zinan and Ziyi’s father], believe that should she get serious with a member of the opposite sex — I’m sure she’ll be matched with an extremely mature guy. I can’t imagine her going out with one of those ‘pretty boys,’ as it really is against her nature.” Zinan then adds: “But when Ziyi finally marries, I know that she’ll have an incredibly happy family. She is the type of person that once she makes a decision, she is absolutely certain of it. I don’t have any worries for the future husband that my little sister will eventuallymarry.”

In addition, Ziyi has a fairly extensive family. Every Chinese New year, twenty to thirty of them would gather to eat together, play mah-jiang, and in general, have a good time. Ziyi’s family even continued this tradition when she performed in the CCTV Annual New Year’s Celebration Show (February 2000). As she made her way in front of the camera, her parents were also right there; waiting by the entrance of the television station. The three then returned home, celebrating the New Year as they always had with relatives.

She focuses on the love of a single family member

Reporters always remark that one day, Ziyi’s luck will run out. Even her Ge-ge once said in the beginning: “Aiya. This girl’s life is so good!” And now, when lying down on his bed to sleep, Zinan sometimes ponders: “How could her life be so darn great?” This, of course, is just another facet of Zinan’s humor.

As Ziyi’s fame grew, business matters would simply have become too much to handle if it wasn’t for the help of one person. In June 2000, under the auspices of Ziyi’s father, the “Zi Nan Foundation for the Development of the Arts” was created. [Note: The characters “Zi Nan” are not the same as the name of Ziyi’s brother. Most likely this refers to the place in Beijing where Ziyi grew up]. It is mainly Zinan that runs this organization, which makes the arrangements for all of Ziyi’s movie deals and television commercial spots. Every time the employees see Ziyi enter the room, they immediately stand up to greet her. Zinan remarks that he also thinks of standing and showing his respect to such a “big star” — but instead, he opts to joke about it with Ziyi once the two of them return home.

When Ziyi’s father saw how busy that Zinan was with his work, he thought of using the family savings to buy him a car. However, Zinan refused to accept, even when Ziyi offered to purchase a car for him. He teasingly remarked that they only want to get him a car because they think he’s been getting lazy. Besides, Zinan declares, he “doesn’t have any money for gas!”

Each time that Ziyi goes out for any movie or endorsement related promotional activity, Zinan and his crew take care of her personal safety. They make sure that she gets to the event and more importantly, that she returns home without incident. There was one time when Ziyi decided to do a last minute promotion for Legend Computer. Originally, she was told to arrive at the event at 8:00, but was notified by phone that the time was changed to 8:40. Because it was known that Ziyi would make an appearance, fans inundated the whole area. Sixty police officers were dispatched in the meantime, all needed to maintain order. Once Ziyi arrived on the scene, hysterical fans rushed right at her, totally blocking her path. One particularly crazed middle-aged Ziyi fan reached her hand out, crying: “Come here Zhang Ziyi and let your Aiyi hug you!”

In general, it is Zinan’s people that protect and escort Ziyi to these events. This puts Ziyi at a lot more at ease. It so happens that Ziyi is actually good friends with Hong Kong pop star, Coco Lee. Occasionally, Coco drops by Beijing just to visit Ziyi and have a good time. This really worried Zinan, so he made sure to send members of his staff to take care of security for the two girls.

During the filming of Wo Hu, Cang Long, there was one specific scene in the script that called for Ziyi’s character, Yu Jiaolong, to dive into a lake to retrieve a sword. Zinan was the one that accompanied Ziyi as she practiced her swimming for a week in Beijing. In addition to his work, Zinan finds time to take care of Ziyi while she’s shooting on a film location. When Ziyi went to the United States and Hong Kong to film for Rush Hour 2, Ziyi’s mother and Ge-ge never left her side. They made sure that she was comfortable and living well, which allowed her to put all efforts into filming the movie.

When Ziyi goes shopping for clothes, Zinan often comes along as a consultant. Together, they frequently go to the Bai Sheng, Sai Te, and Shi Du department stores. Ziyi usually wears leisure, casual-style clothes everyday — especially jeans and jean jackets. She constantly goes through them and buys new pairs all the time.

Naturally, as Ziyi became more well-known, the aspects of Zinan’s life have changed as well. Now that Ziyi’s mother has her daughter as such a good example to compare to, he expects Zinan’s future wife to be nothing less than outstanding. To this matter, Zinan slyly replied: “My standards actually aren’t that high. But I have to follow what my mother says, no matter how insensible. Her health isn’t too good, so what am I to do?”

Often when Ziyi goes to social gatherings, people fail to notice that Zinan is her brother. Upon hearing this, they’d usually do a double-take, not quite knowing what to say. At times, a person might point to Zinan: “So you’re Zhang Ziyi’s brother,” they’d exclaim. “Which Zhang Ziyi? The Wo Hu, Cang Long Zhang Ziyi, right? Man, are you quite the creature! Your little sister is soo much more better looking!”

So it’s right about now that I stop writing about the small details of Ziyi’s life. She shines so brightly that in my eyes, I feel that the two of us have somehow become sisters. From the time that I entered into the doors of their home, I felt a sense of warmth and friendly radiance upon me. I cannot help but admire Ziyi. But most of all, I admire how much her family means to her as each day passes on.

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