Zhang was born and raised in Beijing, China. Her parents are Zhang Yuanxiao, an accountant and later economist, and Li Zhousheng, a kindergarten teacher. She is very close to her older brother, Zhang Zinan (Chinese: 章子男; pinyin: Zhang Zinan; born 1973). Zhang began studying dance when she was 8 years old; subsequently, she joined the Beijing Dance Academy by her parents' suggestion at the age of 11. While at this boarding school, she noticed how mean the other girls were to each other while competing for status amongst the teachers. Zhang disliked the attitudes of her peers and teachers so much that, on one occasion, she ran away from the school. At the age of 15, Zhang won the national youth dance championship and began appearing in television commercials in Hong Kong.
In 1996, Zhang entered China's prestigious Central Academy of Drama at the age of 17.
In 1998, while she was studying in Central Academy of Drama, she was offered her first role by director Zhang Yimou in his film The Road Home. The film won the Silver Bear prize at the 2000 Berlin International Film Festival.
She rose to international fame in 2000 with her role as Jen (Chinese version: Yu Jiao Long) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for which she won several awards in the Western world, such as Chicago Film Critics Association Awards, Toronto Film Critics Association Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and earned her a nomination for the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Her character is a young Manchu noblewoman who has secretly learned martial arts and runs off to become a wandering swordswoman rather than commit to an arranged marriage.
Although she has done many acrobatic fight scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and later movies, Zhang does not actually know Chinese martial arts; rather, she relies on her dancing skills to mimic the Gongfu choreography.
Zhang's first appearance in an American movie was in Rush Hour 2. Her character's name is "Hu Li", which is Mandarin Chinese for "Fox".
Zhang then appeared in Hero (2002), directed by her early mentor Zhang Yimou. She plays Moon (Ru Yue), the assistant and student of Broken Sword, played by Tony Leung. The film was commercially successful in the United States and was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe award in the category of Best Foreign Language Film.
She then signed on to film an avant-garde drama, Purple Butterfly (2003), which competed in the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
Zhang went back to the martial arts genre in House of Flying Daggers (2004), again by Zhang Yimou, where she starred along Takeshi Kaneshiro and Andy Lau. She plays the blind dancing girl Mei, who despite the lack of eyesight is a skilled fighter. In preparing for the part, Zhang spent two months living with an actual blind girl. The performance earned her a nomination for the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She was also featured on the House of Flying Daggers soundtrack with her own musical rendition of the ancient Chinese poem, Jia Ren Qu (佳人曲, The Beauty Song). The song was also featured in two scenes in the film.
In 2046 (2004), directed by Wong Kar-wai, starring many of the best-known Chinese actors and actresses, Zhang was the female lead and won the Hong Kong Film Critics' Best Actress Award and the Hong Kong Film Academy's Best Actress Award.
Showing her whimsical musical tap-dancing side, Zhang starred in Princess Raccoon, directed by Japan's Seijun Suzuki, who was honored at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.
She played the lead role of Sayuri in the American film adaptation based on the international bestseller Memoirs of a Geisha, a challenging role as all of her dialogue would be in English. Controversy also arose in Japan and China about having a Chinese woman portray a Japanese geisha. For this film, she was reunited with her 2046 co-star Gong Li and with Crouching Tiger co-star Michelle Yeoh. For the role, Zhang was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama, the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
On 27 June 2005, she accepted an invitation to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), placing her among the ranks of those able to vote on the Academy Awards. In May 2006, Zhang was chosen as a jury member of Feature Films at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
She returned to China for another period drama, The Banquet, in 2006; although this time with less action than her three previous films in the genre.
In 2007, she performed the voice of Karai in the American animated film TMNT (2007), her second performance in English.
In Forever Enthralled (2008), which tells the story of legendary Peking opera actor Mei Lanfang, Zhang appears in the second act as one of the first biologically female Peking opera actresses; before the May Fourth Movement all female characters had been played by men. Her most distinctive trait is that she specializes in portraying elderly male characters, as a parallel to the biologically male Mei Lanfang who specialized in young female characters.
Her next American film was The Horsemen (2009), where she starred opposite Dennis Quaid.
Back in China she played the titular character in the comedy Sophie's Revenge; a comic book artist seeking to punish her unfaithful boyfriend.
As the year 2009 also marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, much of the Chinese film establishment collaborated in making The Founding of a Republic; a patriotic tribute detailing the process of establishing the People's Republic in 1949. Zhang is featured in a small cameo role.
In 2011 she starred along Aaron Kwok in the AIDS-themed film Love for Life.
In 2012, Zhang starred next to Cecilia Cheung and Jang Dong-gun in the Chinese-Korean co-production Dangerous Liaisons, an adaptation of the French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses, narrating Shanghai of the 1930s. Zhang was reportedly paid 20 million RMB (approximately $3.5 million) for the role.
She reunited with Wong Kar-wai and Tony Leung for The Grandmaster (2013), which meant a return to the martial arts genre after 7 years of quieter films. The film was China's submission to the Academy Awards for best foreign-language picture, and once again brought Zhang a number of prestigious awards.
In the same year she reprised the role of Sophie in My Lucky Star, a follow-up to Sophie's Revenge.
That year she was also one of the judges for the first season of The X Factor: China's Strongest Voice, where she mentored the "Boys" category. She also served as a jury member of Un Certain Regard at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
Most recently she starred in John Woo's The Crossing (2014), in which she plays a poor illiterate woman waiting for her soldier lover in 1940's Shanghai.
International EndorsementOmega Watches Ambassador since 2009 – today
Visa Ambassador 2001 – 2003
Maybelline Ambassador April 2001 – 2011
Asian Area EndorsementPrecious Platinum Ambassador since March 2007 – today
Garnier Ambassador August 2006 – 2009
Zhang is a Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics and a spokesperson for "Care for Children", a foster-home program in China.
In 2012, an overseas Chinese website Boxun falsely reported that Zhang Ziyi was paid $100 million to sleep with top Chinese officials. Zhang sued Boxun in a US court for defamation. In December 2013, Boxun settled the case after agreeing to pay an undisclosed amount to Zhang and issue a front page apology. Zhang also won court cases in Hong Kong against Next Media over similar false reports in Apple Daily and Next Magazine.
In the July 2006 issue of Interview magazine, Zhang spoke of her movies' contents and being careful about the roles she takes on, especially in Hollywood:
Zhang obtained Hong Kong residency in 2007 through the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme for her contribution to the local film industry. After several screen performances in 2010 and 2011, Zhang was named ambassador for the ScreenSingapore 2011 film festival, joining American director Oliver Stone.
Zhang is an admirer and collector of the works of the Chinese contemporary artist Shen Jingdong.
Zhang was engaged to Israeli venture capitalist Aviv "Vivi" Nevo between the years 2008 and 2010. Following their break-up she explained:
Zhang began dating CCTV host Sa Beining beginning in 2011, but the two later split.
Zhang became engaged to Chinese rock artist Wang Feng in February 2015. The two welcomed a baby girl On December 27 2015.
In 2008, she was awarded with the "Outstanding Contribution to Chinese Cinema" at the 11th Shanghai International Film Festival.Ranked 2nd of the 100 Sexiest Women by FHM Taiwan (2001).
Named one of the 25 Hottest Stars Under 25 by Teen People Magazine (2001).
Named one of the 25 Hottest Stars Under 25 by Teen People Magazine (2002).
Ranked No. 91 in Stuff magazine's "102 Sexiest Women in the World" (2002)
Voted in at No. 100 in FHM's "Sexiest 100 Girls of 2002", UK edition. [June 2002]
Ranked in the top 5 of "Forbes China Celebrity 100" list every year from 2004 to 2010.
Named by Entertainment Weekly in their 'The Must List' 2005. Listed 38th out of the 122 people and things the magazine "loves" this year, Ziyi was the only Chinese to be included.
Selected by Southern People Weekly magazine as "Chinese Top Ten Leaders of the Younger Generation" in 2005.
Listed in People's "50 Most Beautiful People" List in 2005.
Listed in TIME's World's 100 Most Influential People. They called her "China's Gift to Hollywood".
Ranked one of the '100 Most Beautiful Women in the World' in the July 2005 issue of Harpers & Queen magazine. It was her first time on the list. She was ranked number 15.
Included in People's 100 Most Beautiful People in the World the second year in a row in 2006. This is now her third appearance on the list.
Voted in at No. 86 in FHM's sexiest women in the world in 2006. She had not appeared in the list since 2002.
Topped Japanese Playboy's "100 Sexiest Women in Asia" list and was featured on the cover. (April 2006)
Voted No. 1 in E!'s "Sexiest Action Stars" list in summer 2007.
Ranked No. 3 in Japanese magazine Classy's "Super Perfect Head-to-Body Size Ratio List" in January 2009.