In telling China’s story, Zhang explored the character he, or peaceful harmony — an ideal critical to Chinese culture. This level of thematic and creative artistry is rare in the controlled realm of filmmaking, let alone in a multidimensional arena with thousands of performers and visual set pieces that seemed to border on the impossible — yet it was all happening live, before the eyes of the world.
There is much mythologizing surrounding Zhang’s rise to prominence, given that his first job was as a farmhand and then a laborer in a cotton mill. But the story I enjoy most is that he gave blood over a period of months to earn enough money to purchase his first camera. He was 25. When the Beijing Film Academy reopened in 1978 after the Cultural Revolution, he was 27, already considered too old to become a filmmaker and lacking many of the necessary credits. Undaunted, he offered his portfolio of photographic works and was admitted to the department of cinematography.
Zhang became a filmmaker, and for the past two decades, he has inspired the world’s fascination with China through his cinematic vision.