“Who is the one that hides a mirror in their heart?
Who is willing to live a life down to earth with bare feet?
All eyes are blindfolded.
Who can ignite the fire in the snow and cast the fire into the snow?
Under the linden tree,
A person with only half a face looks up to the sky,
Answers with a sigh,
The blue sky that is pressing down from above.
Yes, someone was sitting here on the grass in emerald green.
Even in winter, even when the sound of a walker’s steps fades.
You still enjoy listening to nature sounds and the close interaction with the scenery.”
– Excerpts from “Under the Linden Tree”
The society is impetuous, but he is gentle.
He played Yibin Jiang, a caring President in “The Wife’s Lies”, Zhongjia Li, the evil villain in “The Stand-In”, and Shichu Wen, a cultivated and tender doctor in “Empresses in the Palace”. He is as gentle as still water, as soft as snowy moonlight. He is Xiaolong Zhang.
Xiaolong Zhang is still more publicly acknowledged as an actor, especially with the most notable character of “Doctor Wen” dressed in a robe from the Qing Dynasty. Yet, it’s less known that Xiaolong Zhang also serves as an Associate Professor and a Mentor for graduate students. He is addressed as “Teacher” by actors such as Li Sun.
At this year’s Harvard College China Forum, Xiaolong Zhang, who is an Actor, Etiquette Advisor and Producer, was invited to the Entertainment Panel. This man, with a Chinese-style classical charm, arrived at the time-honored campus, with the mind of “walking in, feeling, listening, immersing, peace of mind and pleasure”, along with his knowledge of precious China’s traditional cultures. In this issue of “iAsk Top Leader”, we spoke with Xiaolong Zhang and felt the peace of mind in the hasty society.
Gloria Ai: What have you been working on a daily basis?
Xiaolong Zhang: After this forum, I’m going back to Beijing for a course lectured by Hollywood masters, who are the major figures working behind the scene from the American film industry and going to exchange their insights with us.
Gloria Ai: So through a channel like etiquette, we can conduct cultural exchanges between China and foreign countries.
Xiaolong Zhang: No matter it’s etiquette or film culture, we are currently promoting our cultures to go global. To be honest, we are more confident nowadays, which is different from all talk no action like before. When you’re confident for real, you can communicate better with people. Take myself as an example. I can’t speak English at all. I used to shrink back from the bottom of my heart, but now I can communicate with them with confidence.
Gloria Ai: Because you serve as various roles such as an actor and a teacher, I believe that you also position yourself as an ambassador, and others can learn more about Chinese through you.
Xiaolong Zhang: Yes, they will learn about our cultures through us. Wherever I go, I will talk about the Chinese etiquette. Many people ask about whether the handshake etiquette or air kissing etiquette is also a Chinese etiquette? I would say no and teach them the etiquette Chinese people use to show respect in a scientific way at some distance without physical contact.
Gloria Ai: Let’s try paying tribute to each other.
Xiaolong Zhang: We can greet from afar. Hi, Gloria Ai, long time no see. For females, you put your right hand in front of your left one; for males, the other way around. This is the way to pay tribute. This is an even more formal way, called Zuoyi, while this is called Gongshou. You can greet peers via Gongshou and seniors via Zuoyi.
Therefore, when we are confident, we should know better to follow the Chinese etiquette as Chinese.
As Chinese, follow the Chinese etiquette.
Putting all eggs in one basket or making conservative investments?
Peter Drucker said in “Innovation and Entrepreneurship”:
“The strategy of ‘putting all eggs in one basket’ requires you to hit the target, otherwise all efforts will be in vain. In other words, ‘putting all eggs in one basket’ is like launching a rocket to the moon: if the curved trajectory is slightly off, the rocket will disappear in the outer space. Once the strategy is implemented, it is difficult to adjust and modify.”
Buffett used to interpret putting all eggs in one basket with “Be greedy while others fear”. In today’s increasingly impetuous society, it is a strategy and a temptation for careerists to become accomplished by “putting all eggs in one basket”.
In the current film and television industry, there is a popular saying that goes “IP is all that matters”, which is one of the requirements that investors value the most in film and television production teams. As a result, the competition for traffic via “commercial exploitation” has been rampant. The young celebrities in the entertainment circle also go all out at their peak popularity to achieve maximum publicity.
This is a means of marketing and a form of gambling as well.
In 1994, Xiaolong Zhang was admitted to the Beijing Dance Academy. It is said that the dancers’ luck is all unleashed on the stage. However, after graduation, Xiaolong Zhang did not choose to dance in the spotlight, but instead became a figure training tutor behind the scene at the Central Academy of Drama.
Gloria Ai: I noticed something intriguing in your life experience. Upon graduation from the Beijing Dance Academy, you didn’t rush to perform on the stage. Instead, you chose to join the Central Academy of Drama and became a figure training tutor. Why did you not become a dancer at your prime age to obtain maximum publicity, but choose to serve as a low-key figure training tutor?
Xiaolong Zhang: I think it has to do with my background. I am very conservative. I was born in a rural area, while my classmates were born in well-off families. They could be carefree to not care about their own future, but I couldn’t. If I chose to perform on the stage till 30 years old, since dancers’ career gradually starts going downhill after 30, I would have to make career choices again. Making career changes a second or a third time is very torturing.
When I was studying at the Beijing Dance Academy, my ability of expression was well acknowledged, in that I was able to lead a well-organized class. At that time, I had already started teaching in school. I take pleasure in teaching as a profession.
Gloria Ai: So you chose the most stable career.
Xiaolong Zhang: Yes, that’s true.
In the face of his own life, Xiaolong Zhang prudently chose to “make conservative investments”. Even though dreams can be fancy, he prefers job security and stability, because this township young man was deeply aware that at the turning point of life, reaching for dreams sounds amazing, but without steady support and solid efforts, it would be a wild-goose chase.
Some people make it sound sacred and claim that they would sacrifice for art at all costs. However, the dream of being a dancer is like beautiful yet short-lived fireworks to Xiaolong Zhang. The beauty of it is so unrealistic that he does not consider it worth going all out for.
For Xiaolong Zhang, he thought to himself that it would be better to find a job in a school first, so that he wouldn’t sacrifice too much. Therefore, he set a “comfort zone” that he could temporarily accept and did not hesitate to “step” in it. However, he did not intend to stay “comfortable” for life. Although he felt lost at first, he never gave up on his art pursuit.
Just in another way, by “adopting an alternative solution to achieve the same goal”.
The first class that Xiaolong Zhang taught at the Central Academy of Drama was the class Actress Hao Chen was in. He also nurtured bountiful students who later on became famous actors, such as Chao Deng and Shu Chen. When Xiaolong Zhang served as a tutor for Shu Chen, he brought his pictures and resume to interview for opportunities along with his students. After rough calculation, before he cast as “Doctor Wen”, he might have already submitted thousands of pictures and interviewed with countless film crews.
At that time, Xiaolong Zhang, who had been keeping a low profile for years, finally rose up with full preparations.
The mysterious identity of the snowy moonlight?
During the past years when the “Empresses in the Palace” was a hit, “Doctor Wen” became the snowy moonlight in the eyes of numerous fans.
It’s like how people think of Liu Xiao Ling Tong (Jinlai Zhang) when it comes to Sun Wukong (the Monkey King), Vicky Zhao when speaking of Xiao Yanzi (“Little Swallow”), and Xiaolong Zhang when talking about Doctor Wen.
Xiaolong Zhang said: “I’ve always emphasized that an actor needs to have a representative work. If the actor is very popular, what is their representative work? If they can’t think of one, I think it is also sort of pathetic. Maybe it could be a character that people still recognize when I turn 70 or 80. It’s okay even if they don’t remember Xiaolong Zhang. When they become old, I think it would be nice if they still remember the saying ‘Marry someone like Doctor Wen’.”
It was because Xiaolong Zhang breathed life into Doctor Wen that the character has been engraved in people’s mind.
People always play different roles on different occasions. Xiaolong Zhang fosters students as a teacher, acts as an actor, and produces films as a producer. Various life experiences are wonderful, but during the long and complicated processes, in the impetuous entertainment circle, behind the diverse identities, what role does “Doctor Wen” yearn to play the most? Who does Xiaolong Zhang desire to be?
Gloria Ai: Trading off is a skill. Among the plentiful roles and identities of yours, who do you want to be the most?
Xiaolong Zhang: I want to be a good son.
A few years ago, no matter how busy I was, I spent most of my time with my mother, during her sickest days till the day she passed away. I have no regret in my life. In the future, I will probably save more time for my children. I feel that the purpose of work is for a better life, and I must not put the cart before the horse.
Gloria Ai: What is your source of happiness?
Xiaolong Zhang: I feel happy when people around me like me and I like them as well. When I’m needed, it’s when my personal value comes into use.
Besides, what should you do? Preferably you should do something valuable. For example, even if I don’t serve as an actor, there are plenty of other actors to replace me, but if I don’t work as an etiquette advisor, a large number of films and televisions would be a lot less polished. So why not do a good job on it?
For example, in last year’s TV show “Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace”, regarding the scene of Ruyi’s grand wedding ceremony and the funeral of Yongzheng Emperor, we duplicated the ceremonial from Qing Dynasty, which I think is very valuable. A lot of audience commented that they would never forget many scenes from the show.
Art can really reach such a level where a TV show can present such unforgettable scenes. These are all my obligations.
Gloria Ai: Supposing I am Xiaolong Zhang, I would be very curious about what kind of circle Xiaolong Zhang is involved in? People found out successively that some teachers and students from the Beijing Film Academy and even from Peking University were suspected of academic fraud. You have been teaching for 20 years. What do you think? Do you think the art education is becoming hotheaded?
Xiaolong Zhang: I think the industry created such an environment for them. The total budget for “Empresses in the Palace” didn’t exceed RMB 100 million yuan. Yet, after the sudden inflow of capital into the industry, it’s even possible that the pay for a single actor could exceed RMB 100 million yuan. How to pay actors without money? Did the capital injection lead to such a consequence?
With the capital investment, did the film and television industry eventually only receive negative influences with nothing positive? There’re some upsides, such as facilitating technologies and keeping up with the world. It has its upsides and downsides. We can’t be biased.
In this world, it’s not just the entertainment industry that has distorted gaps, so do many other industries. It is because of the gaps that sunlight can shine in.
Xiaolong Zhang is like the snowy moonlight on the windowsill. He is gentle and graceful, with a profound and inclusive mind. Not only did he realize his initial art pursuits, but the transformation between different identities also brought him a wonderful life. It seems like he planned for all this, but he also sighed that he couldn’t stay composed and ponder on life.
Maybe just as he put it: “I have no plans for my life, so I am always surprised.”
Seize the moment and carpe diem.