2010 Honorary Doctorate
Zhang Yimou, a renowned filmmaker and theatrical designer, whose films have gained global critical acclaim.
Born in Xian, Zhang’s high school education was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s. At the end of the Cultural Revolution, Zhang entered the Beijing Film Academy and graduated with the class of 1982. The class, which also included Chen Kaige, Tian Zhuangzhuang, and Zhang Junzhao, went on to form the core of the Fifth Generation, who were a part of an artistic reemergence in China after the end of the Cultural Revolution.
Zhang was the cinematographer of Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth (1984), which launched the Fifth Generation’s fame. He added acting to cinematography with Old Well and won the Best Actor award at the 1987 Tokyo International Film Festival. The following year, he directed his first feature Red Sorghum, which brought him to the forefront of the world’s art directors, winning a Golden Bear for Best Picture at the 1988 Berlin International Film Festival. His next project Ju Dou (1990) garnered as much critical acclaim and became China’s first film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. His next three films Raise the Red Lantern (1991), The Story of Qiu Ju (1992), and To Live (1994) continued to receive unanimous international acclaim, winning him a Golden Lion award at the 1992 Venice Film Festival and a Grand Jury Prize at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. Despite international success, Chinese Government did not welcome the themes in these movies portraying the difficult aspects of Chinese society.
Zhang’s next film, Shanghai Triad (1995), received a warmer reception in China and continued to receive critical international acclaims. Zhang’s subsequent films, though not as directly confrontational, have still addressed the complexity of Chinese society. Not One Less (1998), portraying the need for educational reform in rural China, was particularly well received, winning his second Golden Lion award at the 1999 Venice Film Festival.
Zhang is a prolific filmmaker, with twenty-three films to his credit as director or cinematographer. His biggest hit, Hero, have won over 30 international prizes and became the first foreign film ever to have topped US box office rankings.
In addition to films, Zhang also directed opera. His acclaimed version of Puccini’s Turandot played at the Forbidden City, Beijing, with Zubin Mehta as conductor; he also designed the production of Tan Dun’s opera The First Emperor, which had its world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in 2006.
He has received six Academy Award nominations. After his accomplishments at the Beijing Olympics, he was runner-up for Time magazine’s 2008 Person of the Year. In May 2010, the Yale University conferred an Honorary Doctorate degree to him.