Zhang Zhang’s autobiography La voie de l’archet (The Way of the Bow) was published in September this year and last weekend many of her admirers and passers-by could spot her signing copies at FNAC where the books are also available to purchase. 

The first Chinese-born musician in the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo and its first violinist Zhang Zhang’s story is that of a girl who’s life as a musician was predestined long before she was born. 

Zhang’s father Zhang Yun Zhang was a well-known violinist and the concertmaster of Madame Mao’s (Chairman Mao Zedong’s wife Jiang Qing) favourite orchestra. He performed for US Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter during their official visits to China. Her mother, Lin Ying, was a classic pianist and award-winning film actress with millions of fans.

Despite her parents’ fame, the family lived in a nine square-metre room, and she and her little brother slept on a broken sofa. In an interview for China Story she said: “Life is a question of priorities. Music was the priority for my family. We had no dining table, but we had a piano. For meals, we used the wooden piano bench as a small dining space.”

Zhang Zhang, born in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution, began to learn the piano at the age of two and violin at the age of four. Between four and six years of age she attended the boarding kindergarten at the famed Winter Palace of Beijing, where her father went to give her weekly violin lessons, until he was arrested and imprisoned by Madame Mao for having attended the Tian An Men gatherings commemorating the passing of Premier Zhou En Lai.

In 1981, a few years after the Cultural Revolution, Zhang’s parents decided to move from China to Thailand to join the family there. They were only allowed to take one of their two children. They chose their daughter. Even though Leo was able eventually to join them five years later as an 11 year-old, the scar of this experience is still sensitive.

“I was uprooted quite young as a child, living in different countries, a migratory experience. I did not feel I belonged anywhere. I used to dream about my grandparents’ home in Beijing every week, with its beautiful bamboo garden. The older I became, the further I travelled, the more I was convinced there would never be a place I could call home, the feeling of exile was always in me”, said Zhang in an interview with NEWS.MC last year. 

She went on to study in Canada and the USA where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Music and a Master’s degree in Classical Violin Performance at the Rice University in Houston, Texas, and in 2000, while a student at the Conservatory de Lausanne in Switzerland, Zhang saw a poster in the school saying the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic directed by Maitre Marek Janowski was hiring violinists. She travelled on EasyJet from Geneva, and played the audition on April the first, along with more than 100 candidates. By 18:00, she was offered a job as a first violinist in the OPMC.

“Monaco offered me a home, an identity. And the immense opportunity to learn and create. To me Monaco is a model society of the 21st century. While preserving its culture and traditions, it is also a dynamic leader in innovation and exploration. Culturally, technologically, ecologically, and sociologically. I would not be who I am today without Monaco, the past 23 years have been a great adventure, and I am looking forward to more.”

Zhang Zhang – a tireless activist, philanthropist and humanitarian – happens to be one of the world’s most famous violinists. The Way of the Bow also clearly shows she is a captivating story teller. This story she dedicated to Monaco, the country of her destiny. 

PHOTO: Zhang Zhang signs her books at FNAC in Monaco Martina Brodie