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Zhang Xinxin was born in 1953 and grew up wandering the alleys in Beijing's walled Old City. As a twelve-year-old at the outbreak of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, she was recruited by the Red Guards. At fifteen, she was sent to China’s Great Northern Wilderness with millions of other children to toil on collective farms. She was a soldier at seventeen; after falling seriously ill, she became a nurse at nineteen. When the Cultural Revolution ended in 1979 and university entrance examinations resumed, she was admitted to the Beijing Central Academy of Drama, where she studied to become a director. After a novel published while she was a student drew heavy criticism from the state and left her unemployable, she wrote the acclaimed oral history Chinese Lives, which has been translated into more than ten languages. She later hosted a television series and worked as a theater director for the Beijing People's Art Theater. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests left her stranded in the United States, she worked for a digital publishing network, wrote screenplays for Chinese television, and worked as a commentator for the VOA. She has self-published a graphic novel and directed several TV series, and continues to write in the Chinese language.