Founding president of ShiPang Advertising, Beijing
Hometown: Anshan, Liaoning Province, China
Most Recent travel: Jiuhuashan (“Nine Flowers Mountain”),
one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains in Anhui Province
Never seen without: Meditation beads
Both of my parents were performers with the Peking Opera. They expected me to do the same, but I didn’t like opera at all. I liked ballet.
My parents started teaching me classical Chinese poetry at age 3. I always wanted to play alone; I had a very active imagination.
When my mother saw what I was like, she bought me a library card at age 12, and I read so much. One thing I read was “Dream of the Red Mansion,” the famous 17thcentury Chinese novel. By 15, I was being published in a literary magazine, Young Poets.
At the age of 18, without any acting experience, I auditioned for the part of Lin Daiyu, the romantic and tragic ? but spiritually pure ? heroine of that same “Dream of the Red Mansion,” which was being turned into a TV series.
The director was doubtful. But he also thought that the actress playing Lin Daiyu should be a real poet, so I got the part.
The TV version became an extremely popular show, repeated some 700 times over the last 20 years.
My next role turned out to be another character just like Lin Daiyu. I started to wonder if I was Lin Daiyun and could not really act. Apparently, so did directors, because they stopped hiring me. I went through a lost time in my life. I had to struggle to find a new path.
In 1992, my then boyfriend, who was a photographer, and I started a small advertising agency. At the time, there were fewer than 100 agencies in the country; now there are more than 20,000. Clients looking for agencies didn’t know whom to trust. Our first client knew me from my TV role and later told me, “I know Lin Daiyu wouldn’t cheat us.”
Early on, one company manufactured medicines for old people but was almost about to go out of business. We got their account and developed a public relations campaignfor them that included a brochure we designed, showing photos of aging popular dignitaries trying the medicine. We distributed the brochures at trade shows. People thought, if it’s good enough for these well-known people, it must be good. The company revived, soon opened new markets and bought two factories.
In 1999, having realized all my financial dreams, I was still, somehow, unhappy. Then someone introduced me to the life and teaching of Sakyamuni, the Buddha. It changed my attitude about my life and my work.
Now I start each day by reading from a Buddhist scripture called Aparimitayur Sutra. In the evening, I read another sutra. During lunch at work, I take a 30-minute meditation break.
Some people ask me how I reconcile advertising, which feeds people’s desire to acquire material possessions, with Buddhism, which promotes nonattachment to the very same material things. I don’t agree that Buddhism teaches people to lead a life of deprivation. Buddha was really just simply encouraging people to create a happy world for themselves.
If we collect “things” or try to gain personal fortune for ourselves and our family, we may not find fulfillment, but we can use these same things to create greater benefit for others, and that is closer to what Buddhism is about for me.
The Chinese market is not only very large but also very complex. While consumption is strong in major cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guanzou, it is only just beginning to develop in other provincial capitals. To advertise in such a diverse country, we have to think on many levels at once.
China’s general public still finds it difficult to understand the concept of individualism and personal creativity. So American and European ads that sell the idea that you can gain personal enjoyment or satisfaction from a product wouldn’t work here. We place more importance on generosity and tolerance; even the younger generation does not want to show their selfishness. So we design ads that show the product in light of how it can reinforce these values。
As told to Perry Garfinkel