Theater Academy in 1993. Students there often paid for their tuition through small acting roles, and Li jumped in with gusto.
Her first taste of fame came with a television commercial promoting the Xujiahui District – a booming business-focused neighborhood in Shanghai. “It changed my whole life,” says Li. “I made 800 kuai ($130) for one ad. My father would have needed to work for two months [to make that amount].”
Li’s parents, both engineers, were instrumental in her success. When she left home at 15, her mother gave her a notebook; her father hadn’t bought a gift, but had inscribed 12 Chinese characters inside it. They conveyed six life mantras: self-esteem, self-respect, self-value, self-confidence, self-
improvement and independence.
Li still has that notebook, but she doesn’t need to look at the words anymore. They have guided all of her major life decisions and given her the strength she needed to cope with her fame. “It’s like a baseball bat hanging over my head,” she says.