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"Bai Ling" in Chinese means "White Spirit". Bai Ling was born in Chengdu, in the Sichuan province of the Republic of China, on October 10, 1966. Her father was a music teacher, and her mother was a dancer and stage actress, but she was primarily raised by her grandmother after Ling's parents ran afoul of Chinese authorities during the Cultural Revolution.
Bai Ling sang in her school choir as a child. At the age of 14, she was enlisted in the People's Liberation Army to served as an entertainer, singing and dancing for the troops for three years. She also served shortly as an Army nurse. Three years later, she clashed with authority and she was accused of insubordination for using tobacco and alcohol and was hospitalized for depression.
Bai Ling found that she could express herself through acting so after her recovery she joined a theater group in Beijing, where she appeared in traditional Chinese plays as well as dramas from the West. Soon she caught the eye of a number of progressive and traditional Chinese director and began receiving small roles in Chinese films. In 1988, Ling starred in Hu Guang (a.k.a. Arc Light), where she played a woman suffering from mental illness. The next year, she took part in the infamous Tiananmen Square protests, which further alienated her from the Chinese government. When she attended the film's screening at the Moscow Film Festival she was warned not to discuss political matters.
At age 21 Ling traveled to New York City to study at New York University's Department of Film and took classes at the Strasberg Institute. Bai Ling arrived in New York not knowing a word of English, but soon mastered the language through daily immersion. She was issued a special visa and allowed to stay in the United States due to her actions at Tiananmen Square. She mad her American film debut as the villainous Myca in the dark fantasy The Crow (1994). The following year she played a Chinese interpreter in Oliver Stone's Nixon. In 1997 she appeared in Red Corner as a lawyer defending an American journalist (Richard Gere) on assignment in China, although she knew she would suffer repercussions from her participation in the film. Red Corner was banned in China and North Korea, her contracts in upcoming Chinese films canceled, and her passport was revoked. However, the National Board of Review gave her a Breakthrough Performance award; and recieved U.S. citizenship in 1999.
In that same year Bai Ling appeared in Wild Wild West and Anna and the King. She's also been seen in The Beautiful Country (2004), My Baby's Daddy (2004), and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004). In 2007 she produced and starred in Shanghai Baby, and closed out the decade by appearing in The Gene Generation (2007), Dim Sum Funeral (2008), Crank:High Voltage (2009), Love Ranch (2010) and Petty Cash. Bai's proudest achievement as an actor was winning the Best Actress award at the Chinese equivalent of the Oscars for the film Dumplings (2004).