How did you get into music? When I was 11, a teacher who played the dizi (flute) asked if anyone was interested in playing, so I tried it out. I studied lots of instruments, but started too late, so I didn't think I could play professionally. Age 11 was too late? A lot of kids nowadays start studying instruments at age three. But you only began singing when you were 18... When I was 18 and teaching music, a colleague told me I had a good voice, but I had always thought a good voice had to be high. He told me they had a name for my voice: Male Baritone. I thought: 'So that's what it is,' and started studying for the Shanghai Conservatory entrance exam. What was your first overseas experience like? In 1998 I was one of six people chosen to perform at the Budapest International Singing Competition. Three of us, including me, won first prizes, so everyone there was saying: 'Wow. The Chinese are great singers.' But we had studied with vocal, piano, performance/body language and other coaches for three months before the competition. Your trip to Budapest was not that smooth. There was a hiccup when you entered Italy ... I was on my way to train for the competition. I was the only one [of three Chinese opera singers entering Italy] held up by customs. This was the first time I was using my passport, and the photo wasn't so clear. I was inside customs for two hours; they didn't believe the representative from the opera house in Verona that I was there to sing. So he tells me to sing something for the customs agents. I sang Bella Siccome un Angelo. As soon as I finished, they stamped my passport and let me in. What are the main differences between Chinese and western songs? In western songs, the harmonies are generally good, while in Chinese songs, the melody is good. That's the main difference. But I've come to realise that there are a lot of similarities between western and Chinese music. I guess you could say I am a cultural bridge: I got great reactions by adding Chinese songs into concerts I've performed at, and I taught comparative classes at Yale and Wesleyan: I'd sing a couple of Chinese folk songs, then a couple of western songs, and I had a lot of students come up and ask to study the Chinese songs. What most influenced your career? Going outside China. Studying and performing with foreigners taught me how much I needed confidence. Chinese people are too modest, whereas Americans are extremely confident, and quick to tell you they're the best. Studying with a wide range of maestros and professionals also taught me what was good; before, I had no idea. And I learned to focus on being a baritone.