Born in Shanghai, China in 1955, Sheng and his family were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. Sheng describes this decade-long cultural cleansing by Mao Zedong as "one of the world's holocausts". the cost to the Chinese people cannot be counted. Avoiding compulsory farm service through his musical talents, Sheng discovered his love for Chinese folk music, as well as his predilection for music composition, while in a provincial band in Tibet. As the scourge of the Cultural Revolution began to dissolve in 1976, Sheng was accepted as a composition student at Shanghai Conservatory, from which he graduated with top honors. Sheng left China for New York City, ultimately finding his path through studies at Queens College, then Columbia University, and finally the music festivals at Aspen and Tanglewood. Sheng developed his transcontinental voice under the wings of top musicians such as conductor Gerard Schwarz, pianist Samuel Lipman, and composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein. Sheng admits: "I'm a mixture of both cultures, but I consider myself both 100% American and 100% Chinese." In addition to composing, Sheng enjoys an active career as a conductor and concert pianist, and frequently acts as music advisor and artistic director to orchestras and festivals. Sheng previously served as the Artistic Advisor to Yo-Yo Ma's "Silk Road Project." He has been a member of the University of Michigan's composition faculty since 1995, where he is the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor of Music.