Nearly 20 years ago, Z. Julie Gao graduated from Peking University with a law degree and left China for the United States. Eventually landing in Los Angeles, she earned a second law degree there in 1998. She and her husband, a fellow Peking University graduate, became naturalized U.S. citizens, and their son was born in the U.S. in 2002. Her parents and brother moved to America as well.

Today, however, she’s a corporate partner working out of the Hong Kong office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — at least, when she’s not in Shanghai or Beijing. “I lived in the States for 13 years,” says Gao, still sounding surprised at the turn her life has taken. “We had a comfortable life. We had no conscious plans to go back [to China].”

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