A Dozen Roses

Zhang Shuang, a cheerful twenty-something from Liaoning, China, isn't typical pop-star material. She doesn't sing or dance or suffer wardrobe malfunctions. Her principal talent, to which she has devoted her life, is playing the pipa, a lutelike Chinese instrument more at home in Peking opera than Top-40 countdowns. Growing up, Zhang was realistic about how far that specialty might take her. "I thought that if I was lucky," she says, "I could join a traditional ensemble and do some teaching on the side."

Zhang has been considerably luckier: she's a member of the 12 Girls Band, a group...

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