Zhu was born in Tianjin and brought up in Shanghai, China. He began composing in 1940 and pursued composition studies at the Moscow Conservatory in 1955. He was a professor at the Shanghai Conservatory. He composed for both Western and Chinese instruments and his works have been performed around the world. In 2000 he was commissioned by Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project to compose Silk Road Reverie.