7 October 1991
Changsha, Hunan, China
Zhang Yixing (Chinese: 张艺兴; pinyin: Zhāng Yìxīng; born 7 October 1991), known professionally as Lay Zhang or simply Lay (Korean: 레이), is a Chinese rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, director, dancer, actor, and publicity ambassador for the Communist Youth League of China. Zhang has been listed in Forbes China Celebrity 100, where he ranked 20th in 2017, 11th in 2019, and 5th in 2020, 6th in 2021. He made his debut in 2012 as a member of the K-pop boy group Exo and its Chinese subgroup Exo-M under SM Entertainment. As an actor, he is known for starring in Ex-Files 2 (2015), The Mystic Nine (2016), Kung Fu Yoga (2017), The Island (2018), The Golden Eyes (2019), Empress of the Ming (2019) and Crime Crackdown (2021).
Zhang first gained recognition for participating in the Chinese television talent show Star Academy in 2005. In 2015, he founded a personal agency for his solo activities that serves as a management firm and record label and released a record-breaking autobiography, Standing Firm at 24. In 2016, Zhang was appointed by the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC) of Changsha as a publicity ambassador, becoming first celebrity to hold such a title. On 28 October 2016, Zhang released his first EP, Lose Control, in South Korea and China to commercial success; it peaked at number one on the Gaon Album Chart and number four on Billboard's US World Albums chart. In 2016, Zhang placed 23rd on the CelebrityZ Top 100 Most Valuable Celebrities list published by market research company Kantar and Chinese business magazine CBN Weekly. In 2020 Zhang established his own group of companies in China called Chromosome Entertainment Group and began the process of recruiting trainees from all over the world.
Zhang Yixing was born Zhang Jiashuai (Chinese:张加帅) in Changsha, Hunan, China on 7 October 1991. His legal name was later changed to Zhang Yixing. His first known acting role was at six years old, starring as Huan Huan in the 1998 Chinese television drama We The People. In 2000, at nine years old, Zhang participated in a Chinese television show as a fan club member of the Taiwanese singer and actor Jimmy Lin, giving him his first contact with the entertainment industry. Zhang began his career as a local child star after winning third place in a competition organized by the Hunan-based television show Star Academy in 2005. He also appeared in an episode of Yue Ce Yue Xin Kai and Liu Na's variety show, Na Ke Bu Yi Yang between 2005 and 2006. In April 2006, he auditioned for a leading part in Zhang Jizhong's The Duke of Mount Deer, but did not win the role despite being a finalist.
In 2008, Zhang auditioned for SM Entertainment at the company's global casting auditions in Changsha. At the time of the auditions, he was 16 years old and studying at the High School Attached to Hunan Normal University, where he was featured as an outstanding student for his achievements. After successfully passing the auditions, Zhang moved to South Korea for his idol training. In 2011, prior to his debut with Exo, he briefly worked with Shinee during their Shinee World Tour as Jonghyun's dance replacement.
2012–2014: Debut with Exo
Zhang debuted as a K-pop idol under the stage name "Lay", which he said SM Entertainment had given to him because there is a character named Huaze Lei who "is talented and likes music quite a bit" in the Taiwanese drama Meteor Garden. He was first unveiled as one of the four Chinese members of Exo in a teaser video titled "Phoenix" in January 2012. Following the release of the singles "What Is Love" and "History" in 2012, he and the other eleven members held their pre-debut showcase in Seoul Olympic Stadium on 31 March 2012 and a second showcase and press conference at the Great Hall of the Beijing University of International Business and Economics. The group debuted on 8 April 2012, with their title song "Mama", and Exo-M's first performance in China was publicly televised at the 12th Yinyue Fengyun Bang Awards.
In December 2012, Zhang was featured in SM Entertainment's project dance group SM the Performance featuring SM's best dancers, alongside fellow Exo member Kai and labelmates Yunho, Eunhyuk, Donghae, Minho and Taemin. On 29 December, the group performed their single "Spectrum", which was released the following day, at the 2012 SBS Gayo Daejeon. As his group gained commercial success, Exo's studio album XOXO became the first album to sell more than a million copies in South Korea in 12 years. Their 2014 EP Overdose entered US Billboard's 200 chart.
Early in 2014, Zhang composed and performed the song "I'm Lay" for his solo performance during Exo's first headlining concert tour The Lost Planet. Later in 2014, he performed another self-composed song titled "I'm Coming" on a special year-end television program on Hunan TV. Zhang also composed the song "Promise" from the repackaged edition of Exo's second studio album, Love Me Right. He also wrote the lyrics for the Chinese version of the song, while the Korean version was co-written by Chen and Chanyeol.
2014–2015: Solo activities and acting career beginnings
In August 2014, Zhang joined his first variety show, Star Chef, as a cast member. In April 2015, SM Entertainment announced that a personal studio had been established for Zhang's activities in China. In May 2015, he became a regular cast member of the Chinese reality television show Go Fighting!. Zhang subsequently starred in the second, third, and fourth season of Go Fighting, which led to increased recognition for him in China.
On 18 September, the limited edition of Zhang's autobiography Standing Firm at 24 was published, while the standard edition became available on 7 October. The book documents important events throughout his life and broke several online sales records by selling 68,537 copies in the first 24 minutes of pre-sales. With less than three-month sale of 1.4 million in royalties, he took the fourth place on the 10th Chinese Celebrity Writers List, becoming the youngest celebrity author to enter the charts. He was also the champion of the 2015 installment of the Annual Celebrity Book Sales and took the top spot of Asia's Best Books twice during its monthly ranking and six times on the weekly chart. The book also locked in standings for Rakuten's listings, with 400,000 copies sold within six months.
In November 2015, Zhang made his film debut with a supporting role in the Chinese romantic comedy movie Ex-Files 2: The Backup Strikes Back, which was a box office hit and garnered 2 billion in sales within 10 days of its release. He later won the Best Supporting Actor Award at the 2016 China Britain Film Festival for his performance. He also wrote and recorded an original soundtrack for the movie titled "Alone (One Person)", which reached number one on the Baidu Music Chart and later won Best Movie Original Soundtrack awards at the 16th Top Chinese Music Awards and 4th V-Chart Awards. Zhang also starred in the Chinese comedy movie Oh My God, and collaborated with his co-stars Coco Jiang Wen and Li Xiaolu on an original soundtrack for the movie titled "Happy Youth", which debuted at number eight on the Billboard V Chart.
2016: Rising popularity and solo debut
In January 2016, Zhang and the other cast members of Go Fighting! appeared in the Chinese movie Royal Treasure. In April 2016, he received the Most Popular Newcomer award at the 16th Top Chinese Music Awards.
In May 2016, Zhang made his small screen debut in the Chinese television series To Be A Better Man, which earned high ratings throughout its run. Zhang received positive reviews for his acting as an aspiring chef. Written by Lay and co-composed and arranged with Divine Channel, "Monodrama" broke records by staying at number one on YinYueTai's V Chart for five consecutive weeks. In July 2016, Zhang starred in the Chinese action mystery drama The Mystic Nine, a prequel to The Lost Tomb. The series achieved success, placing first in television ratings and setting a record for the most online views garnered in a day, and has accumulated over 12 billion views in total. Zhang was praised for his portrayal of the Chinese opera singer Er Yuehong, and went to star in a spin-off of the television series titled The Mystic Nine Side Story: Flowers Bloom in February, which focused solely on Zhang's character. Flowers Bloom in February was a success and has accumulated over 500 million views. In October 2016, Zhang's career as a solo singer began with the release of "What U Need?" as a surprise gift for his fans on his birthday. The song hit the number four spot on the China V Chart and Billboard's World Digital Songs He performed the song for the first time on 10 October at the 2016 Asia Song Festival in Busan, South Korea.
On 28 October, Zhang released his debut extended play Lose Control, containing six Mandarin tracks and the music video for the title song. Lay was involved in much of the production of album as the producer and was personally in charge of the composition, arrangement and writing of every song – as well as translating the lyrics himself into three other languages other than Chinese including English, Korean and Japanese. The song "Lose Control" stayed as number one on Billboard's China V Chart for six weeks in a row. Lose Control pre-orders surpassed 200,000 copies and peaked at No. 1 on the Gaon Album Chart. It also reached number four on Billboard's US World Albums chart. He performed "Lose Control" for the first time on the music program The Show on 15 November.
2017: Mainstream popularity
On 27 January, Zhang made his maiden appearance on CCTV Spring Gala Festival and sang a duet alongside Chinese actor Jing Boran. The same month, he starred with Jackie Chan in the Indian-Chinese action film Kung Fu Yoga directed by Stanley Tong, playing an archaeologist assistant. He reportedly suffered minor injuries as per the action scenes required from his character. The film grossed $245.2 million, making it the highest-grossing comedy film in China at that time. A post-release music video, "Goosebump" sung by Fazilpuria featured him and Jackie Chan together.
On 17 February, Zhang made his last public appearance with Exo on the Hong Kong concerts of their world tour Exo Planet 3 – The Exo'rdium. He halted his activities with the group due to overlapping schedules with his solo career in mainland China. In April, Zhang starred in the Chinese patriotic film The Founding of an Army, and was praised for his portrayal of Lu Deming. Later in April, Zhang starred in the Chinese remake of the hit Japanese romance television series Operation Love. He composed and sang the OST, "Pray" for the drama. In July, Zhang voiced Jackson Storm in the Chinese-dubbed version of Disney's animated film Cars 3.
On 25 September, Zhang released the music video for "I Need U", a pre-release track from his album Lay 02 Sheep. The music video ranked number one on Billboard's China Weibo Live Chart. The album was released on 7 October, along with the music video for the song Sheep. On its first day of digital sales, the album broke five records on QQ Music: Gold, Double Gold, Triple Gold, Platinum and Diamond Record (¥5 million in 9 hours 11 minutes). The album premiere "2017 Zhang Yixing Showcase" was held at the Beijing National Aquatics Center on 12 October, where he performed "I Need U", "Sheep" and other singles. In October, Zhang was announced to be starring as the male lead alongside label-mate Krystal Jung in the South Korean-Chinese romance film Unexpected Love, the poster for which was revealed in the Cannes Film Festival.
On 22 December, Zhang released his second extended play Winter Special Gift on QQ Music and KuGou. The music video of the lead song for the album, "Goodbye Christmas" was released on the same day. Within one day of digital sales, the album broke four records of Gold, Double Gold, Triple Gold and Platinum on QQ Music.[better source needed] The album later broke Diamond record on QQ Music.
2018: US debut
On 1 April, Zhang returned as one of the main cast in the fourth season of hit Chinese variety show Go Fighting!. On the same month, Zhang attended the 2018 CCTV New Year's Gala where he performed a dance collaboration stage with Huang Bo and William Chan. He also participated in the national anthem and its music video for Youth Day in China in May. In July, he made a guest appearance for the web series The Tomb of Sea, where he portrayed a descendant of his character from the hit 2016 TV series The Mystic Nine. In August, Zhang starred in Huang Bo's commercially and critically successful directorial debut film The Island, where he received acclaim for his performance.
Zhang made his first US appearance at the music festival Lollapalooza where he collaborated with Alan Walker. The duo later collaborated on a remixed version of Zhang's previous single "Sheep", titled "Sheep Relift" on 30 August.
Zhang's second album, Namanana, was released on 19 October, with the pre-release single "Give Me a Chance" being released on 5 October. The album contains 22 songs including a collaboration with Bazzi, 11 of which are in Chinese language with English counterparts for each. The album debuted at 21 on Billboard 200, making Lay the highest ranked Mandopop artist on the chart. The album also ranked 1st on the World Albums and Independent Albums charts.
2019–present: Continued success and Chromosome Entertainment Group
On 20 January, Zhang attended a Samsung event held at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China as the ambassador of Samsung Galaxy A8s and performed on-stage alongside ASAP Ferg and Steve Aoki, respectively. That month, Zhang returned as the production director and presenter of the Chinese survival show Idol Producer 2. On 3 February, Zhang performed a Chinese New Year song alongside Dilraba Dilmurat, Phoenix Legend, Wallace Chung, and Zhou Dongyu at the 2019 CCTV New Year's Gala.
Zhang attended the 61st Annual Grammy Awards as its promotion ambassador on 10 February and was the only Chinese celebrity invited to the red carpet event and live ceremony. On 26 February, a Michael Jackson tribute song titled "Let's Shut Up & Dance" was released by Zhang with Jason Derulo and K-pop group NCT 127. In the same month, his third wax figure was revealed in Madame Tussauds Hong Kong, following his wax figures in Madame Tussauds Shanghai and Beijing. Zhang also starred as the protagonist in the Chinese fantasy-adventure series The Golden Eyes, which was aired on iQiyi from 26 February to 12 April 2019. On 15 March, Zhang released a digital single titled Lovebird as a collaborative song with American EDM and hip-hop group Far East Movement. On 6 May, Zhang made his first appearance at the annual fashion exhibition Met Gala in New York City as an ambassador of Valentino, wearing a custom-made suit titled "Time Traveller" designed by Valentino Creative Director Pierpaolo Piccioli.
Zhang appeared as Emperor Yingzong of Ming in the historical drama Empress of the Ming in 2019. On 14 June, Zhang released a digital extended play titled Honey and its title track of the same name. The EP reached over 1.87 million digital sales three minutes after its release on QQ Music, breaking his own record for Namanana. It also earned QQ Music's Golden Hall status for breaking nine sales levels and earning the Gold Diamond certification. Zhang embarked on his first international concert tour, "Grand Line", in July 2019. Tickets for the concert at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China sold out in eight seconds, while tickets for the Nanjing show sold out in twenty-five seconds. He also performed in Bangkok, Thailand for Grand Line's international stop. In December 2019, Zhang released the single "Grandmother (外婆)", which serves as a tribute to his grandmother, who died earlier in the year.
On 19 March 2020, Lay Zhang released the solo "Love You More" with artists Steve Aoki, Will.I.am, and featuring Jessica Carrie Lee, as part of Steve Aoki's Neon Futures IV Album.
On 1 June 2020, Zhang released the first part of his fourth album, Lit. The second part of his fourth album was released on 21 July 2020. In June 2020, Zhang won the competition of IQIYI's "I'm a Singer-Songwriter 2". He also appeared as a producer mentor on Youku's "We are Young". In August 2020, Zhang started appearing as a mentor/captain in the third season of the Chinese dance survival show Street Dance of China. He has also been filming for his drama, "Challenges at Midlife".
On 7 October 2020, Zhang officially announced the establishment of entertainment company Chromosome Entertainment Group. Through its official accounts on Twitter, Weibo, and Instagram, they revealed its trainee selection program, similar to those of Zhang's current Korean agency SM Entertainment and other artist-training companies known for debuting idols. Several celebrities expressed their congratulatory remarks to Zhang's new venture, including the founder and former CEO of SM Entertainment, Lee Soo-man.
Lay released his fourth studio album, Producer, on 5 February 2021, with lead single "Joker" released four days prior. The album featured studio versions of the songs he composed for his appearance in the second season of music competition series I'm a Singer-Songwriter / I'm CZR II.
On 7 June 2021, after three years, Lay appeared in Exo's mini-album, Don't Fight the Feeling.
On 7 October 2021, Lay released the single "Samadhi Real Fire", which serves as the pre-release for his new EP, East, which was released on 15 October.
In his autobiography, Standing Firm at 24, Zhang revealed that he struggled with anxiety when performing on stage, but was able to face his fears and overcome them through his dedication to training and working hard alongside the rest of his Exo members.
Zhang supports the one China policy and "is against any acts or words that split his country." In August 2019, during the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, Zhang expressed support for the Hong Kong police and declared himself as "one of 1.4 billion guardians of the Chinese flag" on his official Weibo account.
Zhang is a brand ambassador of over 30 brands, including Converse, MAC Cosmetics, Chaumet Paris, Ray-Ban, Milka Chocolate, H&M and Perrier. In 2019, he was announced as Calvin Klein's first Chinese global spokesperson for Calvin Klein's underwear and jeans lines. That year, he terminated his contract with Samsung as its ambassador for less than a year after the company violated the One-China policy. As an ambassador of high-end fashion brand Valentino, Zhang has attended multiple fashion shows and events in Asia and Europe, as well at the annual Met Gala. He has also served as a promotional ambassador for Huawei Nova from 2015 to 2018. Zhang currently tops the list for K-Pop idols with the most endorsement deals.
In 2019, Zhang pulled out from an endorsement contract with Samsung Electronics because the tech giant allegedly listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate countries on their website. Zhang’s Chinese management company released the following statement: "Samsung has severely offended the national feelings of our Chinese compatriots by being ambiguous about the integrity of our sovereignty and territory. We would like to express our regret, but we will not tolerate this.”
Youth ambassador for Communist Youth League of China
In July 2016, Zhang was appointed by the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC) of Changsha as a publicity ambassador, the first celebrity to hold such title. Since then, he has served as the publicity ambassador for three consecutive years. In October 2017, Zhang signed a contract with the vice president of Tencent Music Entertainment Group and became a member of "Music+ Plan" (Music+ 计划) alongside TFBoys, Wang Leehom and more. In September 2018, Zhang signed an agreement with Easy Entertainment in which his personal studio will collaborate with Easy Entertainment to create a new team to manage Zhang's promotional activities.
Songwriting and composing
Zhang has composed and produced multiple songs including "Exo 2014" by Exo and the whole of his solo albums, Lose Control, Lay 02 Sheep, Winter Special Gift and Namanana. He also wrote and composed his 2015 SM Station single "Monodrama". Zhang composed "Alone", the original sound track for his 2015 romantic-comedy film Ex-Files 2, as well as "Prayer", for his 2017 Chinese web-drama Operation Love. He holds composition credits for the song "Not to be Continued" by Chinese female artist Karen Mok which was released in May 2018 for her 25th anniversary album and later for MC Jin's single "Debut" on the same year. In April 2018, Zhang won the "Best Producer" award at the Chinese Top Ten Music Awards. He revealed in an interview that he lost over 99 unreleased tracks that he composed over the years. Apart from Karen Mok, he holds composition credits to songs released by Yu Quan, MC Jin and Show Luo.
Many of Zhang's released songs were produced with traditional Chinese musical elements, such as the instruments Hulusi, Guzheng and Gong. Zhang mentioned in one of his interviews that his main genre is M-pop, which stands for "Mandarin popular music" and is a variation of different languages. One song is his collaborative single with American EDM and Hip-hop group Far East Movement titled Lovebird, which contains English and Mandarin languages. The Assembly Call, the intro song for his 2018 album Namanana, is an instrumental track which showcases different traditional Chinese sounds and music.
Zhang has been associated with his Chinese zodiac sign, the sheep, which he used for his 2017 solo album Lay 02 Sheep and its title track Sheep. This concept has been consistent throughout his solo career, and he has been called Little sheep in China by his fans and even TV shows.
In February 2015, Zhang participated in the "Return Home with Love for A Thousand Miles", a large-scale public welfare activities and volunteer project. The project included on-site delivery of relief supplies to labour workers which helps them return home faster and to help labour workers in a timely manner to reinforce physical safety. On 2 May, Zhang established his own foundation entitled, "Zhang Yixing Arts Scholarship" on behalf of providing scholarship for his alma mater middle school, Hunan Masters College Middle School where he will donate 100 thousand yuan annually. His intentions were encourage talented youth to pursue their dreams. On 7 September, Zhang responded to a campus soccer public welfare project, "Summit of Hope" ("希望之颠"). He uploaded a video on his Weibo account in an attempt to publicise the project.
On 1 February 2016, Zhang donated an undisclosed amount to a joint Weibo public welfare funding project (#一起9加1#) which aids impoverished families for the upcoming Lunar New Year. In March 2016, during the second season of Go Fighting!, Zhang and the other cast members visited a community-run migrant worker dependent school located in Chuansha Xin Town of Shanghai as part of the "Go Fighting Welfare Development Project" ("极限公益成长计划"). The initiative donated more than 1.2 million yuan worth of materials for over 12 schools nationwide. On 1 May, Zhang participated in the Youku "Go Fighting Minute Challenge" public welfare project on Weibo where he sent greetings to as many friends and families as possible in one minute and urged the public to express positive energy and to donate to charity. He donated another 1 million yuan and a piano to his alma mater. Later that year, in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of his alma mater, Zhang once more donated another 1 million yuan to his scholarship foundation. On 2 July, Zhang was honorably appointed as the Publicity Ambassador of the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC), expressed that he will dedicate himself to his appointment and appealed to the public to do charity through singing the national anthem. On 9 September, Zhang attended the 2016 BAZAAR Stars' Charity Night which resulted in him donating 10 ambulances with worth amounting to 700 thousand yuan. Due to his charitable contributions, Zhang was ranked number 15th by the China Philanthropist Magazine in the '2016 China's Top Philanthropist Celebrity List'.
On 9 September 2017, Zhang attended the 2017 BAZAAR Stars' Charity Night and donated 15 ambulances, valued at 1.05 million yuan. In January 2018, he starred in a public welfare movie I'm Beside You, in which he sang and composed the theme song. On 30 March 2018, he starred as a guest recitalist in CCTV's Trust in China talk show. Zhang ranked number 18 by the China Philanthropist Magazine in the 2017 China's Top Philanthropist Celebrity List. In January 2018, Zhang participated as a cameo in the campaign movie For Love With You; the theme song of the movie, I'm By Your Side, was sung by Zhang.>
|Year||English title||Original title||Role||Notes|
|2015||SMTOWN The Stage||Himself||Documentary of SM Town|
|Ex-Files 2: The Backup Strikes Back||前任2：备胎反击战||Lee Xianghe||Special appearance|
|Oh My God||从天儿降||Le Yi|
|The Mystic Nine Side Story: Flowers Bloom in February||老九门番外之二月花开||Er Yuehong||Web film|
|2017||Kung Fu Yoga||功夫瑜伽||Zhu Xiaoguang|
|The Founding of an Army||建军大业||Lu Deming||Special appearance|
|Cars 3||N/A||Jackson Storm (voice)||Chinese voice dub|
|2018||For Love With You||一切如你||Campaign movie; Cameo|
|The Island||一出好戏||Xiao Xing||Main character|
|TBA||Unexpected Love||闭嘴！爱吧||Han Bin||South Korean-Chinese film; Postponed release due to THAAD|
|Year||English title||Original title||Role||Network||Notes|
|1998||We The People||咱老百姓||Huan Huan||Beijing TV||Pre-debut|
|2015||Exo Next Door||우리 옆집에 엑소가 산다||Himself||Naver TV Cast||Special appearance|
|2016||To Be A Better Man||好先生||Xiao Cai (Cai Mingjun)||Jiangsu TV, Zhejiang TV|
|The Mystic Nine||老九门||Er Yuehong||Dragon TV, iQiyi|
|2017||Operation Love||求婚大作战||Yan Xiaolai||Dragon TV, Tencent Video|
|2018||The Tomb of Sea||沙海||Jie Yuchen||Tencent Video||Special appearance|
|2019||The Golden Eyes||黄金瞳||Zhuang Rui||Dragon TV, iQiyi|
|Empress of the Ming||大明风华||Zhu Qizhen||Hunan TV, Youku|
|2021||Faith Makes Great||理想照耀中国||Xiong Dachen|
|Challenges at Midlife||落花时节||Ning Shu||TBA|
|Crime Crackdown||扫黑风暴||Lin Hao||Tencent Video,WeTV ,Dragon TV,Beijing TV|
|Year||English title||Original title||Role||Network||Notes|
|2014||Star Chef||星厨驾到||Contestant||Jiangsu TV|
|2015–2020||Go Fighting!||极限挑战||Main cast||Dragon TV||season 1–6|
|2018||Idol Producer||偶像练习生||Main mentor, presenter||iQiyi|
|Rave Now||即刻电音||Mentor||Tencent Video|||
|2019||Youth With You||青春有你||Main mentor, presenter||iQiyi||Second season of
|2020||I'm CZR II||我是唱作人2||Premiere Singer-songwriter|
|We Are Young||少年之名||Main mentor, presenter||Youku|||
|Street Dance Of China 3||这 就是街舞3||Team Captain||Youku|
|Dance Smash Season 2||舞蹈风暴 第二季||Smash Leader, Dance Witness||Hunan TV|||
|2021||Youth and Melody||金曲青春||Producer||Dragon TV|||
|Back to Field Season 5||向往的生活||Main Cast||Hunan TV|
|Street Dance of China 4||这 就是街舞4||Team Captain||Youku|
Awards and nominations
|1 October 2015||Standing Firm at 24||Autobiography||ISBN 978-7550260917|
Forbes China Celebrity 100
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