Yang Zhi started his football career at second tier side Guangdong Xiongying after graduating from their youth academy. He quickly established himself within the squad in the 2002 season with Guangdong, playing in 26 league games. The following season he would play in a further 22 league games for Guangdong and help take them to tenth place in the league. His performances caught the eye of Beijing Guoan, and with the chance to play in the Chinese Super League, he transferred to them at the beginning of the 2005 league season where he once again quickly established himself as their first-choice goalkeeper within the team by playing in 21 league games in his debut season. The following seasons saw him become an integral member of the team and by the 2009 league season he had aided them to win the top tier title. During the preseason of the 2012 season, Yang sustained an injury in a friendly and was out for most of the season. He returned to his starting role as goalkeeper for Beijing during the 2013 season.
After his consistent performances for Beijing Guoan, Yang was called up to the Chinese national team on 10 August 2006 for a friendly against Thailand where he came on as a substitute for Li Leilei in a 4-0 victory. He would later make his competitive debut the following year against in a 1-0 win Myanmar on 28 October 2007 during 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification. It was not until the introduction of then manager Gao Hongbo that saw Yang promoted to the national team's first-choice goalkeeper when he named him within his first game in a 1-1 draw against Germany on 29 May 2009.