He began to compose in 1940 and studied composition at the Moscow Conservatory. Later he was a professor at the Shanghai Conservatory.
His music, written for both Western and Chinese instruments, has been heard around the world. His 1950 revolutionary work Days of Emancipation is well-known in the West due to a recording, and his Silk Road Reverie was commissioned in 2000 by Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project.
Zhu Jian Er died in Shanghai on 15 August 2017, aged ninety-four.