A leading figure in contemporary Chinese poetry, Yi Lei was born Sun Gui-zhen in Tianjin, China, in 1951. She studied creative writing at the Lu Xun Academy and received a BA in Chinese literature from Peking University.
Yi Lei has published eight poetry collections, and her work has been translated into Japanese, French, Italian, Russian, and English, notably by U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith. She also worked as a reporter for the Liberation Army and as a staff member for the newspaper The Railway Corps. In 1991, Yi Lei moved to Moscow, where she lived and wrote for a number of years.
Yi Lei was a recipient of the Zhuang Zhong Wen Literature Prize. She died on July 14, 2018, while traveling in Iceland.