Rao Zihe was born in 1950 in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. An expert in molecular biophysics and structural biology, and also an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, he was President of Nankai University from May 2006 to January 2011.
After graduating from the University of Science and Technology of China in 1977, Rao Zihe received his master's degree from the graduate school of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (now the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences) in 1989, and his doctoral degree from the University of Melbourne in 1989. He has successively served as professor at Tsinghua University, Director of the Institute of Biophysics, Chairman of the Academic Committee of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and chief of the State Key Biomacromolecular Laboratory. In 2009, he was awarded for Outstanding Academic Leadership by a British educational institution.