Zhang joined the CPC in November 1973, and he is an economist by profession. He was educated at Xiamen University in Xiamen from 1965 to 1970.
From 1997 to 2002 he held prominent leadership positions in the special economic zone of Shenzhen and the provincial government of Guangdong, and was instrumental in the economic development of region. An economic thinker, Zhang was then entrusted with the economic development of Shandong, where he was the first-in-charge CPC Shandong Committee Secretary.
Before the 17th Party Congress the central leadership moved Zhang in a provincial leadership reshuffle to lead the coastal city of Tianjin. He is believed to be an emerging member of the fifth generation of Chinese leadership.