With a booming entertainment industry, China has seen a growing number of outstanding new generation actresses. Along with their more accomplished counterparts, we handpicked 10 Chinese actresses whom we think every filmmaker, and anyone who is interested in the Chinese film industry should know. These talented women are recognized for their achievements in film and TV, popularity, social influence, international recognition, commercial value, and potential to contribute to the film industry.
A teenage dance champion before beginning a career in acting, Zhang Ziyi was first scouted by director Zhang Yimou to star in the romantic drama film The Road Home in 1999. Zhang then went on to become the most well-known Chinese actress in Hollywood, with roles in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, with which she won three awards, and Rush Hour 2, her first American film. Zhang proved to the world that she was more than a Kung Fu star with Memoirs of Geisha, for which she was nominated Best Actress in a Motion Picture for the Golden Globe Award. In 2013, Zhang made her return to Kung Fu in Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster, and proceeded to win multiple awards for her role Gong Er. Currently, Zhang Ziyi is a judge on the Chinese reality show The Birth of An Actor, and her latest film, Forever Young, is to be released early 2018.
Known for: The Grandmaster (2013); Memoirs of a Geisha (2005); Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000); The Road Home (1999)
A child star since the age of four, Yang Mi has been acting almost her entire life, playing many well-known roles in multiple films and TV shows, but her successful acting career often pales in comparison with her social influence. With almost 80 million followers on Chinese microblogging site Weibo, the popular actress is no doubt one of the most influential celebrities in China. Yang’s smart and chic fashion choices are closely followed by her fans, and her wardrobe is copied by many. Newly named as Michael Kors’s first brand ambassador, Yang was then featured in the Michael Kors capsule collection at DFS, which reassured her status as a Chinese fashion icon. Apart from acting and fashion, Yang also owns a talent agency that manages some of the new faces in entertainment, including Dilraba. Yang is now ranked third on Forbes’ China Celebrity 100 list.
Fan Bingbing first shot to fame playing the supporting role Jinsuo in the extremely popular 90s costume drama My Fair Princess, which kick-started her acting career; she later won Best Actress at the Hundred Flowers Awards for her role in the Feng Xiaogang’s Cell Phone in 2003. Better known to American audiences as Blink in X-Men: Days of Future Past, Fan has over the years transitioned from a Chinese actress to an international star and a regular at fashion shows and on the red carpet. Her classy, glamorous, and memorable looks on the red carpet helped her make many best-dressed lists. Fan Bingbing is also actively involved in arthouse films and was a judge at the 70th Cannes Film Festival. Fan currently tops the Forbes’ China Celebrity list, and is the 4th highest-paid actress in the world.
Known for: I Am Not Madame Bovary (2016); X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).Buddha Mountain (2010); The Empress of China (2014 TV series); My Fair Princess (1998 TV series)
At 14 years old, Vicky Chen Wen-chi became the youngest winner of the Golden Horse Award for Best Supporting Actress, the Chinese equivalent of Oscars, for her role in the Taiwanese film The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful. Like 21-year-old Timothée Chalemet of Call Me by Your Name, Hollywood’s biggest rising star of the year, Chen has had an impressive year appearing in three major Chinese films including the upcoming suspense crime film The Liquidator. Many in the industry believe the talented teen actress is on track to a very promising film career.
Known for: Angels Wear White (2017); The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful (2017); The Liquidator (2017);
A Hangzhou native, Tang Wei rose to prominence after starring in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, an erotic thriller that won multiple prestigious awards and was hugely successful across Asia, despite only releasing the cut version in Mainland China. Nevertheless, the actress’s career was far from smooth sailing. Shortly after the release of Lust, Caution, China banned Tang because of the sex scenes in the movie. Tang eventually returned to the big screen and made appearances in a couple of films since, including the romance film Book of Love. The 38-year-old is often known as hard-working, determinant, and has a talent for learning languages. She has given English speeches at film awards and also speaks some Korean, and a few Chinese dialects.
Known for: The Golden Era (2014); Book of Love (2016); Late Autumn (2010); Lust, Caution (2007)
Like Hollywood star Zhang Ziyi, 25-year-old actress Zhou Dongyu also had her debut in a Zhang Yimou film, Under the Hawthorn Tree, with which she won multiple awards. Since then, Zhou has made cameos in a few movies, but it was not until her performance in Soul Mate did she gain wider recognition nationwide. The romantic drama film, based on the novel by popular writer Anni Baobei, won Zhou Best Actress at the 2016 Golden Horse Awards. The young actress also collaborated with Takeshi Kaneshiro in the 2017 romantic comedy This is Not What I Expected.
Zhao Liying broke into the entertainment industry after winning a talent show in 2006, and debuted with TV series Golden Marriage shortly after. Her breakthrough came when playing the protagonist in the historical fiction series Legend of Lu Zhen (2013), which was not only a hit in China but also popular among Japanese and Korean audiences. Zhao soon began appearing in a string of hit TV and film works; when the 2015 fantasy-wuxia drama The Journey of Flower aired, it garnered over 20 billion views online and made Zhao a household name. The sweet-looking actress is currently the highest-paid TV actress in China.
Known for: Duckweed (2017); The Liquidator (2017)；Princess Agents (2017 TV); The Journey of Flower (2016 TV);
Dubbed as “fairy sister” in China, Liu Yifei is known for her delicate beauty and her roles in Chinese period dramas. Starring in TV series The Story of a Noble Family at age 15, Liu quickly grew in popularity and has since built a huge following online, which led to many international collaborations, including co-starring with K-pop sensation Rain in For Love or Money, and appearing in the action movie Outcast. Last month, the actress was cast as Mulan in Disney’s upcoming live-action film, an adaptation of its animated original. Mulan is set to release in 2019.
Known for: Mulan (2019); Once Upon A Time (2017); For Love or Money (2014); The Forbidden Kingdom (2008);
A veteran in the film industry, Zhou Xun has appeared in over 30 films and won numerous awards throughout her career as an actress, including Golden Horse Awards, Golden Rooster Awards, and Hong Kong Film Awards, making her the first Chinese actress to win all three of the top awards in Chinese language cinema. With roles in musical film Perhaps Love, The Banquet, and Cloud Atlas, Zhou successfully established herself as one of the top actresses in China, and gained recognition internationally. Most recently, Zhou starred in Ann Hui’s war film Our Time Will Come, and the historical drama series Ruyi’s Royal Love in the Palace, which sold at $2 million per episode. Outside film and TV, the petite actress is an ambassador for luxury brand Chanel, and an advocate for environmental sustainability.
Known for: Our Time Will Come (2017); Cloud Atlas (2012); The Banquet (2006); Perhaps Love (2005)
A Chinese actress of Uyghur origins, Dilraba is among the most popular new generation TV actresses. Represented by Yang Mi’s agency Jay Walk Studio, Dilraba quickly rose to fame after playing roles in well-loved TV shows like Swords of Legends and Diamond Lover, while being on the hit variety show Keep Running helped her build a significant fanbase. Dilraba is often compared to Korean actress Jun Ji-hyun, as their characters in dramas share similar traits. The young actress is also one of the few celebrities in China from minority ethnic backgrounds. Dilraba is featured in the upcoming film Namiya, a Chinese adaptation of the Japanese novel with the same title. This is going to be Dilraba’s third film.
Known for: Namiya (2017); Eternal Love (2017 TV); Diamond Lover (2015); Swords of Legends (2014)