Actors from minority groups are gaining in popularity in China. Here are the stars you’ll want to watch.
A new wave of celebrities from minority ethnic groups – such as Wu Jing of Wolf Warrior 2 – have gained a huge following in mainland China.
Alongside government funding of films that depict minorities, China’s diversifying silver screen now sees production teams increasingly casting actors from minority groups.
And while niche films depicting minority cultures, such as Anarhan and Deegide (both 2013), have a long history in China, there are a string of recent mainstream films featuring diverse casts.
With Chinese film stars now occupying a sizeable digital presence, the influence of celebrities from minority groups is growing. These are the stars leading the digital stage:
Born in Urumchi in Xinjiang, the 25-year-old Uygur is a graduate of the Shanghai Theatre Academy. She first starred in a TV drama Anarhan in 2013, and rose to fame playing the role of Fuqu in Swords of Legends in 2014. She also starred in the TV blockbuster Eternal Love this year and the variety show Keep Running.
Dilraba’s 31 million followers on Weibo make her the most popular minority star in China.
Fans regularly compare Gülnezer and Dilraba, as they are both 25-year-old Uygur actors. Gülnezer was discovered while auditioning for the Beijing Film Academy in 2011, and made further strides this year by starring in the book-to-drama adaptation Fighter of the Destiny, which attained a huge viewership.
Jike Junyi (nickname: Summer)
Summer is from a Yi village in Sichuan province. She enjoyed overnight success after singing Don’t be Afraid, a remix of a folk song from her hometown, in the first series of The Voice of China talent show in 2012.
Born in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture of Xinjiang, Tong’s father is Xibe, from Xinjiang, while her mother is Han, from Gansu. In 2002, she finished first runner-up in the Miss Xinjiang beauty pageant. Liya, who is now 33, broke into the mainstream with roles in the television series Palace in 2011 and Beijing Love Story in 2012, both of which were major hits.
Wu Jing, a 43-year-old actor-director of Manchu descent, made his mark in Hong Kong in the martial arts film SPL. Sha Po Lang, and is now a household name throughout China after the action film Wolf Warrior 2 grossed more than 5.5 billion yuan (HK$6.65 billion) in China. The latter is the first film from outside Hollywood to make the top 100 all-time highest grossing movies worldwide.
Han, a 33-year-old Nanai singer from Heilongjiang, studied dance and martial arts at a young age. He joined South Korean boy band Super Junior in 2005, and became the leader of its sub-group Super Junior-M three years later. Han filed a lawsuit against SE Entertainment in 2009 to terminate his contract and, two years later, both parties reached an agreement after which Han resumed his solo career. He has 49 million followers on Weibo.
Tong, a 38-year-old of Manchu descent, is best known for his role in the television series Struggle in 2007 and Tiger Mom in 2015 alongside Zhao Wei. He played one of the main parts in the Zhang Yimou-directed The Flowers of War (2011) and American Dreams in China (2013), directed by Peter Chan.
Ma is a 31-year graduate of the Beijing Film Academy. The Hui actor-singer rose to fame by becoming the Wuhan regional champion, and then finishing sixth in the final of the My Hero competition in 2006.
Ma’s hit single Narcissus topped various music charts in China in 2014.
He most recently starred in the recent Chinese historical film The Founding of an Army as Lin Bao, a marshal who was pivotal in the Communist Party victory over the Kuomintang in the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
— This article originally appeared on South China Morning Post STYLe