Connect with us

China Arts & Entertainment

China’s Woman Warrior Goes America Again: The Disneyfication of Mulan

The story of Mulan is ingrained in Chinese culture, but Disney has made her an international classic.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of Mulan has become a recurring topic of debate on social media recently. The movie is much-anticipated in China, but there are also critical voices suggesting the American Disney company “doesn’t understand China at all.” How ‘Chinese’ is Disney’s Mulan really? 

Ever since news came out that Disney would turn Mulan into a live-action movie the topic has been frequently popping up in the top trending lists on Chinese social media.

The movie has been especially top trending on Weibo this week since the official trailer was released.

Mulan is the much-anticipated live-action remake of Disney’s 1998 animated Mulan movie, which tells the story of the legendary female warrior Hua Mulan (花木兰) who disguises as a man to take her father’s place in the army.

Over recent years, Disney has released and announced the live-action adaptations of many of its animated classics. Remakes such as Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), Beauty and the Beast (2017), Dumbo (2019), and Aladdin (2019), have all been successful and, besides Mulan, they are now being followed up by the remakes of The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Lady and the Tramp, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Disney’s new Mulan movie is directed by the New Zealand film director Niki Caro.

The role of Mulan will be played by the (mainland-born) Chinese American actress Crystal Liu Fei (刘亦菲). The film also features Yoson An as Mulan’s love interest, Tzi Ma as Mulan’s father, Donnie Yen as Mulan’s Commander mentor, Gong Li as the evil witch, Jason Scott Lee as the enemy warrior leader, and Jet Li as the Emperor of China.

 

MULAN: WEIBO MANIA AND CRITICISM

Americans really have no idea about China.

Since the story of Mulan is a Chinese legend that has a history of over 1500 years in China, Chinese audiences are particularly invested in the topic of the upcoming Disney movie. Every new detail concerning Mulan seems to become another trending topic on social media.

On Weibo, “Disney’s Mulan” (#迪士尼花木兰#) has seen over 420 million views by now, while the hashtag “Mulan Trailer” (#花木兰预告#) alone received a staggering 1.2 billion views.

Following the release of the movie poster made by Chinese visual artist Chen Man, the relating hashtag (#花木兰海报是陈漫拍的#) was viewed more than 260 million times.

A topic dedicated to the missing Mushu, a talking dragon that is the closest companion to Mulan in the animated film, also received 310 million views (#花木兰里没有木须龙#).

Online discussions on Mulan show that there already is quite a lot of criticism on the movie and its historical accuracy, even though its release is still months away.

Some commenters criticized Mulan’s makeup in one of the movie scenes as being too exaggerated and unflattering.

The fact that the actors in the movie all speak English also did not sit well with some people, writing: “Why is it all in English?!” and “I understand the logic, but why would a group of Chinese people speak English while it’s filmed in China? Even if it’s a Disney movie, it seems awkward.”

Another controversy that has been especially making its rounds for the past few days is the one relating to the traditional tulou round communal residences that are featured in the movie trailer (#花木兰 福建土楼#, 170 million clicks).

The tulou are Chinese rural, earthen dwellings. Although the buildings are part of Chinese traditional architecture, they are also unique to mountainous areas in Fujian province. Not only is Mulan not from Fujian, her story also takes place long before these tulou were built – something that many Chinese netizens find “nonsensical” and “distracting.”

“Americans really have no idea about China,” some people on Weibo commented, with others writing: “We can’t expect Disney to research everything, but they can’t not do research. They shouldn’t let Mulan live in a tulou just because it looks pretty, she is not from Fujian!”

“Why on earth would she live in a tulou,” others write: “Isn’t she a northerner?”

“Foreigners just don’t understand China,” one among thousands of commenters said.

Another Weibo user writes: “Americans should first thoroughly understand the Northern and Southern Dynasties, and Chinese geography, and Mulan’s ethnic background, and then they can give it another try.”

 

FROM SELF-SACRIFICE TO SELF-DISCOVERY

The meaning of the story of Mulan varies depending on how it is told, when it is told, and by whom it is told.

Although many people outside of China only know about Mulan through the 1998 Disney animation that made the story of this Chinese warrior go global, Hua Mulan’s story has seen continued popularity in China for more than a thousand years.

The first known written version of the Mulan legend is the anonymous sixth-century Poem of Mulan (木兰辞), followed by other plays and novels in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Edwards 2016, 19-20; Li 2018, 368).

Especially since the twentieth century, the story of Mulan has become a recurring theme in China’s popular culture, appearing in various plays, movies, TV series, operas, and even in games. Some of China’s earliest films were about Mulan; from 1927 to 1939, three different films came out on the female heroine, all titled Mulan Joins the Army (木兰从军).

“Mulan Joins the Army” is a 1939 Chinese historical war about the legend of Hua Mulan.

The meaning of the Mulan legend varies depending on how it is told, when it is told, and by whom it is told. The story has seen a centuries-long period of change and development, with different perspectives being presented depending on the region and genre (Kwa & Idema 2010, xii).

The basic outline of the story is always the same: Mulan is the daughter who disguises as a man to protect her father and take his place in the army, where she fights for twelve years before being promoted to a high-ranking position by the emperor. Mulan declines and asks for an honorable discharge instead, so she can return home to her family. Once she is home, Mulan changes into women’s clothing again.

Chastity, filial piety, feminism, perseverance, sacrifice, militarism, patriotism – the Mulan story has it all, but which motives are given prominence is always different. Within China, the Mulan narrative is related to issues of China’s national identity and political goals.

“Mulan: Rise of a Warrior” is a live-action film produced in mainland China in 2009.

In Chinese literary versions before the twentieth century, Mulan is presented as a northerner of uncertain ethnicity, a figure of resistance, who sacrifices her own safety to protect her father and show filial piety. Confucian values and the importance of family are at the core of the Mulan story (Edwards 2016, 19-20).

In Chinese versions after the twentieth century, Mulan is implicitly presented as being Han Chinese and as a “loyal patriot defending China.” The focus is no longer solely on Mulan giving up her own freedom for the sake of her father; it is her militarised sacrifice to the state and the importance of patriotism that is highlighted instead (ibid., 19-20).

With Disney’s 1998 adaptation of Mulan as an animated film, the main focus of the story was again shifted. Disney presented Mulan not so much as a patriot or as a Confucian daughter, but as a somewhat goofy and free-spirited young woman on her “Americanized self-realization journey” (Li 2018, 362-363).

Mulan’s individual coming of age and feminist story is echoed in the film’s Reflection song, in which Mulan sings:

I am now
In a world where I have to hide my heart
And what I believe in
But somehow
I will show the world
What’s inside my heart
And be loved for who I am

Although the narrative of the young woman who finds her own true voice resonated with many around the world – Mulan became an international box office smash hit -, it did not resonate with Chinese audiences.

In China, the Disney film grossed only about one-sixth of its expected box office income and was even among the lowest scoring big imported US films since 1994 (Li 2018, 362-363).

According to scholar Lan Dong, the Mulan flop in China indicated Disney’s failure to anticipate how the film would be received in China and how the Chinese audience’s familiarity with Mulan’s story had already shaped their expectations of the film (ibid.): Disney’s Mulan clearly was not the same as China’s Mulan.

 

THE DISNEYFICATION OF A CHINESE FOLK HEROINE

The animated Mulan film clearly Disneyfied the story by playing into various American stereotypes of feudal China.

But who is “China’s Mulan”? And who is “Disney’s Mulan”?

As described, Chinese versions of Mulan have significantly changed through times. And Disney’s Mulan of 2020 is also very different from the Disney princess that stole the hearts of viewers around the world in 1998.

Judging from the trailer, the upcoming Mulan will be a much more serious movie that focuses on the action and martial arts, and seems to represent Mulan as a self-sacrificing woman warrior (nothing goofy).

There’s an apparent risk in this route taken by Disney. On Chinese social media, the complaints about the movie relate mostly to the movie not being ‘Chinese’ enough when it comes to historical accuracy and language.

In English-language media, the movie is criticized for omitting the talking dragon and the songs and for “bowing to China’s nationalistic agenda” with its patriotic theme (Jingan Young in The Guardian, also see Vice).

The Disney company aims to entertain children and adults all around the world. In doing so, they convert “cultural capital” to “economic capital”1 and create content with universal appeal for global audiences, virtually always requiring commercial concessions to adapt to tastes and expectations of their mass audience.

Mulan merchandise, image via mouseinfo.com.

Since tastes and audience expectations change over time, it seems logical for Disney to make different choices for its Mulan feature film in 2020 than it did in 1998, and not only because the company might have learned from its past mistakes in mainland China. China’s role in the world, and how people view China, has also greatly changed over the past twenty years.

National cultures, stories, and legends go through a process of ‘Disneyfication’ once they became part of the Disney canon. The term ‘Disneyfication’ has been coined since the 1990s to describe this phenomenon and has been used in various ways since.

Speaking of globalization and literature, author David Damrosch (What is World Literature?, 2003) uses ‘Disneyfication’ to describe how many foreign literary works will only be translated and sold in the West when its content ‘fits’ the image audiences have of that certain culture. What remains is actually a ‘fake’ cultural product that holds up certain stereotypes and clichés in order to please the audience (Koetse 2010).

In the 1998 animated film, Mulan was clearly ‘Disneyfied’ by playing into various American values and stereotypes of feudal China that were most dominant at the time.

Although the upcoming Mulan movie will be very different from its animated predecessor, we already know that it will play with some of those stereotypes again in a way that you could call ‘market realistic’: viewers will see an English-speaking Mulan that lives in a traditional Fujian tulou building. Some of the sceneries and settings will have absolutely nothing to do with the authentic story, but much more to do with how viewers around the world now imagine China.

The movie will undoubtedly present folk heroine Mulan and ancient China in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and accessible, making Mulan and her story easy to understand, digest, and love.

 

WHOSE MULAN IS IT ANYWAY?

For many Chinese viewers, Mulan has become ‘too American’, while foreign media criticize the film for being ‘too Chinese.’

The irony in the criticism that has emerged over Disney’s Mulan recently, is that in the eyes of many Chinese viewers, Mulan has become ‘too American’, while foreign media criticize the production for being ‘too Chinese.’

This is by no means the first time the Disney company is under attack for the way in which it adapts local legends or stories into international feature films.

With Pocahontas, Disney was accused of “whitewashing horrific past,” the Moana movie was said to show “insensitivity to Polynesian cultures,” some critics found Aladdin to be “rooted by racism and Orientalism,” and recently, Disney’s choice to cast a black actress for the remake of The Little Mermaid triggered controversy for removing “the essence of Ariel.”

There are two sides to the controversial ‘Disneyfication’ coin. On the one hand, one could argue that some of the cultural value of the original local myths, legends, and stories are lost once they are transformed and simplified to satisfy mass market demand.

On the other hand, the Disney corporation also truly makes these local stories go global and in doing so, further adds to their cultural significance and worldwide recognition.

Mulan is now a Chinese legend that has gone beyond its borders and is no longer ‘truly Chinese’ – whatever that might mean. She has become a part of people’s childhood memories and popular culture in many countries around the world.

Just as The Little Mermaid no longer solely belongs to the realm of feudal Nordic folklore, Quasimodo no longer just exists in French literary canon, and just as Aladdin has become so much more than part of the The Thousand and One Nights, Mulan has also come to represent more than a Chinese folk heroine. She has become a world-famous woman warrior whose story will keep evolving for the years to come.

About the upcoming Mulan movie and its criticism, one Weibo commenter writes: “I find it hard to understand why people are so fussy. They have a problem with Mulan’s make-up, or with the fact that there’s no singing and no Mushu, or with the scenery. This is a movie. It can only stay close to the original work, but it will never be the original work.”

Luckily for Disney, many Chinese viewers are still very keen to watch the Mulan premiere despite – or perhaps thanks to – the ongoing controversies. The casting of Liu Fei as Mulan has also been met with praise and excitement.

Popular Weibo law blogger Kevin (@Kevin在纽约) writes: “On the first day that the trailer for Disney’s live-action Mulan was released, it had 175.1 million global views, making it the number two Disney adaption. The number one is The Lion King which had 224.6 global views [on its first day]. Although the Americans made Mulan live in a tulou, and made her speak English with a Chinese accent, it all won’t prevent Hua Mulan from having great success in 2020.”

Other netizens also agree, and they do not seem to mind sharing ‘their’ Mulan with the rest of the world.

“Some people are being too obstinate,” one female Weibo user writes in response to all the criticism: “This is the American Disney company, and all princesses speak English first. Jasmine in Aladdin also did not speak Arabic. I gather that in the film there will definitely be some subjective ideas or errors based on Western conceptions of China. As Chinese, we might find them misrepresentative or laughable. But from the trailer, I can already see that [this film] matches our esthetics and imagination. Most importantly, this film expresses the strength and beauty of Chinese women, and of women in general – that’s what matters.”

Discussions on Disney’s Mulan will certainly continue in the time to come. The movie is scheduled to be released in theatres on March 27 of 2020.

Too Chinese? Too American? Too Disneyfied? Too patriotic? Disney’s Mulan might not please all viewers. Fortunately, there are and will be dozens of other Mulan versions providing viewers and readers with new and different perspectives on the centuries-old legend. But who is the ‘real’ Mulan in the end? We’ll probably never know.

By Manya Koetse

1 (Harris 2005, 50).

Dong, Lan. 2010. Mulan’s Legend and Legacy in China and the United States. Bibliovault OAI Repository, the University of Chicago Press.

Edwards, Louise. 2016. “The Archetypal Woman Warrior, Hua Mulan: Militarising Filial Piety.” In: Women Warriors and Wartime Spies of China, pp. 17-39.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Harris, David. 2005. Key Concepts in Leisure Studies. SAGE Key Concepts. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Koetse, Manya. 2010. “The Imagined Space of Chinatown: An Amsterdam Case Study.” Leiden University, https://www.manyakoetse.com/the-imagined-space-of-chinatown/ [July 12, 2019].

Kwa, Shiamin and Wilt I. Idema (eds). 2010. Mulan: Five Versions of a Classic Chinese Legend with Related Texts.” Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company.

Li, Jing. 2018. “Retelling the Story of a Woman Warrior in Hua Mulan (花木兰, 2009): Constructed Chineseness and the Female Voice.” Marvels & Tales 32 (2): 362-387.

Young, Jingan. 2019. “The Mulan trailer is a dismal sign Disney is bowing to China’s nationalistic agenda.” The Guardian, July 8 https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/jul/08/mulan-trailer-is-a-dismal-sign-disney-is-bowing-to-china-anti-democratic-agenda [July 12, 2019].

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

China Memes & Viral

“Hi, Mom!” Box Office Hit Sparks ‘When My Mum Was Younger’ Trend on Weibo

The touching Chinese hit movie “Hi, Mom” has sparked an emotional trend on Weibo.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

The movie Hi, Mom is all the rage in China, where social media is flooding with hashtags, photos, and texts celebrating moms and the bond between mothers and daughters. One big discussion is focused on all the things daughters would tell their younger moms: “Please don’t marry dad.”

If you could travel back in time and meet your mum before she had you, what would you say to her? What would you do?

This question is the idea behind Hi, Mom (Chinese title Hi, Li Huanying 你好,李焕英), the box office favorite in China this Spring Festival. The movie is directed by Jia Ling (贾玲), who also plays the female protagonist. For comedian Jia Ling, who is mostly known for her sketches during the Spring Festival Gala, this movie is her directorial debut.

Hi, Mom tells the story of Jia Xiaoling (Jia Ling) who is devastated when her mother Li Huanying has a serious accident one day. Jia is especially grief-stricken because she feels she has not become the daughter she wanted to be for her mother. When she finds herself transported back in time to the year 1981, she meets her young mother before she was her mum, and becomes her friend in the hopes of making her happy and change her life for the better.

From the movie “Hi, Mom”

Li Huanying is also the name of Jia Ling’s own mother, who passed away when Jia was just 19 years old. Jia Ling reportedly did not make the movie because she wanted to be a director, but because she wanted to tell her mother’s story.

The film has become super popular since its debut on February 12 and raked in 2.6 billion yuan (over $400 million) within five days. On day five alone, the movie earned $90 million.

The movie has sparked various trends on Chinese social media. One of them is an online ‘challenge’ for daughters to post pictures of mothers when they were young. The hashtag “Photo of My Mother When She Was Young” (#妈妈年轻时的照片#) received 120 million views on Weibo by Wednesday. Another hashtag used for this ‘challenge’ is “This is My Li Huanying” (#这是我的李焕英#). The hashtags have motivated thousands of netizens to post photos of their mother before she became a mom.

The trend has not just sparked an online movement to celebrate and appreciate mothers – it also offers an intimate glance into the lives of Chinese older women and shows just how different the times were when they were young. This also gave many daughters a new appreciation of their mothers.

“I used to have many wishes,” one female Weibo user wrote: “But now I just hope to make my mum happy.” Others praised their mother’s beauty (“My mum is so pretty!”) and said that they are proud to look like their mom, although some also complained that they had not inherited their mother’s looks.

The trend has also provided an opportunity for a moment of self-reflection for some. Seeing the unedited photos of their younger mothers, some called on female web users to stop losing themselves in ‘beautifying’ photo apps that alter their facial features, saying they will not have normal photos of themselves in the future that show their true (and unedited) natural beauty.

 

“Don’t marry dad, don’t believe his sweet talk.”

 

There is also another hashtag trending in light of Hi, Mum. It is “If You Could Go Back to Before Your Mum Married” (#如果穿越回妈妈结婚前#) and started with one popular fashion influencer (@一扣酥) asking her followers what they would want to tell her.

“Don’t marry dad. Don’t believe his sweet talk,” one person replied, with many others also writing that they would want to tell their younger mom not to marry their fathers: “I would tell her to look for someone who loves her, and not for someone she loves,” one person responded.

“Please leave dad,” another Weibo user writes, adding that her father drank too much and would hit her mother.

“Don’t feel like you need to marry because you’re older,” another daughter writes: “Don’t get into a ‘lightning wedding’ and don’t care so much about what other people say.”

“Live for yourself for once,” a blogger named ‘Zhi Zhi El’ wrote, with another young woman named Yumiko writing: “Don’t close your bookshop, be independent and confident, don’t listen to everything dad says, and don’t become a housewife.”

But there are also those who are happy with the way things turned out: “Mum! Marry dad! He’s good!”

In the end, most commenters just want one thing. As this Weibo user (@·__弑天) writes: “Mum, I just hope you have a happy life.”

 
By Manya Koetse
with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading

China Arts & Entertainment

Top 10 Chinese Celebrities with the Most Followers on Weibo in 2021

The top celebrities with the most followers on social media – who are they, why are they famous, and what do they do?

Manya Koetse

Published

on

They are the crème de la crème of China’s giant pop entertainment scene. These are the top celebrities and influencers on Weibo in early 2021.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

While celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Barack Obama, and Katy Perry are the leaders of Twitter in terms of followers, there are Chinese celebrities with an equally large fanbase on the country’s biggest social media platform Weibo, yet these are names that are generally less well-known outside of China.

Although China’s social media landscape has seen the rising popularity of new social apps and sites, Weibo is still the number one platform for the entertainment industry. This is a list of Weibo celebrities with the most followers as of early 2021.

There are some things worth noting about this list. First, it does not contain any ‘internet celebrities’ (网红 wanghong), meaning people who have become self-made online influencers through the internet. The biggest Weibo stars are still the ‘traditional celebrities’ in the sense that they have made their big breakthrough through TV drama, cinema, or the mainstream pop music scene.

Second, although the top list of Chinese celebrities with the most followers on Weibo has changed somewhat throughout the years, many of these celebrities have been at the top for a long time already. Some of them simply have become so big on Weibo because they were among the first celebrities to join the platform since its beginning in 2009. Celebrities such as Yao Chen or Chen Kun already had over 50 million followers on Weibo in 2013. This indicates that while China’s social media landscape is becoming more diverse, it is also more difficult for new social media superstars to emerge and become bigger than the long-time Weibo champions.

Third, the most-followed celebrities on Chinese social media are often true ‘superstars’ in the sense that they are all incredibly versatile. They often do acting, singing, presenting, but also have their own (restaurant) business or engage in other activities as ‘celebrity entrepreneurs.’ Virtually all celebrities in this list are also active contributors to charity or represent a good cause, as well as being brand ambassadors – they often have lucrative deals to do advertisements for world-renowned brands, from fashion brands to cosmetics or high-end spirits. This multidimensionality makes these celebrities all the more appealing to fans: they are talented, beautiful, wealthy, fashionable, virtuous and successful in business.

This article first introduces the ten Weibo accounts with the highest number of followers, and then also includes some newer accounts with the highest “influence rate” (博主影响力) according to Weibo Charts, meaning they have high network interaction and follower growth.

 

1. Xie Na 谢娜 – The Queen of Weibo

Fans on Weibo: 129.4 million followers, @谢娜
Main occupation: TV host
Date of birth: 6 May 1981
Birthplace: Deyang, Sichuan

Xie Na (1981), also nicknamed ‘Nana,’ is an extremely popular Chinese presenter, singer, actress and designer who is also known as ‘the Queen of Weibo.’

One of the reasons she has become so famous in mainland China is that she is the co-host of Hunan Satellite TV’s Happy Camp (快乐大本管), one of China’s most popular variety shows that has been running since 1997. She presents the show together with, amongst others, colleague He Jiong, who also appears in this list.

But ‘Nana’ is also very popular because she is such a versatile celebrity. Besides hosting various variety TV shows and starring in many popular Chinese films and television series, she has also released several albums, founded a personal clothing line, and published two books. Xie Na made headlines in March 2017 when she announced she would go to Italy as an overseas student to study design.

The TV host also stars in various commercials. She is, for example, the Chinese brand ambassador for American skin care brand Olay.

Xie Na holds the official Guinness World Record as the First Person to Accumulate 100 Million Followers on Weibo and for having the Most followers on Weibo.

In January of 2021, the 39-year-old Xie Na announced her second pregnancy together with her husband Zhang Jie, with whom she has been together for ten years. If you’re not on Weibo, you can also find Xie Na on Instagram here, where she has 485.000 followers.

 

2. He Jiong 何炅 – Key Figure in China’s Entertainment Industry

Fans on Weibo: 120.6 million followers, @何炅
Main occupation: TV host
Date of birth: 28 April 1974
Birthplace: Changsha, Hunan

He Jiong has been the host of China’s popular Happy Camp TV show for over two decades. He is also a singer, actor, writer, and used to be an Arabic teacher at Beijing’s Foreign Studies University, which is why he is often nicknamed ‘Professor He’ (何老师). Chinese media have called He Jiong “a key figure in China’s entertainment industry.”

Like Xie Na, He Jiong made it to the Guinness Book of Records for being the male celebrity with the most Weibo followers.

He Jiong recently was criticized for ‘exploiting his fame’ when it became known that he was accepting lavish gifts from fans, together with other hosts at Hunan Satellite TV. The broadcaster later stated that they would no longer allow any of their staff to receive gifts from fans, and He Jiong also wrote on Weibo that he would decline all presents in the future.

 

3. Yang Mi 杨幂 – One of the Most Bankable Female Stars

Fans on Weibo: 109.8 million fans on Weibo @杨幂
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 12 September 1986
Birthplace: Beijing

The beautiful actress and singer Yang Mi (1986) gained fame and popularity through her various roles in Chinese hit TV dramas. Born in Beijing, Yang started her acting career at the age of 4. Yang starred in many successful films and tv dramas, including hit shows such as Eternal Love (三生三世十里桃花) and The Interpreters (亲爱的翻译官), which happen to be produced by Yang’s own media company Jay Walk Studio.

Yang is now seen as one of Chinas biggest actresses, and also as one with the most commercial value; she was listed in the Top 10 Forbes Chinese Celebrities of 2020. Yang was previously named as one of China’s “New Four Dan Actresses” (the ‘top 4’ actresses).

Besides her acting career, entrepreneurship, and charity efforts, Yang Mi is also active as a brand ambassador for various renowned fashion and skincare brands, including Estee Lauder, Michael Kors and Victoria’s Secret.
This year, the actress will star in the live action movie A Writer’s Odyssey by director Lu Yang.

Yang has a daughter and was previously married to Hong Kong actor and singer Hawick Lau How-wai, with whom she co-starred in various productions. They announced their divorce in 2018. Fun fact: Yang Mi’s dad is also active on Weibo (@休闲小林哥), where he rebutted ongoing rumors about Yang undergoing plastic surgery by sharing her childhood photos. Though not as impressive as his daughter’s, his fanbase of 364,000 followers is still relatively big. Yang Mi is also active on Instagram here.

 

4. Angelababy 杨颖 – A Household Name

Fans on Weibo: 103.3 million followers @angelababy
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 28 February 1989
Birthplace: Shanghai

‘Angelababy’ (nickname for Yang Ying aka Angela Yeung Wing) has practically become a household name in China over the past years. The award-winning actress, model, and singer started her acting career in 2007 and has taken on many roles in different movies and TV dramas since.

The famous actress married actor Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明) in 2015, with whom she has a son. Their lavish $31 million wedding is the most-discussed Chinese weddings of the past decade, and their marriage and relationship status is a popular gossip topic on social media. There are ongoing rumors that the two might already have separated.

Angelababy is the brand ambassador for Dior. She recently opened her own hotpot restaurant named ‘Douliu Hotpot’ (斗鎏火锅) in Chengdu. She is also involved in charity and has previously donated to hospital relief efforts related to the COVID19 crisis in Hubei.

You can also find Angelababy on Instagram, where she has 8.1 million followers.

 

5. Chen Kun 陈坤 – With Love from Chongqing

Fans on Weibo: 93.3 million fans @陈坤
Main occupation: Actor and singer
Date of birth: 4 February 1976
Birthplace: Chongqing

Chinese top actor, singer and writer Chen Kun, sometimes also credited as Aloys Chen, is known for his roles in many television dramas and movies. The award-winning actor starred in popular TV dramas such as Love Story in Shanghai (像雾像雨又像风) and The Story of a Noble Family (金粉世家), as well as many movies including the 2016 comedy Chongqing Hotpot (火锅英雄) that is set in his hometown. Internationally, he mainly gained recognition for his role in Painted Skin (2008).

Chen belongs to the same generation of Beijing Film Academy graduates as his former classmate Vicki Zhao, who also appears in this list, and Huang Xiaoming, Angelababy’s husband.

Chen Kun is not only popular because of his acting work, but also for his looks – he is known to have a large gay fanbase. He is not shy about his looks, and likes to post a lot of photos of himself on his Weibo page.

Chen is a brand ambassador for Braun, Italian fashion house Prada, and was recently also featured in the campaign for French Cognac brand Martell Noblige. He is also active in charity and is a global ambassador for WildAid. He also founded ‘Power to Go,’ an initiative that aims to encourage people to improve their health and spirit by leading a more energetic lifestyle.

 

6. Zhao Liying 赵丽颖 – An Audience Favorite

Fans on Weibo: 88.4 million followers on Weibo @赵丽颖
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 16 October 1987
Birthplace: Langfang, Hebei

The award-winning actress and singer Zhao Liying, also known as Zanilia Zhao, is an audience favorite in China. Her acting career started some fifteen years ago but Zhao mainly gained recognition when she starred in 2010 Chinese television series The Dream of Red Mansions (红楼梦) and then played the main role in the 2013 popular series Legend of Lu Zhen (陆贞传奇). In 2017, she starred in the film Duckweed (乘风破浪), directed by Han Han.

Zhao is a tourism ambassador for her home province of Hebei, and she is the brand ambassador for fashion house Dior. Like others in this list, the actress was included in the top 10 of Forbes China Top Celebrity List for 2020.

 

7. Jackson Yee 易烊千玺 – Teen Idol with Power Star Status

Fans on Weibo: 86.9 million followers on Weibo @TFBOYS-易烊千玺
Main occupation: Singer/dancer with boyband TF Boys
Date of birth: 28 November 2000
Birthplace: Huaihua, Hunan

Although he is a ‘newcomer’ compared to other celebrities in this list, Jackson Yee (Yi Yangqianxi) is one of the most popular Chinese celebrities of the moment. Debuting as a child star, he is a member of China’s hugely popular band TFBoys and was recently included in the Forbes list of “Asia’s 100 Digital Stars” and ranked first in the 2020 Forbes Chinese Celebrity list. The 19-year-old singer-actor also is the number one blogger with the most influence on Weibo at the time of writing, according to Chinese social media data platform Xiguaji.

Besides a band member and solo singer, he is also an actor ad starred in the movie Better Days (2019), for which he won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best New Performer. He also stars in the box office hit A Little Red Flower (2020).

Yee is the global brand ambassador for Armani, and also works for brands such as Bulgari, Tiffany & Co, and Adidas.

 

8. Vicki Zhao 赵薇 – China’s Billionaire Actress

Fans on Weibo: 85.8 million followers on Weibo @赵薇
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 12 March 1976
Birthplace: Wuhui, Anhui

Vicki Zhao is a Chinese film star, singer, entrepreneur, and director. She is also known for her work as the face for various brands (Samsung, Burberry, Fendi), which has added to her wealth: she was previously named as China’s richest actress and even as one of the world’s wealthiest working actresses.

But above all, Zhao is one of China’s most famous actresses. She starred in the highly successful Chinese costume television show My Fair Princess (還珠格格) which first aired in 1998, after which she went on to star in many TV series and big films, including Painted Skin (2008) and Lost in Hong Kong (2015). Together with actresses Zhang Ziyi, Zhou Xun and Xu Jinglei, Zhao was named as one of China’s ‘Four Dan Actresses’ (四大花旦, the four greatest actresses of mainland China) in the early 2000s.

Zhao is known for her work in charity and her efforts for good causes. She is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. Zhao is married to Chinese businessman Huang You Long (黄有龙) with whom she has a daughter.

 

9. Yao Chen 姚晨 – “China’s Answer to Angelina Jolie”

Fans on Weibo: 84.6 million followers @姚晨
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 5 October 1979
Birthplace: Quanzhou, Fujian

Fujian-born Yao Chen is a Chinese actress and Weibo celebrity, who was previously mentioned as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes magazine. Speaking out about social issues and being the first-ever Chinese UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, she has also been called ‘China’s answer to Angelina Jolie.’

Yao Chen is not necessarily China’s number one actress, but she was one of the first celebrities to share her personal life on Weibo since 2009, and interact with her fans. On Weibo, she talks about her everyday life, family, news-related issues, work, and fashion. She posts personal pictures every day. Yao Chen’s popularity as an actress and philanthropist combined with her frequent Weibo updates and closeness to her fans have made her a huge Weibo celebrity.

Yao has acted as an ambassador for various brands, including Miu Miu, Fendi, and Lululemon.

 

10. Deng Chao 邓超 – Box Office Hit

Fans on Weibo: 81,6 million followers on Weibo @邓超
Main occupation: Actor
Date of birth: 8 February 1979
Birthplace: Nanchang, Jiangxi

Deng Chao is an award-winning Chinese actor, director, and singer. He is, amongst others, known for his role in the popular variety program Keep Running (奔跑吧). Many films in which Deng played, such as The Breakup Guru (2014), The Mermaid (2016), Duckweed (2017), and The Sacrifice (2020) have been box-office hits. Deng is one of China’s most favorite actors.

Deng is married to Chinese actress Sun Li (孙俪), also known as Susan Sun, with whom he has two children. Like many other celebrities, the two donated money to contribute to China’s fight against COVID19 in 2020, but received some online criticism when some thought their donation was ‘stingy’ compared to those of others.

 

Top Influencer: Wang Yibo 王一博

37.3 million followers @UNIQ-王一博

Wang Yibo (1997) is a Chinese actor, singer, dancer, and rapper who debuted as a member of the South Korean-Chinese boyband UNIQ in 2014 and starred in the 2019 Chinese TV series The Untamed (陈情令). On Sina Weibo, the celebrity was the champion of Weibo’s ‘Most Influential Celebrity’ charts in December of 2020 – he has a huge fanbase. Like many other Chinese celebrities, Wang often features in various commercials and represents various brands, including Audi and Swarovski. He also has an Instagram account with 1.9 million followers.

 

Top Influencer: Wang Junkai 王俊凯

79.4 million followers @TFBOYS-王俊凯

Wang Junkai (1999), also called Karry Wang, is a singer and actor who debuted as the lead member of the super popular group TFBoys in 2013. The boy band consists of three members; besides Wang, there’s Jackson Yee, who is also in this list, and Wang Yuan (王源also known as Roy Wang). The band recently won a Guinness World Record for most-viewed paid concert, which was their live NetEase cloud music concert for which 786,000 fans bought a virtual ticket. Wang Junkai, who also has a thriving career as a solo singer and represent brands like Swatch and Dior, is one of China’s wealthiest people born after 1990.

 

Top Influencer: Xiao Zhan 肖战

28.2 million followers @X玖少年团肖战DAYTOY

Xiao Zhan (1991), also known as Sean Xiao, is one of the hottest Weibo bloggers at this time who consistently ranks first lately in daily ranking concerning most influential and most interaction. Xiao is an actor and singer who co-stars in The Untamed (陈情令) together with Wang Yibo. Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo are super popular within fan fiction communities, where boys’ love fans imagine a romantic relationship between the two – which is not always appreciated by fans of Xiao Zhan.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

 
This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.
 

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Support What’s on Weibo

If you enjoy What’s on Weibo and support the way we report the latest trends in China, you could consider becoming a What's on Weibo patron:
Donate

Facebook

Advertisement

Contribute

Got any tips? Or want to become a contributor or intern at What's on Weibo? Email us as at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Popular Reads