Top 25 Most Famous Chinese People of All Time (with Pics)
China is known the world over for its profound history, mind-boggling culture, delectable food, and certainly also its extraordinary people – there have been many influential and illustrious Chinese over the centuries: emperors, politicians, philosophers, scientists, writers, actors, artists, and many more that have helped fabricate the world as we know it today.
Who doesn’t know Confucius, Chairman Mao, Bruce Lee, or Jackie Chan? These are only a few of the many famous people from China who have left their mark on the world. In this guide, you’ll discover the top 25 most famous Chinese people and their contributions to the world, with short bios, pictures, and videos.
Let’s jump right in!
Top Famous People from China
From ancient times to the present day, here’s a quick rundown of the top 25 famous Chinese people throughout history – prominent names that will never be forgotten. (order by year)
|1||Confucius (孔子)||551 BC-479 BC||Philosopher|
|2||Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇)||259 BC-210 BC||First Emperor of China|
|3||Li Bai (李白)||701-762||Poet|
|4||Du Fu (杜甫)||712-770||Poet|
|5||Zheng He (郑和)||1371-1433||Explorer|
|6||Sun Yat-sen (孙中山)||1866-1925||Founder of the ROC|
|7||Lu Xun (鲁迅)||1881-1936||Writer|
|8||Mao Zedong (毛泽东)||1893-1976||Founder of PRC China|
|9||Deng Xiaoping (邓小平)||1904-1997||Former Leader of China|
|10||Yang Chen-Ning (杨振宁)||1922-||Physicist|
|11||Li Ka-shing (李嘉诚)||1928-||Business Magnate|
|12||Yuan Longping (袁隆平)||1929-2021||Plant Scientist|
|13||Bruce Lee (李小龙)||1940-1973||Martial Artist, Actor|
|14||Zhang Yimou (张艺谋)||1950-||Film Director|
|15||Xi Jinping (习近平)||1953-||President of China|
|16||Jackie Chan (成龙)||1954-||Martial Artist, Actor|
|17||Mo Yan (莫言)||1955-||Writer|
|18||Anita Mui (梅艳芳)||1963-2003||Singer|
|19||Jack Ma (马云)||1964-||Business Magnate|
|20||Gong Li (巩俐)||1965-||Actress|
|21||Yao Ming (姚明)||1980-||Basketball Player|
|22||Li Na (李娜)||1982-||Tennis Player|
|23||Liu Xiang (刘翔)||1983-||Athlete|
|24||Su Bingtian (苏炳添)||1989-||Athlete|
|25||Eileen Gu (谷爱凌)||2003-||Freestyle Skier|
Cultural Note: In Chinese name order, 姓 (xìng) – the family name, always comes before 名 (míng) – the given name, and there is no middle name in a Chinese person’s name. Take Chairman Mao Zedong (毛泽东)’s name for example, Mao (毛) is the last name (family name), and Zedong (泽东) is the first name.
Don’t stop here. Keep scrolling to read up more on these outstanding Chinese people. Learn more about their incredible achievements. You will also find some interesting facts.
1. Confucius (551 BC-479 BC)
Name in Chinese: 孔子 (Kǒng Zǐ)
Famous as: Philosopher
For many people, their introduction to Chinese culture starts with Confucius. Better known as Kong Zi – “Master Kong” in China, Confucius was an ancient philosopher, poet, and political theorist of the Spring and Autumn period who is largely seen as the most famous and influential figure throughout Chinese history.
A symbol representative of Eastern moral and political thinking, his philosophical teachings, which came to be known as Confucianism, emphasized a code of ethics about personal and governmental morality, social relationships, justice, kindness, and loyalty. To this day, it continues to govern Chinese culture and influence other East Asian societies.
A gigantic sculpture of Confucius at the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai.
2. Qin Shi Huang (259 BC-210 BC)
Name in Chinese: 秦始皇 (Qín Shǐ Huáng)
Famous as: The First Emperor of China
Qin Shi Huang was the founder of the Qin dynasty and the first emperor of China. He established a unified system of weights and measures, writing and currency, but used violence to take control of China which eventually lead to the burning of books on history and philosophy, and the burying of scholars of scholarly critics to wipe out heresy. Brutality was the basis of his greatest achievements.
Best remembered for his army of terracotta warriors built to protect him for eternity, Qin Shi Huang is one of the most controversial figures in Chinese history.
3. Li Bai (701-762)
Name in Chinese: 李白 (Lǐ Bái)
Famous as: Poet
Li Bai, who lived during the Tang dynasty in the 8th century – an era known for its openness, commerce, and thriving literary scene, is regarded by most Chinese people as China’s greatest poet of all time.
A romantic in his view of life and his verse, Li Bai took traditional poetic forms to new heights. His famous poems, which can be found in a collection called the Three Hundred Tang Poems, were models for celebrating the pleasures of friendship, the depth of nature, solitude, the passage of time, and the joys of drinking. Many of his poems still appear in school textbooks in China today.
Li Bai is also one of the most famous drunkards in Chinese history, writing some of his best poetry while completely inebriated. In China, people call him the “Fallen Immortal Poet”.
4. Du Fu (712-770)
Name in Chinese: 杜甫 (Dù Fǔ)
Famous as: Poet
Du Fu is another prominent historical figure in China, a country devoted to poetry. Unlike his elder contemporary and friend Li Bai, who lived as a superstar poet showered with honors for his genius, Du Fu was not greatly appreciated in his lifetime for his “extremely daring and bizarre writing style” and constant criticism of the regime. But with time his work eventually allowed him to be introduced to Western readers as “the Chinese Shakespeare, or Hugo”.
Du Fu lived through the violent fall of China’s brilliant Tang dynasty. He was usually poor, and occasionally close to starvation. You can trace the life journey of this China’s most-loved poet with the BBC documentary above.
5. Zheng He (1371-1433)
Name in Chinese: 郑和 (Zhèng Hé)
Famous as: Explorer
Zheng He, a Chinese Muslim eunuch that lived during the early Ming dynasty, is one of the greatest explorers in the history of mankind. Funded by the Ming emperor, he led seven epic voyages between 1405 and 1433 west from China across the Indian Ocean to the east coast of Africa and deep into the Persian Gulf, in command of the largest and most advanced fleet the world had ever seen.
Zheng He’s voyages inspired a new maritime silk road that is now being promoted to expand Chinese trade and influence abroad.
6. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925)
Name in Chinese: 孙中山 (Sūn Zhōngshān)
Famous as: Founder of the Republic of China
Originally a physician, Sun Yat-sen (or Sun Zhongshan in Mandarin), is known as one of the greatest leaders in modern China. His most renowned contribution to Chinese society is the overthrow of China’s last imperial dynasty, the Manchu-led Qing, and the founding of the Republic of China (ROC), where people call him “Father of the Nation”. He served as the first provisional president of the ROC in 1912 and was the first chairman of the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party of China).
A giant portrait of Sun Yat-sen was seen at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to commemorate the exploits of revolutionary pioneers, urging Chinese people to carry forward the pioneers’ spirit, and work together to realize the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
7. Lu Xun (1881-1936)
Name in Chinese: 鲁迅 (Lǔ Xùn)
Famous as: Writer
Zhou Shuren (周树人), better known internationally by his pen name Lu Xun (鲁迅), has been considered China’s most distinguished modern writer for most of the 20th century. Even Chairman Mao was a lifelong admirer of his writing.
Lu Xun argued that for China to become a modern country free of the deadening legacy of Confucian authoritarianism, a new language, and literary culture were essential. And he became the first serious Chinese author to write using modern colloquial language. Through his writing, he produced harsh criticism of the social problems in China, particularly in his analysis of the “Chinese national character”.
Visitors attending the exhibition of “The Reading Life of Lu Xun” at the Lu Xun Museum in Shanghai. His works have remained prominent over the years in Chinese culture.
8. Mao Zedong (1881-1936)
Name in Chinese: 毛泽东 (Máo Zédōng)
Famous as: Founder of PRC China
If you think of the most famous Chinese person, Mao Zedong or “Chairman Mao” is often the first to come to mind. Son of an affluent farmer, he lead the country’s communist revolution and founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949, a single-party socialist state, which he ruled as the chairman until he died in 1976.
Having led several sweeping reforms in his term including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution which had disastrous consequences for the Chinese people and economy, Mao Zedong is one of the most controversial figures in history. Nevertheless, he is seen as the most revered leader of China today, and students are still taught his ideologies at school known as Maoism.
Chairman Mao Zedong is on all Chinese banknotes, in place of the various leaders, workers, and representations of China’s ethnic groups which had been featured previously.
9. Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997)
Name in Chinese: 邓小平 (Dèng Xiǎopíng)
Famous as: Former Leader of China
Deng Xiaoping is one of the most famous names in modern China. After Mao Zedong died in 1976, Deng Xiaoping outmaneuvered the late chairman’s chosen successor and gradually rose to supreme power. He led China through a series of far-reaching market-economy reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, turning China into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. This earned him the reputation as the “General Architect of Modern China”.
Deng Xiaoping meeting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Beijing on the handover of Hong Kong in 1982.
10. Yang Chen-Ning (1922-)
Name in Chinese: 杨振宁 (Yáng Zhènníng)
Famous as: Physicist
Yang Chen-Ning is one of the most famous Chinese scientists. He is a theoretical physicist whose research with Tsung-Dao Lee, a Chinese-American physicist, disproved the law of conservation of parity, concerning the interactions of fundamental nuclear particles. The pair shared the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics for their theory, which led to important discoveries regarding elementary particles.
People just couldn’t believe Yang Chen-Ning’s luck in 2004 when he, then 82, found his significant other, a woman 45 years younger than him.
11. Li Ka-shing (1928-)
Name in Chinese: 李嘉诚 (Lǐ jiāchéng)
Famous as: Business Magnate
Li Ka-shing is revered as one of the most influential businessmen in China as well as in Asia. Nicknamed “Superman”, the 94-year-old Chinese entrepreneur is the richest person in Hong Kong, with an estimated net wealth of US$36.2 billion (as of 2022). His companies were involved in real estate, ports, and infrastructure among other ventures, with over 300,000 employees and operating in more than 50 countries.
Li Ka-shing’s foundation has donated more than $3.3 billion; over 80% has gone to Greater China.
12. Yuan Longping (1930-2021)
Name in Chinese: 袁隆平 (Yuán Lóngpíng)
Famous as: Plant Scientist
Yuan Longping was one of the greatest agricultural scientists of our time, a hero who will be forever remembered in China and around the world. His development of high-yield rice hybrids in the 1970s led to steeply rising harvests in Asia and Africa, saving countless lives from famine.
“Father of hybrid rice” passed away in 2021 at 91, prompting a flood of tributes online.
13. Bruce Lee (1940-1973)
Name in Chinese: 李小龙 (Lǐ Xiǎolóng)
Famous as: Martial Artist, Actor
Bruce Lee, one of the biggest pop culture icons of the 20th century, would be 83 years old if he were still alive. Famed for his impressive moves: high kicks, devastating punches, and quick legwork, he is considered by many the greatest martial artist of all time, who bridged the gap between East and West, and paved the way for modern mixed martial arts (MMA).
Having initially learned Wing Chun, Tai Chi, boxing, and street fighting, Bruce Lee combined them with other influences into the spirit of his personal martial arts philosophy, which he dubbed Jeet Kune Do.
14. Zhang Yimou (1950-)
Name in Chinese: 张艺谋 (Zhāng Yìmóu)
Famous as: Film Director
From Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, to House of Flying daggers, Zhang Yimou, China’s most famous film director, has won international acclaim every step of the way. Some of his most recurrent themes are associated with sexual repression, political oppression, and the resilience of Chinese people in the face of hardship and adversity.
Zhang Yimou also directed the spectacular opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games and later the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games, dazzling billions of viewers worldwide.
Steven Spielberg said, “Zhang has inspired the world’s fascination with China through his cinematic vision.”
15. Xi Jinping (1953-)
Name in Chinese: 习近平 (Xí Jìnpíng)
Famous as: President of China
Xi Jinping is one of the world’s most powerful people. He is the current president of China, with no term limits. (In 2018, China’s National People’s Congress amended its constitution, removing term limits for the president and vice president).
Xi Jinping is widely credited with the slogan “Chinese Dream” – a set of personal and national ideals for the advancement of Chinese society. In 2021, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) declared his ideology the “essence of Chinese culture”. This is the third fundamental resolution of the CCP since its inception, symbolically raising him to the same level of prestige as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
Son of a Chinese Communist veteran, Xi Jinping was exiled to rural Yanchuan County as a teenager following his father’s purge during the Cultural Revolution. He applied to join the CCP ten times from 1973 and was finally accepted on his tenth attempt in 1974.
16. Jackie Chan (1954-)
Name in Chinese: 成龙 (Chéng Lóng)
Famous as: Martial Artist, Actor
Jackie Chan is undoubtedly the most renowned Chinese actor in the world. After first establishing his martial arts prowess in his native Hong Kong and then Southeast Asia, he took his massive success in Hollywood.
Jackie Chen is famed for bringing humor to kung fu movies and, over the course of appearing in more than 150 films, has become one of the few actors to perform all of his own stunts. Now, six decades into his career, you can still see him star in action films like The Mystery of Dragon Seal: Journey to China and Project X-Traction.
陈港生 (Chén Gǎngshēng) – the original Chinese name of Jackie Chan simply means “born in Hong Kong”.
17. Mo Yan (1955-)
Name in Chinese: 莫言 (Mò Yán)
Famous as: Writer
Guan Moye (管谟业), better known by the pen name Mo Yan (莫言), is a Chinese novelist and short-story writer famous for his imaginative and humanistic fiction, which were widely popular in the 1980s. In 2012, Mo Yan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, bringing him a second round of fame.
To Western readers, Mo Yan is best known for his 1987 novel Red Sorghum Clan, which was later adapted for the Zhang Yimou-directed film Red Sorghum in 1988 and won the prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Mo Yan: In Chinese, Mo Yan means don’t speak. I was born in 1955. At that time in China, people’s lives were not normal. So my father and mother told me not to speak outside. If you speak outside and say what you think, you will get into trouble.
18. Anita Mui (1963-2003)
Name in Chinese: 梅艳芳 (Méi Yànfāng)
Famous as: Singer
While you’ve probably never heard of her, Anita Mui was one of the biggest stars in Asia, fondly remembered and forever missed after she left too early.
With a career that began in her early childhood, the Cantopop diva was famed for her contralto vocals in combination with extravagant live performances, changing outrageous costumes throughout, which were rare in female artists. Anita Mui sold over 10 millions albums in her career, which came to an abrupt end in 2003 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She died later that year at the age of 40, ending her lifelong marriage to stage life.
The Title “Madonna of the East” stayed with Anita Mui throughout her career, in both Eastern and Western media.
19. Jack Ma (1964-)
Name in Chinese: 马云 (Mǎ Yún)
Famous as: Business Magnate
Initially an English teacher from Hangzhou, Jack Ma is now one of the most famous Chinese people in the world. He is an inspiring entrepreneur, and founder of Alibaba Group, China’s – and by some measures, the world’s – biggest online commerce company.
Before founding Alibaba, Jack Ma applied for 31 different odd jobs and was rejected by everyone. Even KFC told him he’s no good. Well, for a guy who was told he was never good enough, becoming one of the wealthiest people in the world has clearly proven them wrong.
In 2017, Jack Ma made his acting debut with his first kung fu short film Gong Shou Dao, co-starring Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Wu Jing, and Tony Jaa. (click the play button to watch)
20. Gong Li (1965-)
Name in Chinese: 巩俐 (Gǒng Lì)
Famous as: Actress
With more than 30 Best Actress awards to her name, Gong Li is regarded by many as the best and most influential actress in China. She starred in three of the four Chinese-language films that were nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, and was chosen as head of the jury at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival and the 2002 Venice Film Festival.
Gong Li portrayed one of the most memorable roles in Chinese cinema: Qiu Ju (秋菊)
21. Yao Ming (1980-)
Name in Chinese: 姚明 (Yáo Míng)
Famous as: Basketball Player
Everyone in China knows Yao Ming. Dubbed the “Moving Great Wall”, the 7-foot 6-inch (2.29-meter) Chinese basketball legend played for the Houston Rockets of the NBA from 2002 to 2011. With his soft shooting touch and deft passing skill, he earned all-star honors in eight of the nine seasons representing the Rockets.
And his impact on basketball culture extended far past his on-court accomplishments. A media favorite, Yao was a pitchman for numerous companies and was the focus of the NBA’s efforts to popularize the league around the globe.
In 2016, Yao Ming was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame, alongside Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson. Currently, he is the chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association.
22. Li Na (1982-)
Name in Chinese: 李娜 (Lǐ Nà)
Famous as: Tennis Player
Li Na is one of China’s most recognizable faces. She is a retired Chinese tennis player who has won nine WTA Tour singles titles including two Grand Slam singles titles at the 2011 French Open (110 million people tuned in from China to watch that final), and the 2014 Australian Open. She achieved a career-high WTA ranking of world No. 2 on 17 February 2014.
There are no Chinese men or women in the current top 30 in the world and she remains the country’s only player to win a Grand Slam singles champion.
Interesting fact: the name “Li Na (李娜)”, meaning “Graceful Li” is reportedly the most common full name for Chinese women, with 273,074 bearers across China.
23. Liu Xiang (1983-)
Name in Chinese: 刘翔 (Liú Xiáng)
Famous as: Athlete
Liu Xiang is one of China’s most successful athletes in history. He emerged as a national icon after he brought China its first Olympic gold medal in a men’s track-and-field event in Athens when he was only 21, as millions tuned in back home to cheer the 110m hurdler into the history books.
Liu Xiang is the only male athlete in history to be all of 110-meter hurdles World Record Holder, World Champion, and Olympic Champion. On top of that, he remains the Olympic record holder for the event with a time of 12.91 seconds he set back in Athens 2004.
24. Su Bingtian (1989-)
Name in Chinese: 苏炳添 (Sū Bǐngtiān)
Famous as: Athlete
Being the first-ever Asian sprinter to break the 10-second barrier of the 100 meters event in track and field, Su Bingtian is another household name in China. He was the first Chinese athlete ever to reach the Olympic men’s 100m final, finishing with a history-making sixth place, but it was his semi-final time of 9.83 seconds, a new Asian record, that got the country whipped up into a fever not seen since Liu Xiang.
Su Bingtian’s coach says that Su is capable of 9.79 or 9.78, with the sprinter not ruling out appearing at Paris 2024 Summer Games at 35.
25. Eileen Gu (2003-)
Name in Chinese: 谷爱凌 (Gǔ Àilíng)
Famous as: Freestyle Skier
Any list of the most famous people in China would be incomplete without the mention of Eileen Gu, one of the most iconic figures in the skiing world. Also known by her Chinese name Gu Ailing (谷爱凌), the US-born freestyle skier’s rise to the top has been meteoric – and her popularity in China has exploded after she won the country’s first and second women’s Olympic gold medals on snow at Beijing 2022 Games. The precious golds have driven thousands of young kids in China to participate in winter sports and build passions for them.
Eileen Gu – the poster child for a new type of Chinese athlete.
We hope you enjoyed our presentation of the 25 most famous Chinese people whose work is treasured all over the world. While you’re here, feel free to explore our website ImproveMandarin.Com, one of the world’s biggest websites dedicated to learning the Chinese language and culture.
Here are some related topics you might enjoy:
Do You Want to Better Understand These Famous Chinese People?
On the off chance that you are considering learning their language, here are our handpicked online Chinese courses for beginners in 2023.