Top 20 Most Popular and Beautiful Chinese Actresses (with Pics)
In the cinema as on television screen, China has always been brimming with beautiful actresses. Chinese actresses exude style, grace, and talent. And with every single movie or drama, they win us over a bit more.
But have you been wondering which of the numerous Chinese actresses out there is the most popular one in the Chinese-speaking world? And which is the most famous one? The most successful one?
If the answer is yes, then you’re going to love this post.
I lived in China for most of my life as a movie critic, and watching Chinese movies and dramas has always been a big part of my life there. Over the decades, I’ve known about hundreds of Chinese actresses, their life stories, and achievements.
So in this mega-post, I give you the low down on the 20 most famous Chinese actresses whose beautiful appearances and stunning performances have won us over on both small and big screens. From undisputed household names such as Gong Li to newly discovered rising stars like Dilraba Dilmurat, you’ll discover the dazzling lives of the best and greatest actresses in China today. Specifically:
- The story and rise of each actress (and why they’re so popular)
- Their breakout roles and best performances
- Their absolute must-watch movies and dramas
Can’t wait to get started? Let’s jump right in!
Top 20 Chinese Actresses That You Need to Know About
Here’s a quick rundown of the top 20 Chinese actresses every Chinese movie/drama fan should know about:
- Gong Li (巩俐)
- Zhang Ziyi (章子怡)
- Zhao Wei (赵薇)
- Zhou Xun (周迅)
- Fan Bingbing (范冰冰)
- Li Bingbing (李冰冰)
- Sun Li (孙俪)
- Yang Mi (杨幂)
- Yao Chen (姚晨)
- Liu Yifei (刘亦菲)
- Tong Liya (佟丽娅)
- Ma Yili (马伊琍)
- Gao Yuanyuan (高圆圆)
- Liu Tao (刘涛)
- Liu Shishi (刘诗诗)
- Ni Ni (倪妮)
- Yang Ying (杨颖)
- Zhao Liying (赵丽颖)
- Zhou Dongyu (周冬雨)
- Dilraba Dilmurat (迪丽热巴)
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 the top Chinese actress Gong Li (巩俐)’s name for example, Gong (巩) is the last name (family name), and Li (俐) is the first name.
Don’t stop here. Keep scrolling to read up more on these outstanding Chinese actresses. Learn more about their incredible life stories and career achievements. You will also find some movie/drama recommendations!
1. Gong Li (巩俐)
When Gong Li’s name is mentioned, some of the greatest roles in Chinese cinema spring to mind: Jiu’er (九儿), Ju Dou (菊豆), Songlian (颂莲), Qiu Ju (秋菊), Juxian (菊仙).
Having starred in three of the four Academy Award for Best International Feature Film-nominated Chinese-language films, Gong Li is widely regarded as one of the best and most influential actresses in China today. Let’s take a look back at this famous actress’s incredible life story.
Gong Li was born in Shenyang, Liaoning in 1965, and grew up in Jinan, the capital city of Shandong Province. She has been fond of singing and dancing since childhood and aspired to become a singer.
At the age of 19, she enrolled at the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing to study acting and was soon spotted by Zhang Yimou (张艺谋), one of the greatest directors in Chinese film history.
Gong Li took her first step on the big screen in Zhang Yimou’s 1987 war romance film Red Sorghum (红高粱 Hóng Gāoliáng) starring as Jiu’er (九儿), a poor girl who was sent by her parents into a pre-arranged marriage with an old man who owned a sorghum wine distillery. The film, which won the Golden Bear at the 38th Berlin International Film Festival, officially launched Gong Li’s 15-year cooperation with the internationally acclaimed director.
In 1990 Gong Li won her first Best Actress award at the Varna International Film Festival for her performance in Zhang Yimou’s Oscar-nominated film Ju Dou (菊豆 Jú Dòu), starring alongside Li Baotian (李保田).
The actress continued to collaborate with Zhang Yimou on a string of award-winning films such as Raise the Red Lantern (大红灯笼高高挂 Dà Hóng Dēnglóng Gāo Gāo Guà), The Story of Qiu Ju (秋菊打官司 Qiū Jú Dǎ Guānsi), To Live (活着 Huó Zhe), Shanghai Triad (摇啊摇, 摇到外婆桥 Yáo a Yáo, Yáo Dào Wàipó Qiáo) as well as playing the lead in several films directed by Chen Kaige (陈凯歌) – another leading figure in Chinese cinema, most notably, Farewell My Concubine (霸王别姬 Bà Wáng Bié Jī) for which she won Best Supporting Actress at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards.
Besides, Gong Li starred in several English-language blockbusters including Memoirs of a Geisha, Miami Vice, and Hannibal Rising, and thus established her name in Hollywood.
Gong Li’s career has demonstrated the range of her talent, taking in comic roles such as Chow-Heung (秋香) in Steven Chow (周星驰)’s Flirting Scholar (唐伯虎点秋香 Táng Bóhǔ Diǎn Qiū Xiāng), dramatic roles such as in Painting Soul (画魂 Huà Hún), and antagonist roles such as in Mulan (花木兰 Huā Mùlán).
Gong Li was chosen as head of the jury at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival and the 2002 Venice Film Festival. She is the first Asian to hold such position at both events. With more than 30 Best Actress awards to her name and having worked with the finest Chinese directors, Gong Li truly is the queen of the Chinese cinema scene.
Here are some of Gong Li’s best works. Take a look!
- Curse of the Golden Flower (满城尽是黄金甲 Mǎn Chéng Jìn Shì Huángjīn Jiǎ)
Gong Li worked with Zhang Yimou again for the historical epic Curse of the Golden Flower, which was named by Time Magazine as one of the top 10 movies of 2006. Gong Li starred as Empress Phoenix in the film and won the Best Actress at the 26th Hong Kong Film Awards.
- Shanghai (谍海风云 Dié Hǎi Fēng Yún)
This World War II-era thriller revolves around the espionage struggle between the Japanese invaders, U.S special agents, and Shanghai gangsters the week before the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. Gong Li starred as An Na (安娜), a spy who is disguised as the wife of a triad boss.
- Leap (夺冠 Duó Guàn)
The 2020 biographical sports film is based on the stories of the Chinese women’s national volleyball team spread over more than 40 years. Gong Li portrays the iconic head coach Lang Ping (郎平).
2. Zhang Ziyi (章子怡)
At barely 40 years old, Zhang Ziyi has already established herself as one of the greatest and most famous actresses in China and the entire Chinese-speaking world.
Born in 1979 into an ordinary working-class family in Beijing, Zhang Ziyi dreamed of becoming a dancer when she was a child. At age 11, Zhang Ziyi enrolled at Beijing Dance Academy to start her six-year study of folk dance.
Four years later, she became the national champion at a youth dance competition. The award did not make Zhang Ziyi complacent but rather led her to her second life choice – acting. Her dance training was not in vain – it laid a good foundation for her to shoot Kungfu films in her later career.
In 1998, Zhang Ziyi was scouted by director Zhang Yimou to star in his romance film The Road Home (我的父亲母亲 Wǒ de Fùqīn Mǔqīn), in which she played a country girl madly in love with the town’s young teacher. The film earned her the 2000 Hundred Flowers Award for Best Actress in China.
In 1999, following Zhang Yimou’s recommendation, Taiwanese director Ang Lee (李安) cast Zhang Ziyi as the rebellious Manchu noblewoman Yu Jiaolong (玉娇龙) opposite Chow Yun-fat (周润发) and Michelle Yeoh (杨紫琼) in the martial arts blockbuster Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (卧虎藏龙 Wò Hǔ Cáng Lóng). The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and shot Zhang Ziyi to fame internationally overnight.
She then went on to star in hit films Rush Hour 2 (2001), Hero (英雄 Yīngxióng) (2002), House of Flying Daggers (十面埋伏 Shí Miàn Mái Fú), 2046 (2004).
Zhang Ziyi’s most critically acclaimed works in her acting career is the American film Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) in which she played the lead role of Sayuri. The film was a huge box office hit in the west and earned her nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama.
Since her debut in 1998, Zhang Ziyi has been called “The Most Beautiful Woman” and “The Sexiest Woman on the Planet” by many international media outlets. The famous American magazine People has named Zhang Ziyi the most beautiful person of the year four times.
Zhang Ziyi continued to have a huge influence on Chinese cinema throughout recent years and enthralls audiences the world over. Let’s take a look at some of her more recent works.
- The Grandmaster (一代宗师 Yí Dài Zōng Shī )
The Grandmaster marks Zhang Ziyi’s return to the martial arts genre after 7 years since the 2006 hit film The Banquet (夜宴 Yè Yàn). She won 12 different Best Actress awards for her performance to become the most awarded Chinese actress for a single film.
- The Wasted Times (罗曼蒂克消亡史 Luómàndìkè Xiāowáng Shǐ)
The 2016 thriller revolves around a deal between the Japanese invaders and gangsters in Shanghai that plays out with violence and betrayal over the course of two decades. Zhang Ziyi stars as the social butterfly Xiao Liu (小六) in the film.
- The Rebel Princess (上阳赋 Shàng Yáng Fù)
Zhang Ziyi’s first television series. The 2021 fictional costume drama is adapted from Meiyuzhe (寐语者)’s novel Monarch Industry (帝王业 Dìwáng Yè) and tells how Xiao Qi (萧綦), a commoner from a poor family rose to power and eventually established a new dynasty with the help from his wife Wang Xuan (王儇) – portrayed by Zhang Ziyi.
3. Zhao Wei (赵薇)
Zhao Wei, also known as Vicky Zhao, is one of the biggest stars in Chinese TV and film history.
Born and brought up in Wuhu, Anhui province, Zhao Wei went from a little-known girl studying at the Beijing Film Academy to China’s national idol overnight for portraying Xiaoyanzi (小燕子) – “Little Swallow” in the 1998-1999 hit TV series My Fair Princess (还珠格格 Huánzhū Gége).
The Qing court drama (historical drama set in the Qing Dynasty), which was adapted by Chiung Yao (琼瑶), a Taiwanese writer and producer who is widely considered the most popular romance novelist in the Chinese-speaking world, gained unprecedented success. It achieved ratings as high as 65% audience shares in China and was aired and rebroadcast in many Asian countries, making Zhao Wei a household name across the continent, even more than 20 years later.
In 2001, Zhao Wei starred in Romance in the Rain (情深深雨濛濛 Qíng Shēnshēn Yǔ Méngméng), another TV drama adapted by Chiung Yao. And once again, Romance in the Rain became the annual ratings champion in China and was a mega-hit in East and Southeast Asia.
After Romance in the Rain, Zhao Wei rarely appeared on TV screens and started to focus on films and music. Over her 20 + years of acting career, Zhao Wei has starred in many box-office hits.
Her most commercially successful films include Shaolin Soccer (少林足球 Shàolín Zúqiú) (2001), Chinese Odyssey (天下无双 Tiān Xià Wú Shuāng) (2002), Painted Skin (画皮 Huà Pí) (2008), Red Cliff (赤壁 Chì Bì) (2008-2009), Mulan (花木兰 Huā Mùlán) (2009), Love (爱 Ài) (2012), Dearest (亲爱的 Qīn’ài de) (2014) and Lost in Hong Kong (港囧 Gǎng Jiǒng) (2015).
She has received numerous awards including Golden Eagle Award, Huabiao Award, Hundred Flowers Award, Golden Deer Award, and Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actress, marking her out as one of the best actresses in China, ever!
Here are some of Zhao Wei’s best performances you should check out:
- Romance in the Rain (情深深雨濛濛 Qíng Shēnshēn Yǔ Méngméng)
In this drama set in the Republican China Era, Zhao Wei plays the lead role of Lu Yiping (陆依萍), a blunt and independent girl with a strong sense of righteousness and justice due to the misfortunes that she and her mother have suffered.
- The Postmodern Life of My Aunt (姨妈的后现代生活 Yímā de Hòu Xiàndài Shēnghuó)
Zhao Wei portrays chef Liu Dafan (刘大凡) – the “rustic” daughter of Siqin Gaowa (斯琴高娃). Her mouthful of Northeastern Mandarin and gaudy dress in the drama are seen as a challenge to the actress herself.
- Dearest (亲爱的 Qīn’ài de)
Zhao Wei plays the leading role in the film, as Li Hongqin (李红琴), a country mother who lost her child but was unwilling to succumb to her fate. The film achieved a box office record of 350 million RMB in China.
4. Zhou Xun (周迅)
When it comes to most famous Chinese actresses, there’s certainly no shortage of Zhou Xun.
Along with Zhang Ziyi, Zhao Wei, and Xu Jinglei, Zhou Xun is regarded as one of the Four Dan Actresses (big four) of China around 2000, when they were all in their 20s. As expected, the four extremely popular actresses dominated Chinese cinema in the following decades with varying degrees of success.
Zhou Xun was born in 1974 to a middle-class family in Quzhou, Zhejiang Province. After finishing middle school, she went to Zhejiang Arts Institute to pursue her interest in dramatic arts.
In 1991, director Xie Tieli (谢铁骊) discovered Zhou Xun from some calendars featuring her modeling photos and handpicked her for a role in the film Strange Tales Amongst Old and Desolate Tombs (古墓荒斋 Gǔ Mù Huāng Zhāi).
Zhou Xun made her name in China by starring in a series of hit TV dramas from 1998 to 2001 including Palace of Desire (大明宫词 Dàmíng Gōng Cí), April Rhapsody (人间四月天 Rénjiān Sìyuè Tiān) and Love Story in Shanghai (像雾像雨又像风 Xiàng Wù Xiàng Yǔ Yòu Xiàng Fēng).
In 2000, Zhou Xun gained international fame. Her acting in the tragic love story film Suzhou River (苏州河 Sūzhōu Hé) where she played the dual role of two different women lead her to the Best Actress at Paris Film Festival.
In 2006, Zhou Xun won the Best Actress honors at Hong Kong Film Awards and Taipei Golden Horse Awards for her performance in Perhaps Love (如果爱 Rúguǒ Ài). And in 2009, by clinching the Best Actress at China’s Golden Rooster Awards for the film The Equation of Love and Death (李米的猜想 Lǐmǐ de Cāixiǎng), Zhao Xun became the first actress in Chinese film history to win all three of the top awards – the “Three Gold Grand Slam”.
Here are some of Zhou Xun’s notable works worth checking out.
- April Rhapsody (人间四月天 Rénjiān Sìyuè Tiān)
April Rhapsody is a 2000 TV series written based on the romantic life of Xu Zhimo (徐志摩), one of China’s most renowned poets in the 20th century. Zhou Xun portrays Lin Huiyin (林徽因), Xu Zhimo’s close female friend, who is known to be the first female architect in modern China.
- Flying Swords of Dragon Gate (龙门飞甲 Lóngmén Fēi Jiǎ)
You can’t miss this one, especially if you call yourself a fan of Chinese Kungfu! The 2011 wuxia (martial-chivalric) film Flying Swords of Dragon Gate is a remake of the 1992 classic New Dragon Gate Inn (新龙门客栈 Xīn Lóngmén Kèzhàn) but takes place three years later. Director Tsui Hark (徐克) cast Zhou Xun as Ling Yanqiu (凌燕秋), a free-spirited martial artist.
- Red Sorghum (红高粱 Hóng Gāoliáng)
The 2014 TV series Red Sorghum is an adaption of the popular novel of the same name, written by Nobel prize laureate Mo Yan (莫言) back in 1986. Zhou Xun fills Gong Li’s shoes in this remake, playing the role of Jiu’er (九儿), a young woman from a rural village who gets married in an arranged marriage and later becomes the leader of the family distillery and has a complicated relationship with the man who saved her life. Zhou Xun’s performance in the series was highly praised by Mo Yan himself for her immaculate grasp of the character’s inner turmoil.
5. Fan Bingbing (范冰冰)
Starting her career at the age of 15, Fan Bingbing is a tremendously popular Chinese actress, not only in China but also in the world. She has topped Forbes China Celebrity List for four years in a row and was once the 4th highest-paid actress worldwide. To numerous Chinese fans, Fan Bingbing is a global fashion icon for her frequent appearances on the red carpet, at movie premieres, and fashion shows.
Fan Bingbing first gained recognition in Asia playing the supporting role Jin Suo (金锁) in the 1998 smash-hit period drama My Fair Princess (还珠格格 Huánzhū GéGe) starring Zhao Wei.
Her first leading role in her acting career came with Feng Xiaogang (冯小刚)’s film Cell Phone (手机 Shǒujī), which turned into China’s highest-grossing film in 2003. Her performance in the film also earned her a Hundred Flowers Award for Best Actress.
Since then, Fan Bingbing has starred in a great number of popular films and television dramas.
Her greatest commercial successes have been Battle of Wits (墨攻 Mò Gōng) (2006), Sacrifice (赵氏孤儿 Zhào Shì Gū’ér) (2010), Buddha Mountain (观音山 Guānyīn Shān) (2011), White Haired Witch (白发魔女传之明月天国 Bái Fà Mó Nǚ Zhuàn zhī Míng Yuè Tiān Guó) (2014), The Empress of China (武媚娘传奇 Wǔ Mèi Niáng Chuánqí) (2014), and I Am Not Madame Bovary (我不是潘金莲 Wǒ Búshì Pān Jīnlián) (2016) for which she won multiple awards including Best Actress at Golden Rooster Awards, The Asian Film Awards, and San Sebastian International Film Festival.
Fan Bingbing has also participated in many international productions, most notably X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), in which she portrayed Blink. In 2017, Fan served on the 70th Cannes Film Festival jury and was invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
For many years, Fan Bingbing was cited as the most beautiful actress in China by various media outlets, and her personal life has always been the subject of nationwide publicity. As a public figure, Fan Bingbing was recognized by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people on Earth in 2017.
Besides the big-budget productions we’ve mentioned above, here are some of Fan Bingbing’s less known works to Western audiences that are equally worth checking out:
- East Wind Rain (东风雨 Dōng Fēng Yǔ)
The spy movie tells the story of the thrilling struggle and poignant love that came to light before and after the Pearl Harbor attack when spies from all over the world gathered in Shanghai for their respective beliefs and missions. Fan Bingbing plays the lead role of Huanyan (欢颜), a KMT special agent.
- Double Xposure (二次曝光 Èr Cì Bàoguāng)
The 2012 film Double Xposure broke the box office record for a domestic art film in China. Fan Bingbing portrays a beauty consultant who, after suffering trauma during childhood, experiences visual hallucinations after witnessing her father kill her mother. The film garnered Fan Bingbing the Huading Award for Best Actress.
- Lady of the Dynasty (王朝的女人·杨贵妃 Wángcháo de Nǚrén · Yáng Guìfēi)
Fan Bingbing portrays Yang Guifei (杨贵妃), the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (唐明皇) in his later years. Yang Guifei is known as one of the Four Beauties of ancient China, and the film centers on the legendary story of love and hate between the two and a series of wars and court plots.
6. Li Bingbing (李冰冰)
Not to be confused with Fan Bingbing, Li Bingbing is another top Chinese actress who has gained recognition internationally.
Once dubbed the most popular actress in China, Li Bingbing often portrayed fearless women in films and TV dramas. Whether she was playing a compassionate cop or a sword-wielding witch, Li Bingbing showcased her versatile acting range and athletic prowess, especially in the action-drama genre.
Born and raised in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, Li Bingbing had no intention of entering show business initially and enrolled in a high school specifically for prospective school teachers. However, upon graduation, she discovered her interest in acting and was eventually persuaded by a friend to join the Shanghai Theatre Academy in 1993.
Li Bingbing gained early recognition outside China after starring in the 1999 film Seventeen Years (回家过年 Huí Jiā Guò Nián), which garnered her Best Actress at the Singapore Film Festival in the same year. However, the film was never aired in China for political reasons and did not attract any domestic attention.
In 2001, Li Bingbing starred in the hit costume drama Young Justice Bao (少年包青天 Shàonián Bāo Qīngtiān). The series propelled her to become one of the most famous actresses in China.
She subsequently starred in a number of hit Chinese films, such as A World Without Thieves (天下无贼 Tiān Xià Wú Zéi) (2004), The Knot (云水谣 Yún Shuǐ Yáo ) (2006), The Forbidden Kingdom (功夫之王 Gōngfū zhī Wáng) (2008), and The Message (风声 Fēng Shēng) (2009).
In 2011, Li Bingbing starred in an English-language film for the first time by playing two roles in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan alongside Hugh Jackman. The film premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and she received critical acclaim for her performance. Li Bingbing went on to star in Hollywood blockbusters Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), and The Meg (2018).
Li Bingbing is the recipient of multiple accolades in the Chinese entertainment industry, including Best Actress at Huabiao Film Awards, Hundred Flower Awards, Golden Horse Awards, as well as nominations for many other awards.
Being one of the most sought-after actresses for brand endorsement, Li Bingbing became the global spokesperson for Gucci in 2013. It was the first time a Chinese has ever been chosen as a global spokesperson for a world-class luxury brand.
Without further ado, let’s check out Li Bingbing’s best works:
- Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (狄仁杰之通天帝国 Dí Rénjié zhī Tōng Tiān Dìguó)
In this action-adventure film, Li Bingbing plays Shangguan Jing’er (上官静儿), a highly-skilled martial artist, who serves as Empress Wu Zetian (武则天)’s maid and right-hand woman. The fictional character is based on Shangguan Wan’er (上官婉儿), a prestigious female politician during the Tang Dynasty.
- The Message (风声 Fēng Shēng)
The Message tells the story of a spy hunt set during the Second Sino-Japanese War when Japanese imperialists controlled a good portion of China. Li Bingbing portrays Li Ningyu (李宁玉), one of the five collaborators detained in this tense cat-and-mouse game as the real Chinese spy tries to keep his or her identity a secret.
- Resident Evil: Retribution
Li Bingbing portrays Ada Wong, a former operative of Umbrella and one of Wesker’s top agents who no longer serves Umbrella Corporation and assists Alice (Milla Jovovich) during her escape from the facility.
7. Sun Li (孙俪)
Being the youngest actress ever to win the three biggest television awards in the Chinese-speaking world – the Golden Eagle Award, the Flying Apsaras Award, and the Magnolia Award, Sun Li is probably the most successful Chinese actress of the “post-’80s” generation.
The Shanghai-born actress first entered the show business at the age of 18, when she participated in 2001 Star Search, a talent show held by Singapore’s MediaCorp. She reached the finals and joined Hairun Media as their first flagship artist after the competition.
However, it was the 2003 TV drama Jade Goddess of Mercy (玉观音 Yù Guānyīn) that brought her commercial break-out role. Her brilliant portray of An Xin (安心), a narcotics officer from a small town brought her many honors including Audience’s Choice for Actress at Golden Eagle Awards.
This success led to more opportunities for the talented actress. It gained her roles in a series of big TV dramas – Happiness as Flowers (幸福像花儿一样 Xìngfú Xiàng Huā’ér Yíyàng) (2005), Shanghai Bund (上海滩 Shànghǎi Tān) (2007), Tian Mi Mi (甜蜜蜜 Tián mì mì) (2007).
In 2011, Sun Li was cast in the mega-hit historical drama Empresses in the Palace (后宫·甄嬛传 Hòugōng Zhēn huán Zhuàn). The series was aired in many Asian countries, making Sun Li even more famous. She was also nominated for an International Emmy Award in the Best Actress category for her role – Zhen Huan (甄嬛).
You will also enjoy Sun Li’s acting in these more recent works of hers.
- Hot Mom! (辣妈正传 Là Mā Zhèng Zhuàn)
Sun Li stars here as Xia Bing (夏冰). The 26-year-old girl originally wanted to live a single life for a few more years but entered the marriage palace with her boyfriend because of her unexpected pregnancy. After experiencing a series of processes such as pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum confinement, raising her child, and taking care of the family, she gradually matured and assumed the responsibility of being a wife and a mother.
- The Legend of Mi Yue (芈月传 Mǐ Yuè Zhuàn)
The costume drama Legend of Mi Yue tells the life story of the female statesman Mi Yue from the Warring States Period. Sun Li plays the titular character 芈月 (Mǐ Yuè), who was the first woman ever to be called “empress dowager” in Chinese history.
- I Will Find You a Better Home (安家 Ān jiā)
In this 2020 hit TV drama, Sun Li plays the lead Fang Sijin, store manager of a real estate agency. She helped her clients settle down and witnessed their lives of joy, anger, sorrow, and happiness.
8. Yang Mi (杨幂)
Yang Mi’s popularity extends beyond China and even the Chinese-speaking world. It extends to many other Asian countries!
Yang Mi (杨幂) started her acting career in her childhood, at the age of 4, playing the role of young Princess Xianyi (咸宜公主) in the 1990 hit historical drama series Tang Ming Huang (唐明皇 Táng Míng Huáng). However, it was not until 2003 that she received her first script and made her official acting debut in The Story of a Noble Family (红粉世家 Hóng Fěn Shì Jiā).
Thereafter, she became immensely popular for playing a range of well-known roles in hit TV series such as The Return of the Condor Heroes (神雕侠侣 Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ) (2006), Wang Zhaojun (王昭君 Wáng Zhāojūn) (2007), Chinese Paladin 3 (仙剑奇侠传三 Xiān Jiàn Qí Xiá Zhuàn Sān) (2009), Palace (宫锁心玉 Gōng Suǒ Xīn Yù) (2011), Beijing Love Story (北京爱情故事 Běijīng Àiqíng Gùshì) (2012), Swords of Legends (古剑奇谭 Gǔ Jiàn Qí Tán) (2014), The Interpreter (亲爱的翻译官 Qīn’ài de Fānyì Guān) (2016), Eternal Love (三生三世十里桃花 Sān Shēng Sān Shì Shí Lǐ Táohuā) (2017), Negotiator (谈判官 Tánpàn Guān) (2018) and The Great Craftsman (筑梦情缘 Zhù Mèng Qíng Yuán) (2019), as well as films Tiny Times (小时代 Xiǎo Shídài) (2013–2015), The Breakup Guru (分手大师 Fēnshǒu Dàshī) (2014) and The Witness (我是证人 Wǒ Shì Zhèngrén) (2015).
Thanks to the success of all the dramas and films she has been in, Yang Mi is considered to be a real star in the Chinese show business.
Even that, her successful acting career is often dwarfed by her social influence. As of 2021, Yang Mi has over 110 million followers on Weibo, making her the third most widely followed celebrity on the Chinese social media platform. Her smart and chic fashion choices are closely followed by numerous fans, and her wardrobe is copied by many.
Besides acting and fashion, Yang Mi has also established her own talent agency that recruits and manages some of the fresh faces in the Chinese entertainment industry, including Dilraba Dilmurat (迪丽热巴), who also made it on to the top 20 actresses list.
Some other notable films starring Yang Mi include:
- Mysterious Island (孤岛惊魂 Gū Dǎo Jīng Hún)
Yang Mi starred in the 2011 film which revolves around a group of people who were invited to a survivor-styled TV show on a remote island only to discover they have to fight for their lives. Mysterious Island raked in more than 70 million RMB at the box office and became the most successful horror film in China at the time.
- Reset (逆时营救 Nì Shí Yíngjiù)
Yang Mi won the Best Actress award at the WorldFest Houston International Festival for her performance in the 2017 Sci-Fi movie Reset. She plays the single mother Xia Tian (夏天) who is also a physics researcher. When her son is kidnapped, multiple versions of her future self team up with the inventor of the time machine to rescue him.
- Baby (宝贝儿 Bǎobèi’ér)
In this melodrama film, Yang Mi portrays a woman who was abandoned at birth because of a genetic disorder. When she sees a child facing the same fate, she finds herself trying to persuade their parents to reconsider and goes to extreme lengths to save the child. Yang Mi was nominated for Best Actress at the 66 San Sebastian Film Festival for this role.
9. Yao Chen (姚晨)
Yao Chen is one of the most beloved actresses in China, and it isn’t surprising. She is incredibly charming, and has also challenged her talent by playing diverse roles in TV dramas and films!
With nearly 90 million followers on Weibo, the Chinese social media website, Yao Chen was once named by Time Magazine as one of the 30 most influential people on the internet globally. Several English-language media outlets have even nicknamed her “China’s answer to Angelina Jolie” for her appearance – enormous eyes and wide mouth – as well as her philanthropy.
To those of you who remember Yao Chen for her role in Divorce Lawyers (离婚律师 Líhūn Lǜshī) (2014), the fact that she had a much bigger role some time ago might be surprising.
My Own Swordsman (武林外传 Wǔlín Wài Zhuàn) (2006) is one of the most popular sitcoms in China of all time! Her portrayal of Guo Furong (郭芙蓉), the daughter of a powerful martial artist in this period action comedy drama skyrocketed her to fame in China.
Since then, Yao Chen has shown tremendous range by playing guerrilla leader, money grabber, and truth-seeking journalist.
Yao Chen’s influence goes far beyond her popular presence. In 2013, she was named a UN Refugee Agency Goodwill Ambassador, the first from China, to help highlight refugee issues for the Chinese-speaking world.
Here are some of the best of Yao Chen’s works in recent years:
- All Is Well 都挺好 (Dōu Tǐng Hǎo)
A smash hit in 2019, the series depicts the conflicts and struggles of a white-collar worker and her family members. Yao Chen plays the lead role of Su Mingyu (苏明玉), who is the only and the “undesirable” daughter of the Su family that grew up in a lonely and distorted environment.
- Cover Me Love (爱出色 Ài Chūsè)
One of Yao Chen’s personal favorite works. She plays the lead in the Devil Wears Prada-ish tale of a girl moving to the big city to work for a hard-boiled magazine editor.
- Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe (九层妖塔 Jiǔ Céng Yāo Tǎ)
In this film adaptation of Tian Xia Ba Chang (天下霸唱)’s 2006 best-selling novel Ghost Blows Out the Light (鬼吹灯 Guǐ Chuī Dēng), Yao Chen plays the leading female role Yang Ping (杨萍), a member of the research team assigned to excavate the bizarre fossils of unknown creatures hidden deep in China’s snow-capped Kunlun mountain caves.
10. Liu Yifei (刘亦菲)
You may have seen her most recently as the lead in the Disney live-action film Mulan (花木兰 Huā Mùlán), but this was by no means Liu Yifei’s first major role.
Liu Yifei was born in Wuhan, Hubei Province in 1987. Her parents divorced when she was 10 years old and she was raised solely by her mother.
In the same year, she and her mother immigrated to the USA, living in Queens, New York City. In 2002, she returned to China to pursue an acting career and began making appearances on TV.
Her subsequent roles in the period drama The Story of a Noble Family (金粉世家 Jīn Fěn Shì Jiā) (2002) and wuxia drama Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (天龙八部 Tiān Lóng Bā Bù) (2003) received positive reviews from the audience. The series achieved high ratings in both Mainland China and Taiwan. Liu Yifei’s role as the beautiful martial artist Wang Yuyan (王语嫣) in the latter series earned her the nickname “Fairy Sister (神仙姐姐 Shénxiān Jiějie)” by Chinese media and her fans.
In 2004, producer Li Guoli (李国立) granted Liu Yifei her first major screen role as Zhao Ling’er (赵灵儿) in the fantasy action drama Chinese Paladin (仙剑奇侠传 Xiān Jiàn Qí Xiá Zhuàn). This marked the beginning of Liu Yifei’s glittering career.
Her big break soon followed in 2005 with the wuxia drama series The Return of the Condor Heroes (神雕侠侣 Shén Diāo Xiá Lǚ), an adaption of Louis Cha (金庸)’s popular novel of the same name. She was cast as 小龙女 (Xiǎo Lóngnǚ), whose appearance was described by the writer as “skin as white as snow, beautiful and elegant beyond convention and cannot be underestimated, but appears cold and indifferent”. The series was a smash hit, establishing Liu Yifei as a household name in the Chinese-speaking world.
After achieving success in television, the actress promptly ventured onto big screen, where she made her name internationally starring in the likes of The Forbidden Kingdom (功夫之王 Gōngfu zhī Wáng), The Third Way of Love (第三种爱情 Dì Sān Zhǒng Àiqíng), Outcast (白幽灵传奇之绝命逃亡 Bái Yōulíng Chuánqí zhī Jué Mìng Táowáng), The Chinese Widow (烽火芳菲 Fēng Huǒ Fāng Fēi).
True to her roots, Liu Yifei continued to play lead roles in Chinese films such as A Chinese Fairy Tale (倩女幽魂 Qiàn Nǚ Yōu Hún), The Four (四大名捕 Sì Dà Míng Bǔ) and Once Upon a Time (三生三世十里桃花 (Sān Shēng Sān Shì Shí Lǐ Táohuā).
With appearances in more than 20 popular films and 6 television dramas, not to mention the many awards to her name, Liu Yifei is one of the greatest Chinese actresses of her generation.
Here are some of Liu Yifei’s best films and dramas:
- The Chinese Widow (烽火芳菲 Fēng Huǒ Fāng Fēi)
The film is adapted from a real historical event during World War II, telling the story of an American pilot who ran out of fuel during a mission and landed on the coast of Zhejiang, China, and was later rescued by a brave and kind-hearted Chinese single mother, portrayed by Liu Yifei.
- Night Peacock (夜孔雀 Yè Kǒngquè)
In this Chinese-France co-production, Liu Yifei plays a sensitive and independent French Chinese student Elsa who is daring to love and hate. Liu Yifei learned French specifically for the role and was nominated for Best Actress at the 40th Montreal World Film Festival.
- The Love of Hypnosis (南烟斋笔录 Nányān Zhāi Bǐ Lù)
Liu Yifei’s first small-screen comeback in 12 years. In this fantasy drama series set in the beginning of the Republican era, she plays two roles at the same time – Lu Mansheng (陆曼笙), the mysterious shop owner of Nanyan Studio who has a unique ability and a special mission, and her second personality Ye Moluo (夜摩罗).
11. Tong Liya (佟丽娅)
Tong Liya, the runner-up of Miss Xinjiang 2002 is not only one of the most popular stars in the Chinese entertainment world but also considered by many the most beautiful actress in China.
Born in Qapqal, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Tong Liya, who also goes by the name 丫丫 (Yāyā) among her fans, is an actress of Xibe ethnicity.
Tong Liya started her career as a dancer at the Xinjiang Singing & Dancing Troupe. In 2006, at the age of 23, she made her debut in acting in the Hong Kong TV series New Endless Love (新不了情 Xīn Bù Liǎo Qíng) and soon gained attention for her appealing looks.
In 2011, Tong Liya broke into the Chinese mainstream show biz by co-starring in the hit time-travel drama Palace (宫锁心玉 Gōng Suǒ Xīn Yù). Her subsequent roles in Beijing Love Story (北京爱情故事 Běijīng Àiqíng Gùshì) (2012), Weaning (断奶 Duàn Nǎi) (2013), Obstetrician (产科医生 Chǎnkē Yīshēng) (2014), which were all major hits at the time, paved her way to stardom.
In 2016, Tong Liya received acclaim and won the Huading Award for Best Actress for her outstanding performance in the period drama Ordinary World (平凡的世界 Píngfán de Shìjiè), an adaptation of Lu Yao (路遥)’s Mao Dun Literature Prize-winning novel of the same name.
In the same year, she won Audience’s Choice for Actress at the Golden Eagle Awards. The Chinese media referred to her as the “Queen of Ratings”.
Besides TV series, Tong Liya has also starred in several high-grossing films, most notably The Taking of Tiger Moutain (智取威虎山 Zhì Qǔ Wēihǔ Shān) (2014), Detective Chinatown (唐人街探案 Táng Rén Jiē Tàn Àn ) (2015), and How Long Will I Love U (超时空同居 Chāo Shíkōng Tóngjū) (2018).
Here are some of Tong Liya’ career-defining performances! Take a look!
- The Queens (母仪天下 Mǔ Yí Tiān Xià)
In the costume drama The Queens, Tong Liya portrays the peerless beauty in the Western Han Dynasty – Zhao Feiyan (赵飞燕) with unbelievable choreography skills. It was from there that Tong Liya began to make a splash in the Chinese entertainment world.
- Weaning (断奶 Duàn Nǎi)
The 2013 urban romance drama series starring Tong Liya and Lei Jiayin (雷佳音) explores the issue of overprotective parents and overdependent children in China (some of whom need to be “weaned” in their 30s).
- Obstetrician (产科医生 Chǎnkē Yīshēng)
In this urban romance smash hit, Tong Liya plays a beautiful, courageous, and sacrificial obstetrician He Jing (何晶). The show set China’s new national viewership records based on CSM50 ratings.
12. Ma Yili (马伊琍)
Ma Yili is one of the most well-known and in-demand actresses in China who has won numerous Best Actress awards in her career.
Born and grew up in Shanghai, Ma Yili made her debut on TV at the age of 19 in the 1996 drama series Vacuum Love Records (真空爱情记录 Zhēnkōng Àiqíng Jìlù) – the first youth idol drama in China in which her attractive appearance and strong-willed character left a deep impression on the audience.
In 2003, her role as Ziwei (紫薇) in the third season of the popular TV series My Fair Princess (还珠格格 Huánzhū Gége) rose her to fame.
Since then she has starred in a wide range of TV dramas including Qiao’s Grand Courtyard (乔家大院 Qiáo Jiā Dà Yuàn) (2006), Struggle (奋斗 Fèndòu) (2007), Marriage Battle (婚姻保卫战 Hūnyīn Bǎowèi Zhàn) (2009), Two City One Family (双城生活 Shuāng Chéng Shēnghuó) (2010), Little Daddy (小爸爸 Xiǎo Bàbà) (2013) through which she gained further popularity.
In 2008, Ma Yili beat two top candidates, Fan Bingbing and Li Bingbing, and won the Best Actress Award at the Changchun Film Festival for her performance in the film Life Today (江北好人 Jiāngběi Hǎo Rén).
Ma Yili also appeared in Chinese films Goddesses in the Flames of War (那些女人 Nàxiē Nǚrén), The Road Not Taken (未择之路 Wèi Zé zhī Lù), and Lost, Found (找到你 Zhǎo Dào Nǐ) which gained her more honors and awards.
Here are some of Ma Yili’s popular TV dramas you might want to check out:
- Struggle (奋斗 Fèndòu)
The mega-hit drama series Struggle follows the love and career story of six college students in Beijing. Ma Yili portrays Xia Ling (夏琳), a passionate, direct, and optimistic girl who resonates with the thoughts of the young Chinese generation.
- The First Half of My Life (我的前半生 Wǒ de Qián Bàn Shēng)
Opposite from her usual strong characters, in this drama series Ma Yili portrays Luo Zijun (罗子君), a 33 years old, struggling full-time housewife who has to deal with life and everything on her own after a sudden divorce. The First Half of My Life was a major ratings hit in 2017 and was hotly debated over Chinese social media platforms.
- Miss S (旗袍美探 Qípáo Měi Tàn)
In this period drama, Ma Yili plays Su Wenli (苏雯丽), a detective from the Central Police Station at the French Concession in old Shanghai. She showed great tact and insight in case analysis and cracked a series of bizarre cases.
13. Gao Yuanyuan (高圆圆)
Gao Yuanyuan is one of the most popular and beautiful actresses in China. Jackie Chan (成龙) once characterized Gao Yuanyuan as having the “freshest look and chaste spirit that no Hong Kong actress could approach”.
Gao Yuanyuan started out as a model and first debuted in a TV commercial for Meadow Gold ice cream after being spotted on a street in Beijing. Her fresh and cute looks left a very good impression on the audience.
Gao Yuanyuan got her first leading role in the 1997 film Spicy Love Soup (爱情麻辣烫 Àiqíng Málàtàng). Thereafter, she starred in many well-received television dramas and films, such as the 2003 mega-hit drama The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber (倚天屠龙记 Yǐ Tiān Tú Lóng Jì), the 2005 film Shanghai Dreams (青红 Qīng Hóng), which won the Prix de Jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Rob-B-Hood (宝贝计划 Bǎobèi Jìhuà) (2006), Love in the City (男才女貌 Nán Cái Nǚ Mào) (2007), Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (单身男女 Dānshēn Nán Nǚ) (2011), Let’s Get Married (咱们结婚吧 Zánmen Jiéhūn ba) (2015), to name just a few.
Gao Yuanyuan frequently appears on well-known magazine covers such as “MISS”, “Harper’s BAZAAR”, and is also considered one of the most demanded advertisement spokespersons in China: she has advertised for a wide range of popular brands like Panasonic, Fila, H&M, M&M’S, and many more Chinese brands.
Here are more details on some of this beautiful Chinese actress’s most popular works:
- The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber (倚天屠龙记 Yǐ Tiān Tú Lóng Jì)
Gao Yuanyuan rose to fame in 2003 for her role as Zhou Zhiruo (周芷若) in this television adaptation of Louis Cha (金庸)’s The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber. The heroine Zhou Zhiruo was originally a gentle, restrained, beautiful girl. But after a series of changes, she became the head of the Emei School with a cold personality and a scheming mind.
- Caught in the Web (搜索 Sōusuǒ)
In this film, Gao Yuanyuan plays a young woman who commits suicide after she becomes embroiled in a social media controversy. The film was especially popular among young Chinese, drawing more than six million viewers and praise from critics.
- Let’s Get Married (咱们结婚吧 Zánmen Jiéhūn ba)
Gao Yuanyuan plays a “leftover” unmarried woman who gets entangled with a man who has a phobia of marriage. This TV series was a major commercial hit and was the highest-rated drama of 2015. Gao Yuanyuan won the Best Actress Award at the 18th Beijing Chunyan Awards for her role as Ye Wenwen (叶雯雯).
14. Liu Tao (刘涛)
You may have seen her most recently as the lead in the hit TV series Ode to Joy (欢乐颂 Huānlè Sòng), but this was by no means Liu Tao’s first major role.
Liu Tao, who also goes by the name Tamia Liu, has been one of the most popular and in-demand actresses in China for over a decade. However, not everyone knows that she was originally a law student.
Liu Tao entered the entertainment industry in 2000 when she was cast in the family sitcom Daughter-in-Law (外来媳妇本地郎 Wài Lái XíFu Běndì Láng).
It didn’t take her long to transfer from a law career and become a well-known actress in China. In 2003, Liu was cast in the popular drama series My Fair Princess III (还珠格格三 Huánzhū GéGé Sān), playing the role of Mu Sha (慕沙), the princess of Burma.
Liu Tao rose to fame quickly following the series. Her subsequent performance as A Zhu (阿朱) in Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (天龙八部 Tiān Lóng Bā Bù) (2003), a TV adaption of Louis Cha’ (金庸)’s novel of the same title gained her more popularity and made her a household name. In the same year, she won the Most Charming Actress at Golden Nanfang Awards.
Let’s take a look at some of Liu Tao’s most memorable roles in recent years.
- To Elderly With Love (老有所依 Lǎo Yǒu Suǒ Yī)
Liu Tao’s portrayal of a capable career woman and housewife in the 2013 melodrama To Elderly With Love garnered her the Best Performing Arts Award at the China Golden Eagle TV Arts Festival and the Best Actress award at the China TV Golden Eagle Award.
- Nirvana in Fire (琅琊榜 Lángyá Bǎng)
The 2015 wuxia drama Nirvana in Fire was a huge commercial success not only in China but also in many Asian countries. (As of December 2016, it has a total view of 13 billion views as reported by VLinkage). Liu Tao plays the role of the gentle, elegant yet brave Princess Nihuang (霓凰郡主), and sang the insert song “Faded Beauty (红颜旧)” for the series.
- The Legend of Mi Yue (芈月传 Mǐ Yuè Zhuàn)
Liu Tao co-starred in the hit period drama The Legend of Mi Yue as Sun Li’s antagonist Mǐ Shū (芈姝), an originally naive, kind and carefree princess that later transformed into a cold, frenzied and calculating character.
15. Liu Shishi (刘诗诗)
Liu Shishi, also known as Cecilia Liu, is yet another popular Chinese actress who often makes headlines in the Chinese show business.
Having been trained at the Beijing Dance Academy with a major in ballet, Liu Shishi made her acting debut in the 2005 romance drama The Moon and the Wind (月影风荷 Yuè Yǐng Fēng Hé) as the lead Ye Fenghe (叶风荷). She included a segment of Swan Lake in one of her scenes.
In 2009, Liu Shishi gained more popularity for her performance in the hit wuxia drama Chinese Paladin 3 (仙剑奇侠传三 Xiān Jiàn Qí Xiá Zhuàn Sān) where she portrayed Long Kui (龙葵), a girl with a split personality.
Liu Shishi was further propelled to stardom across East and Southeast Asia by her roles as Ma’ertai Ruoxi (马尔泰·若曦) in the time travel romance series Scarlet Heart (步步惊心 Bù Bù Jīng Xīn) (2011), which won her the Most Popular Actress award at the Shanghai Television Festival, and Taba Yu’er (挞拔玉儿) in the wuxia drama Xuan-Yuan Sword: Scar of Sky (轩辕剑之天之痕 Xuānyuán Jiàn zhī Tiān zhī Hén) (2012). Both dramas were major hits in China and abroad including Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
Liu Shishi is also well-known for her leading roles in films Five Minutes to Tomorrow (深夜前的五分钟 Shēnyè Qián de Wǔ Fēnzhōng) and The Liquidator (心理罪之城市之光 Xīnlǐ Zuì Zhī Chéngshì Zhī Guāng).
In 2013, Liu Shishi was also chosen by Southern Metropolis Daily as one of the new Four Dan (top four) Actresses of the “post-’80s” generation alongside Angelababy (杨颖), Yang Mi (杨幂) and Ni Ni (倪妮).
Here’s a little portion of some of Liu Shishi’s best performance:
- Scarlet Heart 2 (步步惊情 Bù Bù Jīng Qíng)
In this sequel to Scarlet Heart (2011), Liu Shishi plays two roles as the time-traveling protagonist Zhang Xiao (张晓) and the proud, mature and charming model Lan Lan (蓝兰).
- Five Minutes to Tomorrow (深夜前的五分钟 Shēnyè Qián de Wǔ Fēnzhōng)
Liu Shishi once again plays two roles in this romantic thriller film – the mysterious and melancholic columnist Ruo Lan (若蓝) and the lively and cheerful big star Ru Mei (如枚). Liu Shishi was nominated the Best Actress at the 6th Macau International Film Festival for her performance in the film.
- The Imperial Doctress (女医·明妃传 Nǚ Yī Míng Fēi Zhuàn)
A great historical drama that shows you the hard life a woman had defying the odds in Imperial China. Liu Shishi portrays Tan Yunxian (谭允贤), a famous female physician during the Ming Dynasty when women doctors were not in practice.
16. Ni Ni (倪妮)
Ni Ni is another household name in China. Starting her acting career at the age of 21, now Ni Ni is one of the most popular and wanted actresses in the Chinese entertainment industry.
The top Chinese star started her career playing Yu Mo (玉墨), the lead role in the 2011 film The Flowers of War (金陵十三钗 Jīnlíng Shí Sān Chāi), directed by Zhang Yimou. The film was the box office winner in China for four consecutive weeks and was also the highest-grossing Chinese language film of the year. Ni Ni won several major awards including the Best New Performer at the 6th Asian Film Awards for her acting and rose to fame.
Thereafter, her iconic roles in romance films Love Will Tear Us Apart (我想和你好好的 Wǒ Xiǎng Hé Nǐ Hǎohao De) (2013), Up in the Wind (等风来 Děng Fēng Lái) (2013), and Fleet of Time (匆匆那年 Cōngcōng Nà Nián) (2014) propelled Ni Ni to further success. She was chosen as one of the New Four Dan (top four ) Actresses in China of the “post-’80s” generation.
You can see the actress not only in films but also in many popular commercials. Ni Ni has been the ambassador for many international brands, such as SK-II, Uniqlo, Cartier, and Gucci.
Here are some other notable dramas of hers you might want to check out:
- The Rise of Phoenixes (天盛长歌 Tiānshèng Cháng Gē)
Ni starred in her first television drama The Rise of Phoenixes alongside Chen Kun (陈坤). The series is based on the novel Huang Quan (凰权) by Tianxia Guiyuan (天下归元), taking place in the fictional kingdom of Tiansheng. Ni Ni plays Feng Zhiwei (凤知微), the last princess of the fallen Dacheng Dynasty who in the end becomes an official after stunning the world with her talent and knowledge.
- Love and Destiny (宸汐缘 Chén Xī Yuán)
Ni starred in the fantasy romance drama Love and Destiny which revolves around the love story between God of War Jiu Chen (九宸), and a young fairy maiden named Ling Xi (灵汐). Ling Xi, played by Ni Ni, accidentally awakened Jiu Chen who had been sleeping for fifty thousand years after he sealed the demon lord away, and went through numerous struggles to attain happiness.
17. Yang Ying (杨颖)
Yang Ying, better known by her stage name Angelababy, is not only one of the most beautiful actresses in China, but also one of the most influential celebrities in the country in general. Yang Ying was crowned “Star of the Year” at the star-studded 2020 Weibo Night, with over a hundred million followers on the Chinese microblogging platform!
Born in 1989, Yang Ying started out as a model with Style International Management at the age of 14 and transferred to acting in 2007.
The actress made her debut in the film Trivial Matters (破事儿 Pò Shì’ér), where she had a 5-minute cameo appearance. She then starred in a number of films as supporting roles, as well as appearing in music videos, but it was romance film First Time (第一次 Dì Yī Cì) (2012), a remake of the 2003 Korean film …ing that made her recognized among millions of Chinese audiences.
Yang Ying went on to star in a range of successful films including Tai Chi (太极 Tài Jí) (2012), Crimes of Passion (一场风花雪月的故事 Yì Cháng Fēnghuāxuěyuè de GùShì) (2013), Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (狄仁杰之神都龙王 Dí Rénjié zhī Shén Dū Lóng Wáng) (2013).
In 2014, Yang Ying joined the cast of Keep Running (奔跑吧!兄弟 Bēnpǎo Ba! Xiōngdì), a spin-off from the South Korean variety program Running Man. The series was a mega-hit in China and propelled Yang Ying into a household name.
In 2015, Yang Ying married Chinese actor Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明). Their wedding banquet in Shanghai was reported to be one of the most lavish in China’s history with a reported estimate of 200 million RMB.
Here are some of Yang Ying’s best performances:
- Mojin: The Lost Legend (鬼吹灯之寻龙诀 Guǐ Chuī Dēng zhī Xún Lóng Jué)
Yang Ying starred in the film Mojin: The Lost Legend, based on the popular tomb raiding novel series Ghost Blows Out the Light (鬼吹灯 Guǐ Chuī Dēng). The film was among the highest-grossing Chinese-language IMAX films in China, with over 1.6 billion RMB. Yang Ying won the Best Supporting Actress award at the 33rd Hundred Flowers Awards for her role as Ding Sitian (丁思甜).
- A Murderous Affair in Horizon Tower (摩天大楼 Mó Tiān Dà Lóu)
Don’t miss this one if you are into suspense TV shows. The 2020 TV thriller revolves around the murder of Zhong Meibao (钟美宝), a beautiful coffee shop owner portrayed by Yang Ying who dies suddenly in a condominium at the Horizon Tower. Watch it to the very end to find out the real murderer!
18. Zhao Liying (赵丽颖)
Everyone knows Zhao Liying, or Zanilla Zhao for her leading roles in such hit TV dramas as The Journey of Flower (花千骨 Huā Qiān Gǔ) (2015) and Princess Agents (楚乔传 Chǔ Qiáo Zhuàn) (2017). This incredibly talented and beautiful woman has become one of the most beloved and most popular actresses in China today and is dubbed the “Queen of TV ratings”.
However, not many people know that Zhao Yi Ling started her career as a saleswoman in a pipeline corrosion protection company near her hometown, only with the dream of appearing on TV.
Born and raised in a village in Langfang, Hebei Province, Zhao Liying did not have any prior acting experience or related training when she first entered the show business in 2006, in which year she participated in the talent show Yahoo Search Star Game (雅虎搜星 Yǎhǔ Sōu Xīng) and became the final winner. She then appeared in a few TV commercials and dramas, along with big stars like Zhou Xun (周迅) and Xu Zheng (徐峥).
In 2013, Zhao Liying had her first breakthrough in acting career by playing Lu Zhen (陆贞), an ordinary girl who worked her way up to become the first female prime minister in Chinese history, in the period drama Legend of Lu Zhen (陆贞传奇 Lù Zhēn Chuánqí). It was the first time Zhao Liying played the lead role. The drama was a huge hit in China and overseas in Japan and South Korea.
With many other roles flooding in, it didn’t take long for Zhao Liying to reach stardom following the success.
You can see her in urban romance drama Boss & Me (杉杉来了 Shānshān Lái le), costume drama The Story of Minglan (知否知否应是绿肥红瘦 Zhī Fǒu Zhī Fǒu Yīng Shì Lǜ Féi Hóng Shòu), and major hit, blockbuster film Duckweed (乘风破浪 Chéng Fēng Pò Làng).
Other notable works of Zhao Liying include:
- Days of Our Own (我们的十年 Wǒmen de Shí Nián)
The story follows three different girls with unique personalities in a span of 10 years from 2003-2013, as they grow and work toward their dreams. Zhao Liying portrays Zhang Jingyi (张静依), a simple, passionate, and righteous tomboy who wants to make everyone happy.
- Eternal Wave (密战 Mì Zhàn)
In this spy thriller movie set in 1930, Zhao Liying plays the undercover Lan Fang (兰芳) who faked as a married couple with her compatriot Lin Xiang (portrayed by Aaron Kwok [郭富城]) to fight the Japanese invaders and pseudo-government agents.
19. Zhou Dongyu (周冬雨)
With the “Triple Gold Grand Slam” title to her name at the age of 28, Zhou Dongyu has become the most successful Chinese actress of the younger generation.
Born in 1992, Zhou Dongyu rose to fame playing the female lead Jing Qiu (静秋) in the 2010 film Under the Hawthorn Tree (山楂树之恋 Shānzhā Shù zhī Liàn). Despite having no acting experience before taking on the role, director Zhang Yimou, who has made Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi international superstars, spotted the 18-year-old girl from Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, and picked her to star in his film.
Zhou Dongyu won multiple awards home and abroad for her performance in this film, including Outstanding New Actress at the 14th Huabiao Awards, Best New Performer at the 20th Shanghai Film Critics Awards, and Best Actress at the 56th Valladolid International Film Spain Festival.
Following the success, Zhou Dongyu starred in many other Chinese blockbusters, most notably My Old Classmate (同桌的你 Tóngzhuō de Nǐ) (2014), Breakup Buddies (心花路放 Xīn Huā Lù Fàng) (2014), Soul Mate (七月与安生 Qīyuè Yǔ Ānshēng) (2016), This is Not What I expected (喜欢你 Xǐhuan Nǐ) (2017) and Better Days (少年的你 Shàonián de Nǐ) (2019), which garnered her the Best Actress at the 39th Hong Kong Film Awards and the 33rd Golden Rooster Awards.
In 2020, Zhou Dongyu ranked third on the Forbes China Celebrity 100 list, the highest for female celebrities nationwide.
Zhou Dongyu’s filmography is already big but is just the beginning of the long and successful career awaiting this future superstar of Chinese cinema.
Here are some of Zhou Dongyu’s best performances that you definitely don’t want to miss:
- This is Not What I expected (喜欢你 Xǐhuan Nǐ)
Zhou Dongyu starred alongside Japanese-Taiwanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro (金城武) in this romantic comedy film as a creative chef Gu Shengnan (顾胜男). The film grossed over 200 million RMB in China. Zhou Dongyu was thereafter coined the representative of Chinese chick flicks.
- Better Days (少年的你 Shàonián de Nǐ)
Nominated Best International Feature Film at the 93 Academy Awards, the romantic crime movie was a pop culture phenomenon in China as well as a box office hit in 2019, grossing a total of 230.1 million US dollars. Zhou Dongyu portrays Chen Nian (陈念), an introverted high school student whose only focus is getting a good score on the national college entrance exam, on which her future fate hinges. However, after one of her classmates committed suicide, she became the target of relentless bullying.
- Sparrow (麻雀 Máquè)
Sparrow is the first TV series Zhou Dongyu starred in. This spy war drama was a smash hit in China. It’s the highest-rated war drama even to this day with a peak rating of 2.486 and 11 billion views online. Zhou Dongyu was praised by both the audience and director for successfully tackling a challenging role – undercover special agent Xu Bicheng (徐碧城).
20. Dilraba Dilmurat (迪丽热巴)
Our list of top Chinese actresses certainly wouldn’t be complete without the presence of Dilraba Dilmurat, who is regarded as one of the most beautiful and of course popular TV actresses of the younger generation.
Known in Chinese as 迪丽热巴 (Dílìrèbā), Dilraba is an actress of Uyghur ethnicity. The Xinjiang born actress made her debut in 2013 in the regional TV production Anarhan (阿娜尔罕 Ā Nà Ěr Hǎn), playing the lead Anarhan (阿娜尔罕), and quickly rose to fame after starring in the hit wuxia drama Swords of Legends (古剑奇谭 Gǔ Jiàn Qí Tán) (2014) and the romantic comedy-drama Diamond Lover (克拉恋人 Kèlā Liànrén) (2015).
In 2017, her role in the wuxia drama Eternal Love (三生三世十里桃花 Sān Shēng Sān Shì Shí Lǐ Táohuā), where she played the leading role of a sweet nine-tailed red fox fairy – Bai Fengjiu (白凤九) sky-rocketed her popularity! The drama gained explosive popularity in China as well as internationally, and became a real breakthrough in her career.
As of 2021, Dilraba has over 74 million followers on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, making her one of the influential Chinese celebrities for brand endorsement. She has thus been the spokesperson for multiple international brands such as Mikimoto, Louis Vuitton, L’oreal, P&G as well as many Chinese brands ranging from beverage to mobile apps.
Besides the mentioned series, there are many more Dilraba’s dramas to choose from. Take a look！
- The Backlight of Love (逆光之恋 Nì Guāng Zhī Liàn)
Dilraba led the starring role in the urban fantasy drama The Backlight of Love and portrayed Jiang Li (江离), who originally was a girl from a rich family with an enviable life but died because of escape from marriage and became a ghost.
- The Flame’s Daughter (烈火如歌 Liè Huǒ Rú Gē)
Dilraba starred in the fantasy romance drama The flame’s Daughter, winning acclaim for her role as Lie Ruge (烈如歌), an adorable martial artist with a kind and bright personality. The series was aired on Youku and has a total view of 7.7 billion views online.
- You Are My Glory (你是我的荣耀 Nǐ Shì Wǒ de Róngyào)
Adapted from Gu Man (顾漫)’s popular novel of the same name, the urban romance drama tells the story of a well-known actress Qiao Jingjing (乔晶晶), portrayed by Dilraba, after her unexpected reunion with her former high school classmate in a video game.
That’s it! The list of the best, most popular, and most beautiful actresses in China that everyone adores! So, tell me, who is your favorite Chinese actress now?
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