This Devil Steals Hearts: The Rise of Idol and Actor Dylan Wang

Dylan Wang: Rise of China’s Newest Drama Star

A bad boy onscreen and the boy-next-door in real life, 23-year-old star Dylan Wang found massive success in 2022’s ‘Love Between Fairy and Devil’

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1:31 AM HKT, Wed January 25, 2023 4 mins read

Dylan Wang’s career has followed an unexpected trajectory — from working at a roadside skewer shop, to starring in this year’s biggest TV drama.

The 23-year-old actor and idol, better known as Wang Hedi (王鹤棣) in China, has drawn netizens’ ire for his “emotionless acting,” and then, conversely, charmed them with the same cold demeanor in his latest TV program. Many, though, love him for his own down-to-earth, humble, and relatable persona.

The son of middle-class parents, Wang’s tumultuous rise to fame began with a campus ambassador competition while attending Sichuan Southwest Vocational College of Civil Aviation. He was trained there to become a flight attendant. However, Wang ultimately opted to enter the entertainment industry and has been buoyed by his bad-boy sex appeal.

Life of Dylan Wang

The city of Leshan, located in Southwest China’s Sichuan province, is known for two things: A historic 71-meter-tall stone Buddha statue and — far more recently — Dylan Wang, who was born there on December 20, 1998.

Wang was an only child and a ‘bad boy’ growing up. Some of his junior high classmates have said he was quiet and popular and that even though Wang didn’t put his mind to studying, he didn’t bother his peers either. It has also been recounted that he once stood up for a girl in his class who was being bullied.

a young dylan wang in chengdu

A young Dylan Wang at a zoo in Chengdu. Image via Weibo

In an essay for China Youth Network, Wang drops the occasional detail about his early years in Leshan. For example, he writes about how he used to dig for antlions — a type of bug that traps their prey in pits — in the dirt around his school.

Wang has also revealed that his childhood nickname, given by his father, was ‘Black Pig,’ or hei zhu (黑猪) in Mandarin, as ‘hei’ and the ‘he’ in his name are homophones in his regional dialect.

As an adult, his stylish looks and portrayals of successful men in TV series have made many believe Wang is fuerdai, or second-generation rich. In reality, though, Wang lived a fairly average childhood. His father owns a fried skewer shop in Chengdu, nowadays called ‘Di’s Dad’s Fried Goods’ (棣爸油炸).

Di’s Dad Fried Goods (棣爸油炸)

Dylan Wang’s father’s fried skewer shop. Image via Weibo

Since Wang’s ascent to stardom, the roadside spot has become a bucket list — or daka — destination for his fans.

Wang’s down-to-earth side shines through on holidays when he returns to his hometown to help out at his dad’s fried skewer shop. The skewers are a family tradition: his aunt owns a nearby shop, and Wang has bragged about having his own “secret sauce” recipe.

After graduating from high school — despite his reportedly poor grades — Wang headed off to Sichuan Southwest Vocational College of Civil Aviation, which has been called “Sichuan’s most beautiful university.” There, Wang was trained as a flight attendant.

dylan wang as a flight attendant

Dylan Wang as a flight attendant. Image via Weibo

In 2016, he won the annual ‘Sichuan Campus Celebrity Contest’ (四川校园红人盛典), a social media-based competition between aspiring influencers across 73 colleges in the province. The victory transformed Wang into a campus celebrity and officially set him on the path to fame.

Dylan Wangs Rise to Fame

In June 2017, Wang won the first and only season of a Chinese reality TV show called Super Idol.

The show followed 10 aspiring idols who trained in singing, dancing, and other performing skills over three months. Fans praised Wang for his “handsomeness, good sense of fashion, outstanding performance skills, and humble personality.”

wang in super idol

Dylan Wang won Super Idol in 2017. Image via Facebook

During Super Idol, Wang caught the eye of Taiwanese TV producer and casting director Angie Chai. Chai is known as the ‘godmother of Chinese idol dramas,’ TV programs featuring celebs in romantic fantasies. With her help, Wang starred in the 2018 series Meteor Garden, a remake of the 2001 Taiwanese hit drama based on the Japanese manga Boys Over Flowers.

There were reportedly 30,000 other up-and-coming actors vying for the lead role of Daoming Si, but Wang’s resemblance to the manga character and Chai’s belief in him set him apart.

In the show, Daoming is the wealthy, hot-headed leader of F4, an elite clique of men at his university. He eventually falls for a poor but strong-willed freshman girl, Dong Shancai, played by actress Shen Yue.

The 2018 remake did poorly domestically: it only has a 3.4/10 on the Chinese review aggregator Douban, while the Taiwanese original holds a score of 8.2. Nevertheless, Wang shined in the role of Daoming, a ‘bossy president’ (霸道总裁) character.

Today, the ‘bossy president’ archetype, which represents someone young, wealthy, elite, arrogant, and indifferent to most people, has since become almost synonymous with Wang.

dylan wang and  f4 in harper's bazaar china

Dylan Wang and the rest of ‘F4,’ photographed for Harper’s Bazaar China. Image via Twitter

What’s more, Meteor Garden got Wang his first magazine cover: He and his three co-stars were photographed for Harper’s Bazaar China in November 2017 to promote the show.

Dylan Wang Dramas

Nowadays, affection for Wang has no bounds: his fans call him everything from ‘son’ and ‘baby’ to ‘husband.’ They have also given him the affectionate nickname Didi — derived from his first name ‘Hedi,’ which sounds like the Chinese term for ‘little brother.’

It wasn’t always this way, however. From 2019 to 2021, Wang starred in the historical fantasy Ever Night 2, the office romance The Rational Life, and the historical romance fantasy Miss the Dragon. His performances — in the two historical dramas particularly — drew much criticism.

miss the dragon TV show

Dylan Wang as an ancient dragon in human form in Miss the Dragon. Image via Twitter

Netizens criticized Wang, calling his acting and facial expressions robotic. They also insulted his appearance, naming him one of the “ugliest male celebrities in historical costumes.”

Despite negative reviews of Wang’s performances in his first few historical fantasy dramas, he was still cast as the lead in Love Between Fairy and Devil (苍兰诀), which came out in August 2022.

The show rapidly became a hit and was named the most popular TV drama of the year by the mega-popular Chinese video platform iQiyi. It has also become available on Netflix.

Its plot revolves around the romance between a low-ranking fairy and an ancient and powerful demon that she accidentally revives.

dylan wang and esther yu in love between fairy and devil

Dylan Wang and Esther Yu in Love Between Fairy and Devil. Image via IMDb

Known as the ‘Moon Supreme’ Dongfang Qingcang, Wang’s role is described in the very first sentence of the show as a “monster without any feelings.”

The wicked demon, however, shows a different personality in the first episode: the fairy and the monster accidentally switch bodies, so Wang has to perform as if he is a female fairy — an odd but exciting change of pace.

Whether Wang is just styled better in Love Between Fairy and Devil or his acting has improved, fans are nonetheless enthralled by the program and calling for more series starring the pair together.

Wang now has more than 16 million followers on Weibo and 3.5 million on Instagram. He has once again graced the cover of Harper’s Bazaar China, this time with his Love Between co-star, Esther Yu.

Most recently, Wang appeared in another historical romance, Unchained Love, which began airing on iQiyi at the end of 2022. Looking to the year ahead, fans can expect big things from Wang, who has several projects slated for release, including the contemporary comedic drama Never Give Up.

Walks of Fame is a monthly column where we profile a famous individual from China (or of Chinese heritage) whom you should know more about.

Cover image via Depositphotos

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