Top Young Chinese Actors of 2023

‘Little Fresh Meat’: Top Young Chinese Actors of 2023

From TFBOYS’ Jackson Kee and Kerry Wang, to Fan Chengcheng and Wang Yibo, these leading men are making waves

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4:45 PM HKT, Fri November 17, 2023 6 mins read

In the ever-evolving landscape of Chinese entertainment, many of the biggest Chinese actors fall under a group of young male stars known as ‘little fresh meat’ or xiǎoxiānròu. This is a relatively recent cultural phenomenon that defies traditional notions of masculinity. Characterized by their perfectly coiffed hair, delicate features, and androgynous fashion choices, these actors have faced criticism for their departure from the conventional standards set by patriarchy and patriotism.

Yet, despite the controversy, they remain some of China’s most valuable celebrities, even as state-run media labels them as promoters of a ‘sissy’ and ‘decadent’ culture. As they break records, achieve industry firsts, and paradoxically become symbols of China’s commercial prowess, these xiǎoxiānròu actors are here to stay.

From their amazing performances in all kinds of films and shows, from tear-jerkers to action-packed adventures, these stars are wowing audiences and changing the game. They’re not just impressing people in China but also gaining fans around the world. Some of these actors are entertainment world veterans despite their young age, while others are just starting to shine.

Xiao Zhan (Sean Zhan)

Xiao Zhan or Sean Zhan first gained public recognition as a member of boyband XNine in 2016. Shortly after, he began his acting career. His first big hit was the costume drama, The Untamed in 2019. He co-stars alongside heartthrob Wang Yibo. Since then, the murder mystery adventure has made millions from concerts, live streaming, album sales, and merchandise. He then garnered global recognition after the TV series was put on Netflix. On top of that, he played a role in the Mid-Autumn Festival blockbuster Jade Dynasty. His acting has also earned him a spot on Forbes China’s 30 Under 30 Asia. The star is now partnered with Gucci, YSL, and many other globally recognized brands.

Ren Jialun

Ren Jialun, a remarkable talent with an unconventional journey to stardom, initially made his mark as a professional table tennis player, dedicating himself to the sport until the age of 16. However, the allure of the silver screen eventually beckoned, leading him to make his acting debut in the film Noble Aspirations in 2016. It was in the following year, with his role in the TV series The Glory of the Tang Dynasty (2017), that Ren truly solidified his status as a rising star in the entertainment industry. His performance in the historical drama earned him widespread acclaim and established him as a force to be reckoned with in Chinese cinema and television. Since then, he has continued to captivate audiences with his versatile acting skills, becoming a notable figure in the world of Chinese entertainment.

Gong Jun

Gong Jun, a Chinese actor whose star has been steadily rising, burst into the limelight in 2017 through his compelling acting in the TV series Lost Love in Times. This marked the beginning of a promising career, as he continued to showcase his acting prowess in various projects, including the film Begin Again and the TV series Word of Honor. His ability to captivate audiences with his performances garnered him a dedicated fan base and critical acclaim within the industry. Gong Jun’s success reached new heights in 2023 when he made his first appearance at Cannes Film Festival, representing beauty giant L’Oreal. This milestone not only solidified his position as a rising star but also hinted at his potential for international recognition and success in the years to come.

Wang Hedi (Dylan Wang)

Wang Hedi, better known by his stage name Dylan Wang, catapulted to fame in 2018 with his breakout role in the highly popular TV series Meteor Garden, a remake of the early-2000s Taiwanese classic. His portrayal of the iconic character Daoming Si garnered him widespread recognition and a massive fan following across Asia and beyond. Wang’s charisma and talent continued to shine as he took on a leading role in the romance TV series Love Between Fairy and Devil in 2022, reaffirming his status as a sought-after actor in the Chinese entertainment industry. Beyond his acting career, Wang ventured into the world of fashion and entrepreneurship, founding his own clothing brand, D.Desirable. This multitalented actor and entrepreneur’s journey has been marked by a meteoric rise in the entertainment and fashion realms, making him a prominent figure in both industries. His accomplishments in acting and fashion hint at a promising future for Wang on both domestic and international fronts.

Jackson Yee

Jackson Yee got his start in the entertainment industry as a Cantopop singer, debuting with the TFBOYS in 2013 when he was only 12 years old. Jackson slowly pivoted to acting with his role in the 2019 film Better Days, where he starred opposite established actress Zhou Dongyu, playing the role of a small-time criminal who becomes entangled in a murder trial. Best known for its raw portrayal of bullying, the film faced temporary screening bans when it first came out, but ultimately made a triumphant return at the box office. It ended up earning a staggering $85 million in its opening weekend and garnering rave reviews. He also starred in the popular web series The Longest Day in Chang’an and has served as a celebrity judge on Street Dance of China. In 2021, he starred in the Chinese historical war film The Battle at Lake Changjin, which topped the global box office that year, and made the 2021 Forbes China Celebrity 100 List. When he’s not on screen, he uses his platform to advocate for youth as a special envoy for the World Health Organization. He is now also a global ambassador for Armani Beauty and Tiffany & Co.

Wang Junkai (Karry Wang)

Wang Junkai, a rising Chinese actor and singer, represents Gen Z’s incredible talent and versatility in the entertainment industry. Another TFBOYS member, his journey to stardom began when he officially debuted as the lead singer of the group in 2013, astonishing fans with his incredible vocal abilities at the tender age of 13. Despite his early success in the music scene, Wang didn’t limit himself to one artistic avenue. He furthered his education by graduating from the prestigious Beijing Film Academy, demonstrating a strong commitment towards honing his acting skills. This dedication paid off when he secured the lead role in the film Namiya in 2017, showcasing his ability to take on complex characters and deliver compelling performances. In 2022, his talent shone even brighter as he starred in Home Coming, solidifying his reputation as a versatile actor capable of tackling diverse roles. Following the success of Home Coming, Wang’s star continued to rise as he was named the brand ambassador for Piaget, a testament to his growing influence in the worlds of both entertainment and fashion.

Fan Chengcheng

Fan Chengcheng, a multi-talented Chinese singer, rapper, and actor, has successfully carved out his own path in the entertainment industry. Previously a member of the renowned Chinese boy band Nine Percent, Fan transitioned to acting with remarkable finesse. Not just living in the shadow of his famous older sister Fan Bingbing, he made his presence felt in the film industry in 2022 with notable roles in To Be Continued and Godspeed. These performances not only showcased his acting skills but also earned him the prestigious title of “Annual Rising Star” at the Sina Weibo Movie Night Awards, affirming his rapid ascent in the film world. His versatility extended beyond acting as he joined the cast of the popular Chinese variety show Keep Running, where he displayed his athleticism and charm. Currently a member of Yuehua Entertainment’s boy band NEXT, Fan has also assumed the role of a brand spokesperson for Givenchy, cementing his status as a rising star with immense potential and influence in both the music and fashion realms.

This year Fan Chengcheng even released a track with RADII fav MaSiWei

Hou Minghao

Since starting his career as a trainee at the renowned Korean entertainment company SM Entertainment when he was just 15 years old, Hou Minghao has followed a remarkable path. In 2014, he officially debuted as a member of the group Fresh Geeks, showcasing his talent as a musician and performer. In 2017, he made his first foray into acting, captivating audiences with his role in the suspense thriller The Devotion of Suspect X. Since then, Hou has continued to make a name for himself in the entertainment world, starring in various mystery web dramas. In 2023, he took on the challenging role of the male lead in the historical melodrama series Back from the Brink, further solidifying his status as a promising actor with the ability to tackle diverse genres and roles with finesse. His multifaceted career trajectory positions him as a rising star to watch in the Chinese entertainment landscape.

Wang Yibo

Wang Yibo, a multifaceted talent, initially made his mark as a singer and dancer when he debuted in the South Korean-Chinese boy band Uniq in 2014. His unique advantage of being fluent in both Chinese and Korean allowed him to connect with audiences across borders. In 2016, he expanded his portfolio by hosting the popular TV show Day Day Up, showcasing his charisma and versatility as a television personality. However, it was his outstanding performance in the historical fantasy drama series The Untamed in 2019 (alongside Xiao Zhan) that truly catapulted him to stardom. His portrayal in this series not only earned him critical acclaim but also a devoted fan following. This breakout role paved the way for Wang to take on leading roles in 2023 productions like Nameless and Born to Fly, solidifying his status as a sought-after actor. Beyond his acting career, Wang has also made a name for himself as a brand ambassador, representing prestigious brands such as Ugg, Anta, Moncler, Swarovski, and many more. His widespread appeal and talent across various entertainment spheres make him a prominent figure in the Chinese entertainment and fashion industries.

Zhang Xincheng (Steven Zhang)

Zhang Xincheng, known professionally as Steven Zhang, embarked on his artistic journey with a strong foundation in musical theater after graduating from the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing. His early training and passion for the arts laid the groundwork for a successful career in the entertainment industry. Zhang’s versatile acting skills became evident as he delved into various roles in romantic dramas, such as My Huckleberry Friends and Skate Into Love, where he portrayed complex characters and captured the hearts of viewers with his on-screen chemistry. Beyond the realm of romance, Zhang expanded his repertoire with roles in an array of TV series, including the heartfelt family drama Go Ahead, the body-switch comedy The Day of Becoming You, and the legal drama The Justice, among many others. His ability to immerse himself in diverse roles and genres underscores his versatility and marks him as a prolific actor in the Chinese entertainment landscape.

Banner image illustrated by Haedi Yue; other images via Instagram

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