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The Four Dan: Discover China’s Most Bankable Actresses

In China, great things always come in four: We have the Four Great Beauties, the Four Auspicious Beasts, and even the Four Great Classical Novels! In light of this pattern, it makes perfect sense then that the hottest stars of the Chinese entertainment scene are also grouped in the same way, right? 

The Four Dan actresses (四旦, 四大名旦, 四小名旦, 四大花旦, or 四小花旦) is a title belonging to a group of the most bankable actresses in China. Originally, the word dan (旦) was used to refer to a male actor who would play female characters in Peking opera performances. Because of this, the title Four Dan was coined accordingly to name the most in-demand dan actors during the 1920s. 

Since then, Four Dan has been used to label the largest female names of the acting industry across generations. The earliest edition of Four Dan actresses dates back to the onset of the new millennium — in July 2000, Guangzhou Daily used the term to include Xu Jinglei, Zhou Xun, Zhao Wei, and Zhang Ziyi; four actresses who then proved their inclusion in the group by dominating Chinese cinema the following decade. 

Given their success, it isn’t a surprise that the term Four Dan fell into widespread use.


The Newest Four Dan Actresses: The Post-‘95 Generation

Multiple sets of Four Dan have, of course, been named throughout the years. The latest batch comes from “the post-’95s” generation, comprised of actresses who have all been born after the year 1995. Picked by major broadcast network CCTV, here is the current list of the best rising actresses enjoying success in Mainland China: 


1. Zhang Zifeng (张子枫)

It’s no surprise that Zhang Zifeng is considered to be one of the best young actors in China today! Since her acting debut in 2008, Zhang has won herself multiple distinctions in the industry, including being the youngest recipient of the highly prestigious Hundred Flower’s Best Newcomer Award (2012) and Huading’s Best Supporting Actress Award (2017).

Zhang Zifeng initially captured national interest when she played young Fang Deng in the 2010 disaster-drama film Aftershock, which was submitted as China’s Best Foreign Language Film entry to the Academy Awards. She then gained mainstream popularity following her lead role as Shi Miao in the comedy-youth film Go Brother! (2018). 



2. Wen Qi (文淇)

This Taiwanese actress has earned herself a gorgeous reputation in popular Chinese entertainment! As a young artist, Wen Qi has received the Taiwan-based Golden Horse Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2017. She was also previously nominated for the Golden Horse Award for Best Leading Actress, being the youngest actress to receive the honor at just 14 years old. 

Wen Qi rose to fame with her award-winning roles as Tang Chen in the Taiwanese drama film The Bold, The Corrupt, and The Beautiful (2017) and Mia in the Chinese drama film Angels Wear White (2017).  



3. Guan Xiaotong (关晓彤) 

In China, Guan Xiaotong is also known as the “Nation’s Daughter,” having risen to prominence as a successful child actress. Not unlike the other names of this list, Guan’s acting abilities have also been recognized by various awarding institutions, including wins and nominations from the Huading Awards and multiple international film festivals, among others. 

In addition to her entertainment projects, Guan was also named as an ambassador for World Life Day, a joint campaign managed by the United Nations Environment Programme, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and The Nature Conservancy in 2017. 

Guan is best known for her work in the romantic TV series To Be a Better Man, where she played seventeen-year-old daughter Peng Jiahe. She is also well-renowned for her supporting film roles as Jiang Jiao in The Left Ear (2015) and Princess Jingping in Shadow (2018). 



4. Zhang Xueying (张雪迎) 

Having spent the majority of her life in the entertainment industry, Zhang Xueying has racked up a rather impressive resume, appearing in nearly 50 television dramas and 12 films throughout the span of her 18-year career. With that experience and exposure under her belt, it’s no wonder that Zhang is considered to one of the most highly regarded actresses in China at the moment. After all, not only is Zhang perceived as an exemplary role model, but she is also a greatly admired fashion icon!

Zhang Xueying gained national recognition for her leading role as Li Wan in Einstein and Einstein. She received a Huading Best Newcomer nomination in 2019 for the role. Prior to this, Zhang also attracted public attention for her supporting roles in popular television shows The Romance of the Condor Heroes (2014), The Whirlwind Girl (2015), and Promise of Migratory Birds (2016). 



Other Four Dan Actresses

The Chinese film industry has definitely seen a rapid increase in global attention these past few years, which is no doubt in part due to the efforts of bankable actresses in the country. In recognition of their achievements, here’s a brief rundown of the other older editions of China’s big four: 

  • 2009 Four Dan Actresses (Tencent QQ): Huang Shenyi, Wang Luodan, Yang Mi, Liu Yifei
  • 2013 Four Dan Actresses (Southern Metropolitan Daily): Yang Mi, Liu Shishi, Ni Ni, Angelababy
  • Post-’90s Generation Four Dan Actresses (Southern Metropolitan Daily): Zheng Shuang, Zhou Douyu, Yang Zi, Guan Xiaotong


No matter the year or generation, there is definitely no shortage of female talent in Chinese entertainment — our endless recommendations of dramas and films can attest to that! Following that line of thought, feel free to celebrate National Women’s Month with us and check our article on C-dramas with strong female leads!


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