In the Information Age, “liuliang” (流量) is not limited to the digital industry but also widely used in entertainment. It’s short for “liuliang mingxing” (流量明星) which literally means “traffic celebrities.”
What does “liuliang” mean? Or… who are they, exactly?
What is the origin of “liuliang”?
In the Internet era, “liuliang” (流量) or “traffic” has been widely used to describe the number of visits from users to particular websites at a period of time. The traffic shows the attention of Internet users to particular events or people. The Internet has been labeled as the “attention economy” as advertisers, the main sources of online monetization, care about users’ attention.
Emerging from this “traffic is king” era, celebrities with the power to attract a lot of traffic have been termed “liuliang mingxing” (流量明星) or “liuliang” for short, which literally means “traffic celebrities.” The celebrity influence gathered due to popularity and huge fan base is equivalent to the traffic of Internet products. The celebrities themselves are the product of the “attention economy”.
Who are the liuliangs?
Specifically, liuliangs are those who gain great attention wherever they go, who dominate the major entertainment news headlines and social media’s hot search lists just by changing their hairstyles, who appear everywhere on advertisements because of their extremely high commercial value, whose movies’ box offices, TV series’ ratings or album sales usually look beautiful thanks hugely to fans support, etc. Some of the notable liuliangs since 2014 are TFBOYS, Li Yifeng, Lu Han, Wu Yifan, Zheng Shuang, Yang Mi, Zhao Liying, etc.
Hunan Satellite TV’s New Year’s Eve concert in 2016 gathered a large number of liuliangs, such as Wu Yifan, Yang Yang, Li Yifeng, William Chan, TFBOYS, etc. C-netizens even joked that there were “walking Weibo hot searches” on the stage.
Liuliangs’ popularity is not necessarily equivalent to the recognization they receive from the general public and industry insiders in terms of talents or skills. In fact, the more popular they are, the stricter people assess their skills and qualities. In many people’s eyes, most of their achievements will be attributable to their huge fanbases, not the celebrities themselves. That’s the trade-off for their liuliang status.
However, the liuliang status doesn’t last that long due to the emergence of new liuliangs every year. The current liuliangs have to make good use of their opportunities to advance themselves and solidify their positions in the industry before getting dropped by the market.
The popular liuliang titles
There are various titles created by C-netizens to refer to groups of liuliangs such as “little fresh meat”, “liuliang xiaohua”, “si da”, “san xiao”, “shuang dingliu”, “san baobao”, etc.
Little fresh meat (小鲜肉) refers to young beautiful rising male celebrities, while liuliang xiaohuas (流量小花) are popular young actresses.
Then, what does the whole “si da, san xiao, shuang dingliu, san baobao” (四大，三小，双顶流，三爆爆）actually mean?
Si Da (四大) – Big Four
Why “Big Four”?
The 2014 – 2016 period marked the beginning of the Liuliang Era of Chinese entertainment. The first generation of Chinese liuliangs led by Li Yifeng (李易峰), Wu Yifan (吴亦凡), Lu Han (鹿晗), and Yang Yang (杨洋) took over the Chinese entertainment which had been owned by Korean little fresh meats for a long time.
Li Yifeng (Evan Li)
Background: Li Yifeng was born on May 4, 1987, in Chengdu, Sichuan. After finishing at 8th place on the idol show competition “My Hero” in 2007, he debuted as an idol singer. Due to his singing career stagnation, Li Yifeng gradually shifted his career focus to acting since 2009.
Rise to fame: In 2014, Li Yifeng experienced a huge surge in popularity and commercial value thanks to his portrayal of the protagonist Baili Tusu in the xianxia drama “Swords of Legends”. The drama was a huge success in China making him successfully break into the mainstream and marked the start of the Liuliang Era.
Career focus: Actor.
Wu Yifan (Kris Wu)
Background: Kris Wu was born on November 6, 1990, in Guangzhou, Guangdong. He was one of the most popular members of the Kpop group EXO. In 2014, he left the group at its peak of fame and started his solo career in mainland China ever since.
Rise to fame: Kris Wu’s popularity from his days as an EXO member had been maintained and even reached a higher level since he moved his solo career to China. With his outstanding look and fashion sense, he won huge endorsement deals with three top luxury brands of BVLGARI, Burberry and LV. His fashion resources and achievements were a hard mountain to climb for many male celebrities.
Career focus: Rapper, music producer, actor, and model.
Background: Lu Han was born on April 20, 1990, in Beijing. Similar to Kris Wu, he was also one of the most popular EXO members. He left the group for his solo career in mainland China at the end of 2014, just several months after Kris’ departure.
Rise to fame: In 2015 – 2017, thanks to Lu’s successful music releases, notably “Medal”, and his appearance in the reality show “Keep Running,” the “Lu Han effect” swept across China with his massive popularity and dedicated fandom. It’s said that if the Liuliang Era was created by Li Yifeng, then Lu Han was the one who sent it to the peak. At that time, a Weibo post could only display 99.99 million comments, but he exceeded 100 million comments with a single post which forced Weibo to optimize their product just for him.
Career focus: Singer, actor.
Background: Yang Yang was born on September 9th, 1991, in Shanghai. He started acting in 2007 and but never made a breakthrough until 2015.
Rise to fame: With a series of successful dramas “The Lost Tomb” (2015), “The Whirlwind Girl” (2015), and prominently, “Love O2O” (2016), Yang Yang broke into the lineup of top liuliangs at the time. His outstanding appearance was the perfect boyfriend material for rom-com idol dramas. Yang Yang was also the first male celebrity to endorse a beauty product, namely Guerlain lipstick, in the Chinese entertainment industry, which set a trend of male celebrities endorsing beauty products later on.
Career focus: Actor.
San Xiao (三小) – Little Three
Why “Little Three”?
Little Three aka the three-member boy group TFBOYS is such a one-of-a-kind success in Chinese entertainment. Debuting as an idol group in the age of 12 and 13, Wang Junkai (王俊凯), Wang Yuan (王源), and Yi Yang Qianxi (易烊千玺) have grown up in front of the public eyes.
The three rose to fame with the national hit “Manual of Youth” in 2014 and established their own empire as the Chinese top boy group for years, breaking the monopoly of Korean idols in Chinese entertainment, and paving the way for the new Chinese idol market. There are many idol groups that are more or less affected by these three.
Without an official breakup, the boys have walked their separated paths to prosper further as individuals since 2017. With their high public recognition as well as huge and diehard fanbases, their power and position in the Chinese entertainment industry are maintained and solidified.
Wang Junkai (Karry Wang)
Background & Orientation: Karry Wang was born on September 21, 1999, in Chongqing. Enrolling in Beijing Film Academy while being the vocal-rapper of the group, the TFBOYS’ leader chooses the all-rounder path by putting his focus on both acting and singing careers.
Career focus: Actor, singer.
Wang Yuan (Roy Wang)
Background & Orientation: Roy Wang was born on November 8, 2000, in Chongqing. He is known as the only member in TFBOYS whose career focus is music while the others are leaning towards acting. He attends the world-famous Berklee College of Music, majoring in Professional Music.
Career focus: Singer, songwriter, music producer, and actor.
Yi Yang Qianxi (Jackson Yee)
Background & Orientation: Jackson Yee was born on November 28, 2000, in Hunan. Since joining The Central Academy of Drama, the dancer of TFBOYS shows his ambition in an acting career.
Career focus: Actor, dancer, and singer.
Shuang Dingliu (双顶流) – Double Top
Why “Double Top”?
Although Zhu Yilong (朱一龙) and Cai Xukun (蔡徐坤) don’t have any relations particularly, their soaring popularity in the same year, 2018, was the reason why Double Top concept was born.
Background: Zhu Yilong was born on April 16, 1988, in Wuhan, Hubei. He made his acting debut in 2008 and participated in several TV films over the following years. His popularity was gradually rising in 2015 – 2017 with his performances in “The Legend of Mi Yue”, “The Shaw Eleven Lang”, etc.
Rise to fame: It was not until 2018 that Zhu Yilong made his breakthrough with his performance in the fantasy web drama “Guardian” which was adapted from BL web novel of the same name by Priest. With the surge of popularity, Zhu immediately entered the list of top liuliangs after 10 years of hard work.
Career focus: Actor.
Cai Xukun (KUN)
Background: Cai Xukun was born on August 2, 1998, in Wenzhou, Zhejiang. Kun used to be a member of the Chinese boy group SWIN before the group ceased to have any performance opportunity and public appearance due to the company’s mismanagement. In 2017, Kun filed a lawsuit against the management company to terminate his contract.
Rise to fame: Kun rose to immense popularity after re-debuting as the center of Nine Percent, the boy group formed by the survival show “Idol Producer” (1st season of “Youth With You”) in 2018. His active and loyal fanbase is maintained even after the group’s disbandment despite the cutthroat Chinese idol market where new groups of idols emerge every year.
Career focus: Singer, songwriter, and music producer.
San Baobao (三爆爆) – Three Bursts
Why “Three Bursts”?
In 2019, the Three Bursts concept was officially introduced when Li Xian (李现), Wang Yibo (王一博), and Xiao Zhan (肖战) saw their new-found fame only after a summer.
Background: Li Xian was born on October 19, 1991, in Xianning, Hubei. He began his acting career in 2012 with a small role in the movie “Feng Shui.” Li Xian left good impressions with his performances in the forensic web drama “Medical Examiner Dr. Qin” and web drama “Tientsin Mystic” but they weren’t enough to make him a liuliang.
Rise to fame: In 2019, the esports rom-com TV series “Go Go Squid!” was broadcast nationally and became a hit. By playing the male lead alongside the female lead – popular actress Yang Zi, Li Xian skyrocketed to fame and was crowned by C-netizens as their “July boyfriend.”
Career focus: Actor.
Background: Wang Yibo was born on August 5, 1997, in Luoyang, Henan. He debuted as a member of the Korean-Chinese boy group UNIQ in 2014 but was gradually shifting his career focus to acting in mainland China.
Rise to fame: In 2019, Wang Yibo gained widespread popularity with his performance in the xianxia drama “The Untamed,” based on the popular BL novel “Mo Dao Zu Shi.” He became one of the most in-demand brand ambassadors in China with over 30 endorsements in 2020.
Career focus: Actor, dancer, and rapper.
Xiao Zhan (Sean Xiao)
Background: Xiao Zhan was born on October 5, 1991, in Chongqing. He debuted as the main vocal of the Chinese boy group X Nine in 2016, before appearing in several dramas.
Rise to fame: In 2019, when the xianxia drama “The Untamed” where he was one of the two male leads alongside Wang Yibo became a huge hit, Xiao Zhan’s popularity began to soar. His public recognition significantly increased due to the boycott against him in 2020, which was also known as the 227 Incident.
Career focus: Actor, singer.
Many people are trying to compare the top liuliangs stating who have made breakthroughs and who have lagged behind, but these statements will change drastically from time to time. Moreover, it’s not fair to compare artists with totally different career paths and choices of life.
Traffic definitely brings good money, but it’s just temporary. The most important thing about having liuliang is the great opportunities to obtain good resources, valuable relationships, and public recognition. Those objective factors alongside the subjective factor – the celebrities’ own skills and qualities – are the decisive factors that produce great and long-lived works that are recognized by the public.
Traffic will be gone one day, but great works are what solidify an artist’s name and position in the fast-changing entertainment world.