Hua Dan in The Modern Chinese Entertainment Industry

Do you know that “flower” has another special meaning in the modern Chinese entertainment industry? It’s the literal meaning of Hua in Hua Dan (花旦) – a term that is rooted in Chinese opera and now refers to Chinese film actresses.

What is the origin of Hua Dan? How are Dan variants (Qing Yi, Hua Dan) used in the modern entertainment industry? What are notable Hua Dans in C-biz?

The origin of Dan

Dan (旦) is a term referring to female roles in Chinese opera. There are a few kinds of dan with different characteristics:

  • Hua Dan (花旦) is a vivacious and unmarried young woman.
  • Zheng Dan (正旦) or Qing Yi (青衣) is a virtuous, dignified and elegant woman who is mostly married.
  • Guimen Dan (闺门旦) is an elite woman that has high social status. But different from Qingyi, she’s usually young and unmarried.
  • Wu Dan (武旦) is a female character who performs martial arts and specializes in fighting with all kinds of weapons.
  • Daoma Dan (刀马旦) is a young female warrior who is less engaged in fighting scenes than Wu Dan.
  • Lao Dan (老旦) is an old woman.
  • Cai Dan (彩旦) is a clownish female role.

Hua Dan in Chinese Opera

Dan in the modern entertainment industry

Later on, Hua Dan and Qing Yi have become popular terms that refer to Chinese film actresses with slight differences compared to their original definitions. There is no exact standard to classify the actresses into the correct terms, but it’s mostly based on the majority of media and general public’s recognition of the actresses’ filmography, acting skills, awards, experience, and career paths.

Qing Yi

Qing Yi actresses mostly act in family TV series, historical TV series, or serious pieces in general. They don’t necessarily have big fandoms or the power to generate huge buzzes, but they have the recognition of the industry insiders and collections of quality works whose impact is widespread among the general public. They should have good acting skills or certain qualifications to guarantee the high quality of the works they are involved in.

The most notable Qing Yi are  Qin Hailu (秦海璐), Jiang Wenli (蒋雯丽), Yuan Quan (袁泉), Hai Qing (海清), Sun Li (孙俪), Ma Yili (马伊琍), Tamia Liu (刘涛), Ma Su (马苏), Yin Tao (殷桃), etc.

Qing Yi actresses: Sun Li, Ma Yili, Ma Su, Tamia Liu

Hua Dan

Hua Dan seems to be harder to elaborate on because the standards have significantly varied over time. However, there are some characteristics separating Hua Dan from Qing Yi. Hua Dan tends to drive more attention either from fans or the general public. Besides that, they should at least have good appearances, certain acting skills, commercial values, and qualifications to contribute to the success of their works.

There are 3 typical levels of Hua Dan:

Big Hua Dan/ Da Hua (大花, lit. Big Flower)

Da Hua (大花) refers to the first generation of Hua Dan ever since the term has been used. They have years of experience, good acting skills, numerous mainstream awards, notable works that are recognized by the general public, and great impact in the industry.

There are eight Da Hua in total, who are commonly referred to as “Si Dan Shuang Bing Qi Wei” (四旦双冰淇唯) with:

  • Si Dan (Four Dan) – Zhang Ziyi (章子怡), Zhou Xun (周迅), Zhao Wei (赵薇), Xu Jinglei (徐静蕾);
  • Shuang Bing (Two Bing) – Li Bingbing (李冰冰), Fan Bingbing (范冰冰);
  • Qi Wei – Shu Qi (舒淇), Tang Wei (汤唯).

The term “Four Dan” was created by Southern Metropolis Daily in 2001 – 2002 and is used widely in China afterward. 

Four Dan
Shuang Bing Qi Wei 

Middle Hua Dan/ Zhong Hua (中花, lit. Middle Flower)

Zhong Hua (中花) are those who have not yet reached the Da Hua level but are above Xiao Hua in terms of notable works, awards, and industry recognitions. There are just a few Zhong Hua, namely Yao Chen (姚晨), Bai Baihe (白百何), Wang Luodan (王珞丹), Gao Yuanyuan (高圆圆), Zhang Jingchu (张静初), etc., Some of them could be categorized as Qing Yi sometimes. 

 Zhong Hua actresses: Gao Yuanyuan, Bai Baihe, Yao Chen 

Little Hua Dan/ Xiao Hua (小花, lit. Little Flower)

The most crowded group is undoubtedly Xiao Hua (小花) which refers to almost all young actresses, regardless of their popularity, reputation, and acting skills. Because of the varied standards, Xiao Hua is divided into several lines representing their status and popularity in the industry. Specifically, the 1st line covers the most popular actresses and whatnot.

Four Little Hua Dan (Xiao Hua) over years

The group of Xiao Hua is huge, but there must be some prominent ones. If the actors have quite a few interesting terms to specify the top male liuliangs, the actresses don’t have that many terms. The most popular ones are generally called Liuliang Xiao Hua.

The top Xiao Hua in terms of general reputation and level of success are labeled as Four Little Hua Dan (四小花旦) originating from the legendary Four Dan. The lists of Four Little Hua Dan change over the years, but they still somewhat correspond to The Big Four, Little Three, Double Top, Three Bursts in terms of status and popularity level.

Four Little Hua Dan 2009 by Tencent QQ

  • Huang Shengyi (黄圣依)
  • Wang Luodan (王珞丹)
  • Yang Mi (杨幂)
  • Liu Yifei (刘亦菲)

Four Little Hua Dan 2009 by Tencent QQ

Four Little Hua Dan 2013 by Southern Metropolis Daily

  • Yang Mi (杨幂)
  • Liu Shishi (刘诗诗)
  • Ni Ni (倪妮)
  • Angelababy (杨颖)

Four Little Hua Dan 2013 by Southern Metropolis Daily

Two other outstanding names with the same level of success are Tang Yan (唐嫣) and Zhao Liying (赵丽颖) who are usually associated with the Four Little Hua Dan 2013.

Tang Yan and Zhao Liying

90s-born Four Little Hua Dan 2016 by Southern Metropolis Daily

90s-born Four Little Hua Dan 2016 by Southern Metropolis Daily

Dilireba (迪丽热巴) is another prominent Liuliang Xiao Hua whose name is usually mentioned alongside 90s-born Four Little Hua Dan.


95s-born Four Little Hua Dan 2019 by CCTV6

  • Zhang Zifeng (张子枫)
  • Wen Qi (文淇)
  • Guan Xiaotong (关晓彤)
  • Zhang Xueying (张雪迎)

95s-born Four Little Hua Dan 2019 by CCTV6

95s-born Four Little Hua Dan 2019 by Sohu

  • Zhang Zifeng (张子枫)
  • Wen Qi (文淇)
  • Guan Xiaotong (关晓彤)
  • Ouyang Nana (歐陽娜娜)

95s-born Four Little Hua Dan 2019 by Sohu

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