14 Famous Chinese People You Should Know About

China is one of the most heavily populated countries in the world. Out of these billions of residents, the country has produced quite a few notable names. They have helped to shape the culture, the appearance and the daily life of Chinese people today. From architects and artists to scholars, athletes and movie stars, here are just a few famous Chinese people that you should know about.

#1 Ai Weiwei

This Beijing-born artist and activist is well known for both his contemporary works of art as well as his openly critical opinion of the Chinese government. Throughout his career, he has collaborated with foreign architects for buildings such as the Beijing National Stadium and has also led undercover investigations to expose corruption around China. He has also been arrested due to his actions and outward opinions of the Chinese government.

Son of a controversial poet, Ai Weiwei has experienced exile as a child and liberation by the Cultural Revolution in China. Studying animation at the Beijing Film Academy, he went on to create renowned exhibits that were featured in an old prison hospital. He spent much time in New York City, where he went to school, befriended famous poets and become a professional Blackjack dealer in Atlantic City. In regards to his works, Ai Weiwei is quite diverse with a collection of photography, documentaries, videos, voice recordings, architecture, and music.

Photo Source: Google Image

Photo Source: Google Image

#2 Jet Li

This international hero is both a film star and a champion martial artist. Born in Beijing, Jet Li conquered his first national championship at the age of eleven. Retiring from martial arts at the young age of 17, he went on to start his acting career after starring in the film, Shaolin Temple. Also, since he could speak English, he has switched between English and Chinese films throughout his career. Some of his most notable roles include The Forbidden Kingdom, Romeo Must Die and Kiss of The Dragon.

Showing his abilities for martial arts at a young age, his family enrolled him in a specialized school to further his talents. Growing up in a poor family without a father, Li felt that the sports school was a great decision, eventually helping him win championships, get out of China and visit over 45 countries at quite a young age. After gaining fame in the film scene, he went to Hong Kong to get involved in more prominent martial arts films.

Photo Source: Google Image

Photo Source: Google Image

#3 Dalai Lama

This well-known political leader has dedicated his life to making Tibet a democratic and independent state away from China. While he was born a Chinese citizen, he has since been exiled, along with his followers, to India. Gaining power at the young age of 15, he fled the country after the invasion of the People’s Republic of China to avoid assassination.

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Known all over the world, the Dalai Lama has given hundreds of workshops, conferences, and lectures to spread his humanitarian efforts and has also been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Believed to be the reincarnation of those that came before him, he was selected as the Dalai Lama at 2 years old. He now dedicates his life to fighting for peace regardless of his exile and bad relations with China.

Photo Source: Google Image

Photo Source: Google Image

#4 I.M Pei

While born in China, this famous architect moved to the U.S where he studied at MIT and Harvard. He went on to form his own architectural firm and has worked on buildings such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Louvre’s glass pyramid and the Kennedy library. In fact, he met with Jackie Kennedy herself after her husband’s assassination to talk about the plans for creating it.

Pei has worked on the west wing of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and has also designed China’s Fragrant Hill Hotel. Back in 1983 he received the Pritzker Architecture Prize and used some of the money to start a scholarship program for Chinese students to study architecture in U.S schools. While he hails from Guangzhou, Pei spent time studying in Pennsylvania and worked for a well-known architectural firm in NYC. Even in his old age, he continues to devise plans for new buildings and has quite the line up around the cities of India.

Photo Source: Google Image

Photo Source: Google Image

#5 Jack Ma

One of the world’s wealthiest people, Jack Ma gained his fortune by founding the well used TaoBao website. Essentially the Amazon of China, citizens can find and order almost anything right to their doorstep. He is both a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist and is the first mainland Chinese person to appear on the cover of Forbes magazine. Showing drive and ambition at a young age, Jack desired to learn English and rode his bike each day to a nearby hotel in order to practice with foreigners. Eventually, he and his father started acting as tour guides to show visitors around their home city of Hangzhou. Jack became pen pals with one of these foreign visitors, receiving his English name that he uses today. Later on in life, although Ma had failed his university entrance test three times, he eventually got accepted and became student chairman and lecturer in English and International Trade. After graduation, he was rejected by around 30 jobs, including KFC, but eventually got into computers and design, starting his world famous TaoBao website.

 Photo Source: Google Image

Photo Source: Google Image

#6 Bruce Lee

Well known by an international audience, Bruce Lee is a Hong Kong/American actor, martial artist, filmmaker, philosopher and founder of Jeet Kune Do martial arts. He is not only a 20th-century pop icon but also considered one of the best martial artists to date. Appearing in multiple films as a child actor, he grew up in the Hong Kong film scene but later moved to America to pursue a higher education. During his time studying in Seattle, he began to teach martial arts, adding to his resume and eventually changing the direction of his films. Some of his feature films include; Enter The Dragon, The Big Boss, and Fist of Fury. Unfortunately, his life and career were cut short after his death in Hong Kong at the young age of 32.

 Photo Source: Google Image

Photo Source: Google Image

#7 Yao Ming

This Chinese professional basketball player is one of the most renowned Chinese athletes. He has played for the Shanghai Sharks and the Houston Rockets and was chosen to start in the NBA All-Star Game eight times and named All-NBA for five times. After gaining great success in his CBA career, he secured his release and was drafted by an NBA team, eventually reaching their finals 4 times. As one of the best-known athletes in China, he has various scholarships, was the subject of a documentary film and since 2016, he has been elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame alongside Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal.

 Photo Source: Google Image

Photo Source: Google Image

#8 Fan Bingbing

This television producer, actress and pop singer is one of China’s biggest stars. She has been named as one of China’s top 100 celebrities by Forbes for nearly every year starting from 2006. She has starred in films such as My Fair Princes, Cell Phone, Lost in Beijing, and Buddha Mountain. Her roles have also been in international films like South Korea’s My Way and the U.S film, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Fan has been called a fashion icon and is also well known for her songs played on China’s version of MTV. Born in Qingdao, she attended film school in Shanghai and the Shanghai theater academy. She is now a philanthropist and much sought after actress, attending film festivals and fashion shows all over the world.

 Photo Source: Google Image

Photo Source: Google Image

#9 Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong, also known as Chairman Mao was the founding father of the People’s Republic of China. Mao Zedong was the chairman of the Communist Party of China from 1949 to his death in 1976. There’s no doubt that he is one of the most important individuals in history. His take on Marxist-Leninist theories, military strategies, and political policies are now known as Maoism. During his time, Mao Zedong helped China come into world power, increased life expectancy, improved education and health care, and promoted the status of women. To this day he is still one of the most famous men in China, his face adorns everything from posters to coffee cups to t-shirts.

Source: Kashgar

Source: Kashgar

#10 Dr. Sun Yat-Sen

Sun Yat-Sen was the first president and founding father of the Republic of China, not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China which followed after. Sun was a medical practitioner and played a great role in the takeover of the Qing dynasty. He was appointed as the Provisional President of the Republic of China in 1912 when it was founded, but quickly resigned due to pressure from the Qing Dynasty Chinese Army, the Beiyang Clique. He then cofounded the Kuomintang, but he did not live to see his party consolidate its power over the country. After his death, the party split into 2 and formed relations with the communist party to make the People’s Republic of China. Dr. Sun Yet-Sen is best known for his political philosophy the Three Principles of People which include nationalism, democracy, and the people’s livelihood.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

#11 Confucius

Kong Zi also know as Confucious, was a Chinese philosopher, teacher, editor, and politician in the Tang Dynasty. He is most well known for his philosophies on personal and governmental morality, correctness of social relationships, justice, and sincerity. His principles are parallel to common Chinese traditions and beliefs for strong family loyalty, ancestor worship, and respect for elders. His social philosophy was based on “ren” or “loving others” while exercising self-discipline and he’s most well known for his principle “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself”, which is now known worldwide as the Golden rule. Confucious was also credited for having edited many of China’s most classical text, including all of the Five Classics.

Source: Biography

Source: Biography

#12 Zhang Zi Yi

Her name may not be familiar to you, but you most definitely have seen her before in one of her blockbuster movies. Born in Beijing, Zhang Ziyi is considered as one of the four dan actresses of China, which means four of the most bankable young actresses. She was in the Chinese film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, where she won Best Support Female at the Independent Sprit Awards and a nomination for the BAFTA Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She later went on to star in Rush Hour 2 and Memoirs of a Geisha where she was nominated for several awards worldwide.

#13 Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu was a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher who lived from 544 BC to 496 BC. He was the author of the widely influential book The Art of War, the book consist of 13 chapters, each depicting one aspect of warfare. His book has been praised and utilized through East Asia and grew into popularity in the 20th century worldwide, where it has influenced culture, politics, businesses, sports and modern warfare in western society. Leaders around the world such as Chairman Mao, General Vo Nguyen Giap, General Douglas MacArthur, and more have drawn inspiration from his book.

#14 Jackie Chan

Born in Hong Kong, Jackie Chan is a world renowned actor, martial artist, film director, producer, stuntman, and signer. He is known for performing his own stunts, comic timing, and improvisions. Born in 1854, Jackie Chan was sent to a Chinese drama academy at a young age where he trained for a decade in martial arts and acrobatics. He began acting in small child roles from the age of 5 and it wasn’t until his role in Drunken Master that finally brought him into the mainstream limelight. From then on there was an established demand for the comedic kung fu genre. After making several more comedic kung fu films, he finally began his international film career in 1980 where he was at first unsuccessful, but in 1998 he had his first Hollywood blockbuster with Rush Hour and from there he was unstoppable. To date, he has appeared in over 150 films and has an estimated net worth of $350 million.

Source: Jackie Chan

Source: Jackie Chan

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Shannon Ullman

Hey! I'm a published American travel blogger and teacher. My travel writing has been featured on Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Matador Network and Thought Catalog. I spent over a year living and traveling around China while I taught English there. I have also visited dozens of other countries around the world.