CCTV is China's national government-owned TV network. It's English-language channel, CCTV 9 has a program called Culture Express that aims to introduce various aspects of Chinese culture to foreigners. The Culture Express website has just published an interesting article presenting those actors it regards as the "top five TV stars of last year".
At Number 5 is Wang Baoqiang (王宝强), who has been one of the most familiar faces on both the big and small screens in recent years. He first came to public attention with his supporting role in A World Without Thieves, in which he played a naive and too-trusting boy who becomes the target for thieves on a cross-country train ride. He became a household name in China when he starred as a naive and too-trusting soldier in the 2007 hit series Soldiers Sortie. Last year he was in another popular series - according to the article it set a CCTV viewing record - My Brother is Shanliu. Wang played a naive (starting to see a pattern here?) but very skilled sniper in this World War II drama.
Another star of Soldiers Sortie, Duan Lihong (段奕宏), was at number 4 for his performance in My Chief and My Regiment, dubbed by Culture Express as "China's Band of Brothers". Duan started his career with a series of roles in arthouse movies before hitting the big time with Soldiers Sortie. In My Chief and My Regiment Duan played the regimental commander, and won Most Popular Actor at the Shanghai TV Festival for his performance.
Yao Chen (姚晨) was just announced as Baidu's Most Popular Mainland Actress, and was rated number 3 by Culture Express for her performance in the espionage drama Undercover. Coming to prominence in the 2005 comedy costume series My Own Swordsman, the 30 year-old made her name as a comic actress. So Undercover marks a turning point in her career, playing a hot-tempered peasant girl who becomes a guerilla fighter during China's civil war. Her performance earned her a Flying Aspiras nomination for Best Actress. Last year she also appeared in Sophie's Revenge, the Zhang Ziyi produced comedy, and will next appear alongside her husband, fellow actor Ling Xiaosu, in the series Days Spent with a Flight Attendant.
Number 2 on the list is another actress, Yan Ni (闫妮) who also rose to fame with My Own Swordsman. She has starred in a string of popular TV series on the mainland, such as Going Home, Around My House and National Action. In 2009 her career took another leap forward when she won the Flying Aspiras award for North Wind, a TV series in which she played a party cadre in rural China during the Mao years. She received further aclaim for her comic performance in the hit film Cow, and was cast by China's premier director Zhang Yimou in A Simple Noodle Story. Next will be a starring role in The Founders, a drama series looking at the pioneers of China's oil industry.
And number 1 on Culture Express' list is another Undercover star, Sun Honglei (孙红雷). He took out Best Actor at the Flying Aspiras Awards for his performance as a Communist mole in the Kuomintang during the civil war. Sun started his career mainly in supporting roles, with his performances as the villain in the martial arts epic Seven Swords, and as a gangster boss in Blood Brothers probably the best-known. The 39 year-old showed his versatility with a prominent role in the 2008 Mei Lanfang biopic Forever Enthralled, playing the opera star's most ardent fan. Last year he too also starred in A Simple Noodle Story.