Celebrity Spotlight is a monthly column where we introduce a famous individual from China (or of Chinese heritage) that you should know more about.
China’s latest hit TV drama Word of Honor has taken the world by storm.
The show has a rating of 8.6 out of 10 on Chinese ratings site, Douban, becoming one of the highest rated Danmei shows on the site, while the first episode of the series has over 8 million views on Youku’s YouTube account, with a like/dislike ratio of 98%.
In the show, co-stars Zhang Zhehan and Gong Jun play a pair of skilled martial artists who are seeking information about an item that gives its owner primacy over the martial arts world. It’s full of loaded looks, epic fight scenes and beautiful costumes that pay homage to China’s dynastic past.
Everything You Need to Know About Boys’ Love Drama “Word of Honor”
As a result of the show’s popularity, Gong Jun and Zhang Zhehan have become the most popular TV CP (internet slang for couple) in 2021. Here’s what you need to know about the pair.
The road to stardom has many forms. For Gong Jun, he got into acting by accident, as he decided to try it out because his classmates were studying acting at Donghua University in Shanghai. He eventually graduated from the university’s performance school and moved to Beijing seeking opportunities in the entertainment industry.
His first significant TV role came in IQIYI costume drama Sword Chaos in 2016. A bigger break came for the actor in 2017, as he starred in Advance Bravely, as Xia Yao, who becomes caught in a love triangle with a brother and a sister. Among fans of Word of Honor, this 2017 drama is perhaps Gong’s most popular appearances, though it caused some controversy as intimate scenes with Gong’s male co-star Xu Feng from the original story by writer Chai Ji Dan were cut.
In 2019 he starred in Flavor It’s Yours as a wine critic, while he also played surgeon in the popular romantic drama Begin Again.
Zhang Zhehan got his start in the industry a bit earlier than Gong Jun, with his first significant role coming in 2010 in Youku romantic drama Why Love You. He went on to find roles in adaptations of such iconic wuxia stories as Jin Yong’s Condor Heroes series, playing an apprentice of Zhou Botong, one of the great martial arts heroes in the Condor Heroes Universe.
He followed this performance up with minor roles in popular Chinese TV shows like Memory Lost, before nabbing a starring role in Legend of Yunxi, as an emotionally stunted fallen prince who learns how to love. His biggest role, however, came with the release of Word of Honor in 2021.
While the pick up on Word of Honor was not immediate, it has gradually become the most celebrated Chinese costume drama of the year, with fans spanning the globe. It’s made both Gong Jun and Zhang Zhehan megastars in China, with armies of fans and a slew of commercial opportunities.
One of the biggest ongoing fan-related controversies in China in recent years came with the two stars from another major TV drama hit, The Untamed. Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan, who starred in the hugely popular show, were forced on multiple occassions to apologize for their fans or to implore them to stop putting location trackers on their cars or spreading false information, while the most egregious act by those fans still seems to be their part in getting fanfiction site A03 blocked in China.
The fanbases for actors and singers who can be identified as “little fresh meat” (young, handsome men) are fierce.
Toying with Taboo: Daoist Magic, Homosexuality and the Story Behind “The Untamed”
However, it seems that fans of Gong Jun and Zhang Zhehan have learnt from the lessons of those fan groups, and are trying to buck this trend. For example, for Zhang Zhehan’s birthday recently, his fans donated 300,000 RMB to charity.
It bodes well for both as their careers have suddenly soared in 2021.
Since Word of Honor was released on Youku, the popularity of the show has catapulted Gong Jun and Zhang Zhehan into the mainstream culture, with both picking up a number of TV appearances and advertisement placements.
Perhaps one of the most novel ways that the celebrity pair and the Word of Honor producers have capitalized on the show’s popularity is with a series of live musical performances.
“Word of Honor” Concert Sells Out in Seconds, Brings Fans to Tears
Gong Jun has also snagged a high profile appearance on popular reality show Chinese Restaurant, which will also star controversial Huawei heiress Annabel Yao. In addition, he made an appearance on Produce Camp 2021 as a guest mentor, and has a couple of romantic dramas in the works with Chinese networks.
Zhang Zhehan, on the other hand, is set to star in Zhaoge, a Mango TV production based around stories from The Investiture of the Gods (the 16th century novel that gave inspiration to stories of Ne Zha and Jiang Ziya).
What’s unclear right now, is whether the pair will have the staying power of that other super successful CP, Wang Yibo and Xiao Zhan, both of whom have been able carve out successful careers in a variety of spaces, such as music, TV and movies, in the aftermath of their appearance on The Untamed.
What is clear however, is that 2021 has been the year of Word of Honor (so far), and as such, the year of Gong Jun and Zhang Zhehan.
Cover image via Youku
We highlight our top stories each week in an email newsletter that goes out every Monday - hot, fresh, and straight to your inbox.
Don't worry, we don't spam