Four 四 is considered inauspicious in Chinese culture because of its association to the word death 死; yet the number is often used to rank the best of the best.
The trend may have started with the four great beauties of ancient China (Xi Shi, Wang Zhao Jun, Diao Chan and Yang Gui Fei) who lived far and apart during their respective periods in history but so captivating is their beauty that it has been widely immortalized in the arts, literature and even pop culture.
A modern-day equivalent has cropped up in 2000, coining the term Four Small Artistes 四小花旦 as inspired by a female role in classic opera. And the title belongs to..
2013: Liu Shi Shi, Angelababy, Yang Mi, Ni Ni (born 80’s)
2009: Eva Huang, Crystal Liu, Yang Mi, Wang Luo Dan (born 80’s)
2002: Vicki Zhao, Xu Jing Lei, Zhang Ziyi, Zhou Xun (born 70’s)
My personal vote will have to go to period drama goddesses Crystal Liu, Yang Mi, Liu Shi Shi, Tang Yan and Zhao Li Ying.
Even if the names change year after year, there is no doubt that it is merely a label and that true staying power comes from sheer talent such that the 2002 ladies have been elevated to the Four Big Artistes 四大花旦, thanks to their flourishing careers, which have stood the test of time.
Over at the men’s side are the Four Heavenly Kings 四大天王, a term originated from the four gods of Buddhism and coined in 1992 to refer to Aaron Kwok, Jacky Cheung, Andy Lau and Leon Lai.
They are undoubtedly superstars who have achieved fame and fortune not only in their native Hong Kong but all over the world. It has been more than twenty years since they dominated the scene and while there have been heavenly kings in Taiwan and China as well as talks of successors, there is certainly no replacing the Four Heavenly Kings of Cantopop.