Liu Haoran & His Identities

This is an op-ed in response to several anon CC posts that have come in recently. I’ve been asked before to keep the CC page clean and positive, so am choosing to address some of the questions here, as there appears to be some misunderstandings or confusion, or just general curiosity.

The biggest reason for this post is correct the assumption going around by some that Haoran doesn’t work a lot, that he would rather rest than work (which is probably true, but does that not apply to all of us?), and the one that’s most puzzling to me – that when he’s not filming a project, he’s not working (I keep seeing some say he rested for 6 months, and that’s just not true).

Also addressing CCs I’ve gotten on singing, magazines, etc.

So let’s clear this up.

Liu Haoran’s Workload and Number of Works

There is a false narrative out there that Haoran tends to be lazy and doesn’t work as much as he should. Putting aside the fact that he’s entitled to work however much (or little) he wants, as he doesn’t owe anyone anything, this is also incredibly inaccurate. He’s probably been one of the busiest actors in the last few years, and that’s factoring in the special circumstances surrounding him.

Will acknowledge this may partly be due to how Haoran often says he’s “lazy” and that his ideal dream is to take half the year off. But just like a lot of the things, he tends to play things down a lot, when it comes to his acting, his work ethic, discipline, etc. It’s been well documented by many he’s pretty much the exact opposite of lazy.

But as for his supposed lack of work drive:

1) This false narrative overlooks one major important point: aside from being an actor and a celebrity (which one could argue are two different things because they hold different responsibilities), Haoran has one other identity that has been with him since he entered the industry: student.

Haoran’s situation is pretty unique – his acting career thus far has ran completely in parallel to his student life.

In other words, unlike many of those in his age group – he has yet to be a full time actor/celebrity in occupation. For many, they have either already graduated and hence have spent several years working full time, or worked a lot before going to school, or didn’t go to college period.

Which means it’s amazing we’ve gotten this many works from him as it is. And that’s come as a sacrifice to his education (and let’s be clear – this isn’t what Haoran wanted originally. He was so excited about college life, about being a normal college student. In the end, he’s missed out on most of that experience because he got a lot of opportunities earlier than anticipated, and rose faster than expected. It’s a conscious choice he made, so to say he lacks ambition is absurd.)

Let’s use Zhou Dongyu as a good comparison – like Haoran, she filmed her first movie and entered the media spotlight right before she started her freshman year of college, and became a rising star while she was still at school. She filmed just 4 movies or so during her four years at the Beijing Film Academy, and it was only after she graduated that she really kicked things into gear.

The Central Academy of Drama is one of the most prestigious performing arts universities in China, which a rich history of esteemed and acclaimed contributors to the world of performing arts, including acting. Hundreds of thousands of students apply every year, and only a handful make it. The application and admission process itself is extremely extensive.

The curriculum for students in the acting major is notoriously intensive, and the school has always been quite strict about attendance. Most students aren’t able to get permission to film projects until their junior or senior years, or they have to do it during summer or winter breaks. This applies to students who are already celebrities/actors signed to companies as well.

The fact that Haoran is a super senior isn’t anything to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s the direct opposite. The whole reason he’s a super senior is precisely because the opportunities he’s had since his sophomore year have been too good to pass up. And CAD approved each and every one of these – because Haoran being successful is also beneficial for them.

Since early 2017, he’s been on their wall of success and has been featured in CAD’s recruitment video as distinguished contributors to the film industry alongside alumni such as Chen Daoming, Jiang Wen, Zhang Ziyi, Deng Chao, Gong Li, Tang Wei, etc.

But that doesn’t mean Haoran was excused from his responsibilities as a student (and he shouldn’t be). Regardless of how much he was filming, schoolwork still has to be completed, exams have to be taken, essays have to be written.

Being a college student is a fulltime job, as everyone who’s been through it knows, and Haoran’s been juggling that alongside everything else for five years now. It’s slightly better since his field experience does count for some credits in his junior and senior years, but there is still mandatory coursework.

Again for comparison purposes, Zhang Xueying and Guan Xiaotong (who are actually both a few months older than Haoran but a year below) filmed five to seven main projects in their four years at CAD and BFA, respectively, several of which (the moderns) were filmed during summer vacation.

Or really, just check any current young actor and their filmography during their four years of college (if they went to college).

That’s the tradeoff for being a student who’s also an active artist – when you’re in school, you inevitably have to cut back on filming.

For many, the call is relatively easy – if the projects aren’t worth it or can wait, it gets passed on (and for the record Haoran has said he’s rejected projects in favor of school in 2018 and 2019), but as a netizen pointed out when this was trending, how do you say no to Daylight Entertainment and Chen Kaige?

TLDR – There has never been a moment in his career yet where he hasn’t been a college student. Of all active actors who are currently still in school, he has been the busiest in terms of acting work.

2) There is also another occupation that Haoran holds: he runs his own team. It was revealed last year by CAD that in his junior year, Haoran applied for the school’s entreprenurial program, because that’s essentially what he’s been doing. His studio isn’t just a studio in name – it’s a company registered under his name and overseen by him.

He’s been given a lot of control over his career, which means even when he isn’t filming, he isn’t necessarily lying around either. He’s looking over scripts, looking over endorsement proposals, talking to directors and producers, etc. Not to mention other things.

He’s been a target of paparazzi in the past year, and every time they’ve followed him, it’s almost always been for work, whether it’s having dinner/meetings with industry people, or filiming an ad. There is a lot that he’s doing behind the scenes to plan out his career.

3) Which brings us to the next point. It’s easy to say an actor’s job, at its root, means filming projects, but that would be vastly underestimating the other work that goes into it, such as pre-filming prep, dubbing, promotions, etc.

And for Haoran, there’s the celebrity element as well – though he’s pretty low profile, he does have responsibilities and commitments, such as events (film festivals and awards included), filming for ads/media, magazine shoots, filming for shows, etc.

Going back to pre-filming prep for a moment, I think there’s a misconception that actors just waltz onto the set of a new project and immediately start filming. That would be wrong, especially for someone like Haoran, who is notorious for the amount of prep work he puts in for even variety shows, not to mention new roles.

When he was casted for Su Yu, he did immense research on the general as well as the film’s other historical figures. When he was preparing for LODC, he spent several months dieting and prepping for the role.

For Flowers Bloom In the Ashes, he was spotted with his costars a month before filming started. The four, along with other young actors, were meeting up and going around Beijing to develop chemistry, and also to get themselves in character (Haoran was seen practicing riding an old style bike).

It was also noted by a Tencent journalist that when Haoran went to Africa in March 2019, he had a USB with 5 GB of material that he needed to look through and study to prep for his next work.

So to merely look at the time between his projects and conclude, “Oh, he took 6 months off in 2018-2019” or something of the sort, is incredibly misleading and grossly inaccurate. Let’s take a look at his last five years (I’m missing a lot in here, tbh, just including the main things).

2016 (nonstop filming from July through December)
January – Twins filming
February – First meeting with Chen Kaige for LODC; begins diet
March – Spring semester of Haoran’s freshman year begins (goes through July)
April/May – With You promotions, including variety show recordings and campus visits, school
June – Cannes trip for Chanel/Yuan Hong’s wedding, school
July – Founding of An Army filming begins
August – After wrapping up FOAA, starts filming for LODC
December – Filming for LODC wraps up, immediately enters set of Nirvana In Fire 2

2017 (filming projects from Jan to May, July to October, December)
January – Filming for NIF2
February – Starts filming for Give Me Five as a fixed cast
April – Wraps up filming for Give Me Five
May – Wraps up filming for NIF2, asks for 3 weeks “off” to go with CAD classmates to Japan for a short study abroad program
June – Two weeks of fliming for Twin Dragons, Shanghai International Film festival + additional promotions for Founding of An Army
July – Heads to New York for DC2 filming
October – Wraps up filming for DC2 and returns to China, holds birthday fanmeet/photography exhibition/launches book
November & December – Multiple fashion events, promotional events for LODC and NIF2, magazine shoots, end of the year events; enters set of NEF at the end of December

2018 (filming NEF from January to August)
January – Louis Vuitton trip, variety show recordings
February – DC2 road shows, CNY gala recordings; mid-February, heads to Xinjiang with NEF production team and disappears from the public eye for the next three to four months
June – Louis Vuitton trip
August – Wraps up filming for NEF
September – First week of September, reports for two week military training at CAD

For the rest of the year, he was back in classes, but also had at least four schedules per month, including trips to Iceland and Italy, multiple magazine shoots, year end fashion events, as well as big industry events like the Hundred Flowers Awards and the Huabiao Awards. He had an event going on pretty much every week, or at least every other week. He was also in talks for Ashes at this time.

2019 (filming projects from March to April, and then May to end of October)
January – Magazine shoots, Spain trip for Louis Vuitton campaign, dubbed How To Train Your Dragon 3, dubbed for NEF
February – Chinese New Year, events every other week
March – Multiple events, went to Africa to Tiffany & Co., was spotted around Beijing with Flowers in the Ashes costars a month before filming even began as they were hanging out to develop chemistry and prep for the movie; heads to Dunhuang at the end of March for My People My Country filming
April – Started filming for Flowers Bloom In the Ashes at the end of April; also does a round of media promotions and interviews for NEF
Late July – Heads to Japan for DC3 filming the day he wraps up filming for Ashes
July – October – ran back and forth between China and Japan for events and other obligations during DC3 filming
November – Trip to Alaska with Kiehl’s, Who’s the Murderer filming, week long of activities for the Golden Rooster & Hundred Flowers Film Festival
December – Who’s the Murderer filming, multiple events, back to school

Jan – School, two weeks’ worth of road shows + other promotions for DC3
Late Jan – Hello, COVID-19. It was rumored at the time that Haoran would be starting filming for a new project at the end of January.

TLDR – At no point in the last five years has he taken even two months off completely (not counting the COVID-19 disruption). The majority of his overseas travel, as stated by himself, have been for work. It’s really the only way he’s able to see the world, because otherwise, no time.

One additional point – because of how intense his schedule has been on top of being a student, he said in his recent Esquire interview (I’m still waiting for the full one to be released) that every time he does get a short break, he falls sick. And when he gets better, it’s back to work.

Songs and Music Videos

Another question I’ve gotten a few times now is why does Haoran keep singing or participating in music videos when it’s well documented that he struggles with holding a tune

Because celebs in China are also role models and the faces of society, who are used by the government and affiliated associations to promote being a good youth, being a good contributor to society, etc.

Regardless of whether he can sing or not, he’s going to continue to be invited because he has a great image among the public, especially to the younger generation. And to put it more bluntly, no one really cares (it’s not his day job, which he’s quite good at) – they find his enthusiasm endearing.


You are not going to like every one of Haoran’s photoshoots, and that’s okay, because he does a lotttt. To date, he’s completed about 130+ photoshoots, and in the last few years, has exclusively only been working with the larger magazines and well known photographers.

Here’s the thing about photoshoots – the artist is just there as a model and artistic tool. They’re really about the brand and the photographer’s vision.

Regardless of what you may personally feel, Haoran is quite beloved by fashion bloggers and photographers. Some of China’s most well known celebrity photographers – including Chen Man – have been full of praise on how easy it is to work with him, and how they aren’t limited in having to preserve an idol image for him.

He has also had at least one cover in annual “10 magazine covers of the year) almost every year since 2018 (the T Magazine and Cosmopolitan China shoots last year were big hits).

There is a reason why he’s one of the most popular faces for magazines, so please stop sending me passive-aggressive CCs on this. There will be more to come, and hopefully you’ll find some you like.

2 thoughts on “Liu Haoran & His Identities

  1. What a great post! As always, thank you for the effort you put in to bring information that we non-Chinese speakers would otherwise not have any access to. I also love reading your posts, because they’re informative but not pretentious, and most of all, because I can genuinely feel your affection for him and his works. I started reading about him after With You, and truthfully if not for this blog/twitter, I wouldn’t have become a fan (mostly due to lack of access to information). I may not like/comment on every post, but I’m always reading them and appreciating your effort!

    Going forward, I really hope he will get more movie projects. Growing up watching Chinese (mostly historical) dramas, I love a good TV drama as much as the next person (although getting older means getting less patient with bad scripts lol), but it takes so many factors to make a well-rounded drama. I was really frustrated with Novoland Eagle Flag; I thought it had what it takes to be a great drama. The directing, costume, filming set, and acting were all very well done (not just Haoran, the ensemble cast was incredible. I love Wang Ou and Li Guangjie’s arc/acting in particular). I’d say the first 1/4 of the series was very well-done and intriguing, but I started losing interest soon after as there are way too many arcs/why did they have to include an amnesia motif ugh! I haven’t finished NIF 2 yet, but the script seems more promising/less ambitious. Fingers crossed I can finish the series without feeling frustrated.

    All of that is to say, I understand TV dramas bring a lot of popularity/access to the casual TV viewers, but they can be incredibly frustrating (not to mention a hell lot of effort/time to film). In the long run/career longevity wise, it’s more important to choose good projects/continue to challenge his acting range, and that means more movies. I can only hope he can have a long career like Zhou Xun, which is even more rare for a female.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words and for reading!

      I totally agree with you on dramas. There’s a lot of personal self-interest at play with the various production companies and investors (speaking in general, not just NEF), and it often interferes with the ability to be able to tell a coherent story, as it’s money over everything else. For movies, it’s infinitely better since the director has a lot more control over the final product, and the teams that Haoran has been working with are some of the best, so he’s learning a lot!

      (I do LOVE Nirvana In Fire 2, so highly recommend you keep going if you can! It does get a tad frustrating in the latter half due to too much focus on another character, but overall it’s a gem.)

      On Haoran’s path – that’s where I’m at too – and what Haoran wants for himself – just to keep choosing good projects and roles! Thankfully, because he has the DC series, it means he has more leeway to experiment and doesn’t necessarily need the popularity of a hit drama since he has a big hit movie franchise (plus he does have With You, which is going down as one of the best youth cdramas ever).

      Movies are definitely going to be his main platform, since that’s where his main network is and the path that he debuted in, but he’s probably not going to reject dramas entirely if the right script/drama team comes along, but after NEF (referring mostly to how tiring the filming process was), he’ll probably be pretty selective (rumors were in 2018 that his team stopped accepting drama scripts – of course, if there are any good ones I’m sure they’ll consider it).

      I think as long as he continues to walk his current path, he’s set himself up for a long and steady career! Only thing is if he himself decides that he wants something different 🙂

      Thanks again for visiting!

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