Child stars face challenges as opportunities grow

Updated: 2016-10-13 07:00

By Xu Fan(China Daily)

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Every day as Peng Yibo works on a film or television series set, the 10-year-old is never far from his father's sight.

The showbiz industry "is a bit chaotic and complex," explains Peng Wenda, the 43-year-old father of the child star. "As parents, we've been worried that he might be affected by some bad behavior or get injured."

A reflection of China's rising demographic of child and teenager stars, which has been growing so fast it's impossible to measure, Peng Yibo's rise to fame is a typical story of striving - a mix of sweat and tears.

Once a vendor in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang province, Peng Wenda abandoned the stable lifestyle of his hometown and moved to Beijing in 2009.

"Yibo has showed talent and strong interest in performing since his toddler days. We blindly moved to Beijing as we believed the city would have a number of opportunities," recalls the father, now a full-time agent and 24-hour nanny of his son.

It looks like he made the right move.

Child stars face challenges as opportunities grow

Most agents of child performers say Beijing is something of a Chinese answer to Hollywood, as the capital city features the largest number of studios and has the richest resources in the country.

Some parents spend a lot of money on training or agent fees, which reportedly runs into thousands of yuan and sometimes millions.

Peng Yibo had a bit of luck - he was taken under the wing of Huang Bo, one of China's most successful actors.

After performing in a minor role in the TV series Troubled Times Three Brothers, starring Huang and other A-listers Liu Ye and Zhang Hanyu, Peng Yibo was invited by Huang to star in the celebrity's avant-garde stage production of To Live.

Shooting to fame since then, Peng has been cast in nearly 20 movies and television series.

His latest big titles include the reportedly $100 million fantasy movie Asura, and the sequel of the hit TV series Home With Kids.

The daily demands of acting and reading scripts interrupt the boy's education - a common dilemma for child and teenager stars - but the father has recruited tutors to teach his son in the absence of school.

"We need to protect him," he says. For now, the family's solution is to watch the child actor alertly - all the time.

Beijing has four hotels - all located in Chaoyang district - widely used by low-budget films or television series as hubs to recruit performers. Piao Hotel Inn on the West Dawang Road is perhaps the busiest in the business.

"The first time I visited it, I was shocked," says Wang Yubin, marketing head of the agency

He found that most of the hotel's rooms were occupied by role-selecting directors or deputy producers, with the doors cluttered with ads with the titles and demands for various productions.

The former publisher watched directors and producers smoking and playing cards while parents taking their children to knock on doors to make a pitch, he says.

Zhang Xiao'en, a 36-year-old agent for child stars, says the number of such youngsters between 3 and 15 years old has expanded rapidly thanks to the country's burgeoning entertainment industry.

Even so, only a handful of eager young wannabes will soar to stardom. China's celebrity list is studded with adults; child stars are comparatively scarce.

Successful ones include Wu Lei, known as the "dumb swordsman" in the hit series Nirvana in Fire, and Guan Xiaotong, who shot to fame in Chen Kaige's directorial fantasy epic The Promise.

Some parents choose to take their children's screen achievements as a light chapter of life.

Jiang Wenjuan, a former entertainment reporter, let her 7-year-old daughter Chen Yunze sing with actress Zhang Ziyi in a CCTV gala celebrating the London Olympics in 2012. But Jiang didn't encourage her daughter to take part in more such activities.

"I don't want her simple childhood to become complicated," she says.

 Child stars face challenges as opportunities grow

Peng Yibo (left), 10, and Chen Yunze, 11, are among the child stars popular in China's bustling entertainment business. Photos Provided To China Daily

(China Daily 10/13/2016 page19)