Chinese soccer players who have sought to make a name abroad
Li Chenqi

As Wu Lei from the Chinese Super League (CSL) begins a new chapter in his career with Espanyol of Spain's La Liga, we take a look at other Chinese players who have secured transfers to the big European and other soccer leagues.

1998-2006

The tide of Chinese soccer players going abroad began around the turn of the millennium. 

Yang Chen

Yang Chen (center, facing camera) of Eintracht Frankfurt jumps during the Bundesliga match against VfB Stuttgart in Frankfurt, September 1, 1998. /VCG Photo

Yang Chen (center, facing camera) of Eintracht Frankfurt jumps during the Bundesliga match against VfB Stuttgart in Frankfurt, September 1, 1998. /VCG Photo

Yang Chen was the first Chinese player to play in the Big Five Leagues when he joined the promoted Eintracht Frankfurt in Bundesliga for a then astonishing one million Deutsche marks transfer fee on July 1, 1998, at the age of 24.

The Beijing native was spotted by the Eagles side during a short loan period with Bundesliga 2 club SV Waldhof Mannheim. As a trailblazer, the forward showed his talent with 21 goals in four seasons. 

Fan Zhiyi

Fan Zhiyi of Crystal Palace. /VCG Photo

Fan Zhiyi of Crystal Palace. /VCG Photo

Fan Zhiyi, then 28, transferred in August 1998 from Shanghai Shenhua to Crystal Palace in the English second tier. During the following three seasons, the defender made 88 appearances, scored four times, and even became captain of the team for a spell.

The 2001 Asian Soccer Player of the Year joined Scottish Premiership side Dundee and English second division's Cardiff City during 2002-2003. At the international level, the former national team captain made 90 caps and scored 14 goals.

Sun Jihai

Simon Davies (L) of Fulham battles with Sun Jihai of Manchester City during the Barclays Premiership match at Craven Cottage in London, England, April 9, 2007. /VCG Photo

Simon Davies (L) of Fulham battles with Sun Jihai of Manchester City during the Barclays Premiership match at Craven Cottage in London, England, April 9, 2007. /VCG Photo

Sun Jihai's first overseas experience began at the same time as when Fan Zhiyi went to Crystal Palace, but he went back to his original team Dalian Shide just ten months later.

After winning China's top league twice, Sun signed with the then second-tier Manchester City in 2002 and helped the club get back to the Premier League in his first season.

The defender was not a bench player but an absolute core member of the squad for six seasons, making 130 appearances. He left City after the  2008-09 for second-tier Sheffield United at the age of 31.

Li Tie

Injury hampered Li Tie's career. /VCG Photo

Injury hampered Li Tie's career. /VCG Photo

In England, Sun used to play against another Chinese Li Tie, the 2001 Golden Ball Award winner of China's Jia-A League, in what became known as Chinese derbies. 

Li was loaned to Everton from Liaoning FC after the 2002 FIFA World Cup and played in 29 league games in his first season, mostly as a starter, and helped the club achieve 7th place. 

He then signed a three-year contract but injuries restricted him to just five more appearances.

The defensive midfielder's last stop in Europe was at Sheffield United from 2006-2008.

Zheng Zhi

Zheng Zhi of Charlton Athletic is pursued by Jihai Sun of Manchester City during a Barclays Premiership match in Manchester, England, April 6, 2007. /VCG Photo

Zheng Zhi of Charlton Athletic is pursued by Jihai Sun of Manchester City during a Barclays Premiership match in Manchester, England, April 6, 2007. /VCG Photo

Zheng Zhi used to be an opponent of Sun in matches between Charlton Athletic and Manchester City in the English Premier League.

Zheng joined Charlton on loan in 2006 but the team was relegated. Then, he played for them in the English Championship for seasons 2007-09 and also spent one season with Scottish Premier League side Celtic before heading back to China.

Shao Jiayi

Shao Jiayi of TSV 1860 Munich celebrates scoring during the Bundesliga match against Sportfreunde Siegen at Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany, March 26, 2006. /VCG Photo

Shao Jiayi of TSV 1860 Munich celebrates scoring during the Bundesliga match against Sportfreunde Siegen at Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany, March 26, 2006. /VCG Photo

In Europe, Shao Jiayi played for TSV 1860 Munich, FC Energie Cottbus and MSV Duisburg in Bundesliga's divisions 1 and 2 from 2003-2011.

The midfielder, who grew up and retired at Beijing Guoan, spent half of his career in Germany and made over 150 appearances there.

2007-2013

Over the last ten years, members of the Chinese national squad have also played aboard, but even as the Chinese domestic soccer market developed rapidly, they have been unable to replicate the success of their predecessors overseas.

Yu Dabao

Yu Dabao shows his passcard of Benfica, Qingdao, Shandong Province, China, June 26, 2006. /VCG Photo

Yu Dabao shows his passcard of Benfica, Qingdao, Shandong Province, China, June 26, 2006. /VCG Photo

Yu Dabao was the first Chinese player joining Primeira Liga of Portugal. In 2007, the 19-year-old forward signed a three-year contract with Benfica but was loaned to Aves of Liga de Honra, and Olivais Moscavide and Mafra of Segunda Divisao during that spell.

Zhang Chengdong

Zhang Chengdong was presented as a Rayo Vallecano player in Spain, August 7, 2015. /VCG Photo

Zhang Chengdong was presented as a Rayo Vallecano player in Spain, August 7, 2015. /VCG Photo

Zhang Chengdong was the first Chinese to play in La Liga, joining Rayo Vallecano on loan in 2015 during his 2013-2016 contract with Beijing Guoan. 

Due to his three-year stint in Portugal with Primeira Liga's Uniao Leiria and Beira-Mar, the right winger speaks fluent Portuguese. And he also went to German second-tier side Eintracht Braunschweig for season 2012-13.

Hao Junmin

Hao Junmin celebrates victory with teammates of Schalke 04, February 10, 2010. /VCG Photo

Hao Junmin celebrates victory with teammates of Schalke 04, February 10, 2010. /VCG Photo

Hao Junmin, the 31-year-old midfielder of Shandong Luneng who appeared in three editions of Asian Cup, played for Schalke 04 in one and a half season during 2010-2011.

He made only14 appearances, helping the Royal Blues to the runners-up spot in the Bundesliga in 2009-2010 and the German Cup title the following season. 

2014-2019

In the past ten years, more and more post-90s Chinese players have tended to play abroad at an early stage of their professional careers.

Zhang Xizhe

Zhang Xizhe of VfL Wolfsburg in action during a friendly match with Karlsruher SC, Germany, January 23, 2015. /VCG Photo

Zhang Xizhe of VfL Wolfsburg in action during a friendly match with Karlsruher SC, Germany, January 23, 2015. /VCG Photo

Born in 1991, Beijing Guoan's Zhang Xizhe joined VfL Wolfsburg at the end of 2014 in the season the Wolves won the German Cup. 

The team were occupied pursuing Bundesliga's second place then, and the gifted midfielder from China, therefore, made no starting appearances in his one season there. 

Wei Shihao

Boavista's Chinese forward Wei Shihao (L) in action during the Primeira Liga match against FC Porto at Dragao stadium in Porto, Portugal, September 21, 2014. /VCG Photo

Boavista's Chinese forward Wei Shihao (L) in action during the Primeira Liga match against FC Porto at Dragao stadium in Porto, Portugal, September 21, 2014. /VCG Photo

Forward Wei Shihao, born in 1995 and a product of Shandong Luneng's youth academy, joined Portugal side Boavista at the age of 18 and helped the team to win promotion to Primeira Liga. He then played for Feirense and Leixoes of the Portuguese second-tier league before returning to China in 2017.

Zhang Yuning

Zhang Yuning celebrates with Vitesse teammates in a Dutch Cup match against Sparta Rotterdam, Netherlands, March 1, 2017. /VCG Photo

Zhang Yuning celebrates with Vitesse teammates in a Dutch Cup match against Sparta Rotterdam, Netherlands, March 1, 2017. /VCG Photo

Forward Zhang Yuning has just turned 22 but he's already played in four different European Clubs, including Eredivisie side Vitesse, Premier League's West Bromwich Albion and Bundesliga's Werder Bremen. Now, he's back again in Eredivisie and plays for ADO Den Haag.

The graduate of Hangzhou Greentown's youth academy has not appeared in the domestic senior league, though he made his international debut in early 2016.

He Zhenyu

He Zhenyu of Notts County during a pre-season match against Leicester City at Meadow Lane in Nottingham, England on July 21, 2018. /VCG Photo

He Zhenyu of Notts County during a pre-season match against Leicester City at Meadow Lane in Nottingham, England on July 21, 2018. /VCG Photo

He Zhenyu is seen as representative of the next generation of Chinese soccer players, of whom there are around 200 now overseas.

Born in 2001, the youngster has shown his talent since kindergarten in Liaoning, the mighty soccer province in China, and went to England to live and train in 2012.

The 17-year-old signed with Wolverhampton Wanderers last summer and now integrates well with the youth team. With time passing by, the U-17 international may be the next soccer star to bring glory to China.