Actress Ning Jing, 48, prepares to go on the show. [Photo provided to China Daily]
Thirty female contestants, all older than 30, took part in a televised reality show this month, competing for five places in a performance group.
The program immediately became a hot topic nationwide, as the entertainment industry in China traditionally favors women in their early 20s or even younger.
Named Sisters Riding the Winds and Breaking the Waves, the show premiered on June 12 on Hunan Television and Mango TV, a livestreaming platform.
Actresses Ning Jing, 48, and Christy Chung, 50, along with singers Zhang Hanyun, 31, and Yu Kewei, 37, were among the contestants. A panel of coaches joined the show, including a well-known actor, the head of a music company, a celebrity manager, a music director and a stage director.
The first episode attracted more than 15 million viewers and sparked heated debate online. The contestants demonstrated their dancing and singing abilities with solo and group performances.
Yang Chang, who works for a media company in Beijing, said: "Bringing these women together arguably contributed to making the most interesting reality show of the year. It sends a message that although we live in a youth-obsessed culture, there's still something to be said for the enduring appeal of women who are established and experienced."
Molly Tang, another fan of the show, who is approaching 30, said: "The women are very cool, fashionable and attractive. They have their own styles, rather than following a trend. I really admire their courage in breaking conventional stage or screen stereotypes."
She added that after watching the show, she is no longer afraid of becoming older.
In addition to the contestants' performances, the frank and outspoken comments they made about their age, life experiences and careers also caused a stir online.
Singer Yumiko Cheng, who appeared on the show and is based in Hong Kong, said: "I am 39 years old and at the best time of my life. I know myself better and I am much wiser."
She began her career in Hong Kong as a dancer/singer 18 years ago and has released albums in Cantonese and Mandarin.
In 2012, she was involved in an accident in which a tree branch pierced a lung. She slowed her career, married in 2014 and gave birth to her daughter the following year.
"I have been in the industry for a very long time and many young people may never have heard of me, but I am confident about my performances. They will be surprised," she said.
Actress Bai Bing, 34, said during the show: "Many people think that I live a life of luxury as a wife and mother who doesn't need to work, but I divorced several years ago and am now a single mom. Thanks to my family, who help care for my daughter, I still have the chance to pursue my career as an actress."
Bai is known for her roles in The Myth, a 50-episode TV drama broadcast in 2009, and Winter Begonia, a 49-episode drama shown this year.
Aduo, 40, a pop singer from the Tujia ethnic group who took part in the show, said that when she was first approached by the production team, she turned down an invitation to perform on the program.
Finding fame after appearing on the annual CCTV Spring Festival Gala in 2005 and singing the dance number Goodbye, Carmen, Aduo was signed by the Chia Tai Music Group in 2001 and has released two albums. Her increasing popularity has brought her many opportunities to perform.
When she was in her early 20s, Aduo, like many younger women, enjoyed pop music and loved to appear on reality shows to promote herself.
But in 2011, she lost interest in the music scene and changed her career path. From 2012 to 2016, she spent her time in remote villages in Hunan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, where the Miao and Tujia people live.
"In 2012, I stopped listening to and performing pop songs. For the past eight years, I have been focusing on my own project involving ethnic music. One of the biggest challenges for me in appearing on the show was that I had to return to pop music," Aduo said.
"The judges are younger than I am. Many young fans don't know about me. They are not familiar with my style of music. I don't want to appeal to anyone in particular-I just let my performance speak for me."
Aduo added that she was impressed by the other female performers, who she said were not only attractive but also full of confidence.
"Public opinion of women has changed. People are willing to accept various types of women, rather than defining them by age. We are just showcasing ourselves in our own ways-being ourselves," she said.
Veteran music producer, director and songwriter Zhao Zhao said: "These veteran female performers are not afraid of breaking new ground onstage. They are versatile and creative."
Zhao, who has worked with celebrity singers such as Karen Mok and Mao Buyi, was a member of the team that provided the music for the closing ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.