In Western media coverage, she’s denoted as “the Chinese Angelina Jolie,” with an adoring fan-base that knows no borders. Last year, there were only four other actresses in the world who made more money per project than she. She’s considered one of the most influential public figures in China, who is also speculated to be an enemy of their government. Her name is Fan BingBing, and she has not been seen in public since June of 2018.
Western filmgoers will recognize her from popular film franchises from the Marvel Studios universe, such as X-Men: Days of Future Past in which she portrayed Blink, a portal-jumping mutant who made an impression on American audiences. But on the other side of the world, Fan Bingbing had been cultivating a celebrity image since her teen years, starring in Chinese film and television. In 2017, TIME Magazine placed her on their list of 100 Most Influential People. She’s also slated to star alongside Jessica Chastain in an upcoming Western spy thriller called 355. There’s just one problem: No one can find her.
No one has laid eyes on Fan since June, and the last public statement made by the actress came from a social media platform akin to Twitter—her Weibo account. A comment in a Chinese securities newspaper following that post said Fan Bingbing had been “placed under control and will accept legal judgement.” The article was not on the website long. It was taken down, and its existence scrubbed from the site and all the site’s social media.
Fan BingBing’s disappearance has created a conversation in the Western world about how a Chinese national’s involvement with the American entertainment industry can make them an enemy of the socialist state. One of the widely-propagated stories about the actress’s disappearance is that she is flying under the radar amid accusations of tax-evasion. But how exactly does someone, whose fame is equated to that of Angelina Jolie, manage to disappear completely from public life? Many theorize that the answer lies within the Chinese government.
China’s film industry is heavily regulated by the government, as they consider the industry to have a direct effect on its people and their morals. “The entire entertainment industry, and its rise and fall are determined by the politics, ideology, and the likes and dislikes of [China’s] leaders. This has become more obvious in recent years,” said Qiao Mu, an independent political and media analyst based in Washington, DC. Just recently, the film Crazy Rich Asians was denied release in China, with officials citing the film’s glorification of “money worship” and the negative effect it would have on the country’s youth. Consequently, if film is believed to heavily influence the public, so do the actors involved. According to Stanley Rosen, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies the Chinese film industry, control is key for the government, ““The basic point is to intimidate celebrities with large followings so that they are not too independent and serve as an alternative voice on issues of public import.”
If Fan Bingbing is indeed guilty of tax-evasion, it’s no mystery why the Chinese government would be interested in her whereabouts; however, there are many who believe her disappearance has nothing to do with tax-evasion, and that Fan Bingbing is likely in the confines of what is known as a “black jail.” Peter Dahlin, a Swedish human rights attorney who was detained for almost a month in a black jail in 2016, was quoted in TIME, “The world has never known the numbers of disappearances that we see today in China.” TIME also reported that national security and local law enforcement are now authorized to detain individuals at undisclosed locations for a period of up to six months. This is a familiar scenario to those familiar with the work of Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, who was also detained for three months by government officials. His supposed crime? Tax-evasion.
Just as supporters turned out for Ai Weiwei when he disappeared in 2011, Fan Bingbing’s droves of adoring fans continue to cry out for answers. Last Sunday, a birthday hashtag for Fan reached an audience of 64 million, a testament to her continued influence and impact throughout the globe. It was reposted more than 30,000 times, bearing a message of hope from her beloved fans, “We will wait for you.”
Carie McMichael is the Communication and Media Specialist for Lauth Investigations International, a private investigation firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana–delivering proactive and diligent solutions for over 30 years. For more information, please visit our website.