One of China’s most adored movie stars has vanished without a trace.
Fan Bingbing, one of the country's most famous actress, does not seem to be on some kind of a sabbatical where she takes a break from the limelight and the media can only steal a couple of glimpses of her.
Until a couple of months ago, Fan was a fixture on Chinese TV, as she promoted the many luxury brands she was affiliated with. Her face was plastered on billboards across the country.
In 2015, she had appeared in Hollywood movie "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and arrived at the red carpet of the premiere with actor Hugh Jackman next to her.
Now, Fan is nowhere to be found and many worry that the Chinese Communist Party may be involved.
Earlier this year in June, Fan had posted on her Facebook page her plans to visit a children’s hospital in Tibet. Since then, no one has heard from her. On September 6th, an article in Securities Daily, a state-run media outlet in China, noted that Fan had been “brought under control and about to receive legal judgment”. The article was swiftly deleted.
It now seems the actress was arrested because of matters related to tax evasion. Articles in Tibetan media from March 2017 claim that celebrities like Fan had set up companies in Tibet to escape the 25 percent tax cap set up by the Chinese government.
Fan has also been accused of using what is known in China as yin-yang contracts to hide her real income. Her problems with tax evasions seem to have begun when a Chinese tabloid, Global Times, leaked one of her contracts that later went viral on Chinese social media.
The leak showed she had two different contracts – one showing she was paid $1.5 million (10 million yuan), the other for $7.5 million (50 million yuan).
This is a classic example of the yin-yang contracts, in which the smaller of the two is declared for tax purposes.
Although, the Chinese authorities have remained mum on Fan’s possible arrest, many people are sure that is exactly the case.
“If you are a billionaire, then that is something that obviously you can enjoy to a certain extent, but you’ve got to be very, very wary that you don’t at any stage cross a red line of some sort and fall afoul of the Chinese Communist Party,” Fergus Ryan, a cyber analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told CNN.
However, even with speculations on Fan’s tax evasion, her disappearance looks alarmingly like another in a series of governmental attempts to control the creative arts.
As President Xi Jinping tries to consolidate his powers over the country, the government has seemingly begun to police artists. Video game makers have had to introduce more patriotic elements into their games.
In a report from a state university, Chinese stars were ranked in order of their social responsibility. Fan came in last with zero points.
At this point, the world knows that Fan’s might not the only case where a Chinese artist was allegedly arrested for not being a favorite of the government.
In 2011, contemporary artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who has investigated corruption scandals implicating the government, was detained for 81 days. No charges were filed, although government officials alluded to his “economic crimes”. Recently, Ai’s studio in China was demolished.
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