Many Americans probably don’t know who Fan Bing Bing is but she is the most actress in the world. She sits atop the prestigious world of Chinese film like a perfect, melon seed-faced colossus. She expresses the perfect ideals of Chinese beauty and is considered so ideal, wealthy Chinese women have had surgery to imitate her iconic look. She sweeps long gowns along red carpets from Hollywood to Beijing. She appeals to people throughout China including Hong Kong and Taiwan. Her star power knows no match in China. Her photos are perfect in every way with her porcelain smooth skin and coiffed hair.
Her social media reach on Chinese social media services reaches millions of people. Her weibo (Chinese twitter) following is greater than the membership of the Chinese communist party. She is the darling of the Chinese people and is greatly respected by nearly everyone in China. She is Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, and Marilyn Monroe all wrapped into one perfect Chinese package. She has appeared in ads for major European brands seeking to gain traction in the Chinese market and is a busy woman herself. She owns an acting school, production company, and other businesses. At 37, she has never really lived under old-style Chinese communism but rather the state-led capitalism of Deng Xioping.
Until she disappeared
However, on May 28, 2018 a fateful photo was posted to social media by a TV host in her retinue of her latest contract for a Chinese film. The contract showed how much she was being paid while another contract showed a smaller amount, which was all that was being reported to Chinese tax authorities. At first, there wasn’t much attention paid to the story. Chinese gossip papers love to go on about her, who she is dating and so on. She continued her routine by traveling to Tibet and attending a concert. Chinese censors restricted any further publishing on the story and by July, she had informed her production company she had been placed on house arrest. There was a fast-moving rumor she had gone to America and had requested asylum but the rumor was countered.
And that was the last the world saw of Fan Bing Bing for almost 3 months.
Until early October, where as seamlessly as she had disappeared, she reappeared and she began her public life again with a long apology about her sins agains the people of China. However, the fallout was far reaching. She had to pay $131 million in back taxes. She sold properties and borrowed from friends to finance the penalties. A release of a film was canceled and one of the investors in the film was arrested. It was a huge wake up call to the Chinese film industry. As it turns out, she was held in a resort town outside Jianping in a residential detainment program. Xi Jinping had instituted the program in 2012 allowing the government to detain anyone for up to 6 months without contact to family or lawyers. Reportedly she wasn’t allowed any contact including pen and paper. She was afforded no privacy of any kind during her detainment.
For now, she is using this moment publicly talking about her desire to seek redemption for her “sins” and promising to be a better citizen for all of China. However, for the fast growing Chinese movie industry, Fan Bing Bing was a warning shot across the bow from the Chinese government: get your affairs in order or go to jail.
Movies in China are a big business. The government financed their production starting in the 1970s and as China’s appetite for consumer goods and leisure activities has grown, so has the Chinese movie industry. China has a historically loose legal framework for business deals and for paying ones taxes. This practice of getting paid one thing and reporting another to the government has been standard business practice for decades. Because of China’s loose legal framework, this practice has flourished. However, Xi Jinping has been consolidating power throughout the country and between a slowing economy and the ever-growing power of Xi, it appears that he is bringing everything and everyone to heel when it comes to being actually honest about their business dealings and the associated tax liabilities.
Much like Martha Stewart going to jail for insider trading, Fan Bing Bing was the wrong star, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.