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Fan Bingbing’s Disappearance Drags Us Further Into The Dystopia

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Sep 13, 2018

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If I was asked to name three films Fan Bingbing has been in, I would be stumped. Apart from her role in X-Men: Days of Future Past, I barely registered her on my radar. But now that she doesn’t exist, I can’t stop thinking about her. 

This isn’t to say that Fan isn’t famous. She personifies everything that is Chinese celebrity culture right now — she’s on billboards selling Cartier jewelry and Moët & Chandon champagne, she has 63 million followers on China’s social media platform Weibo, people are getting plastic surgery to look more like her, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an image of her where she’s not wearing a couture gown. In 2016, she earned more than several celebrities in Hollywood, including Amy Adams and Charlize Theron. Now 36, her career has spanned two decades, and her latest upcoming project is a spy movie alongside Jessica Chastain, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard and Lupita Nyong’o.  And, it must be said, her red carpet looks are always on point.

But here’s the crazy thing — Fan Bingbing has disappeared. 

Since July, nobody has seen or heard from her. There’s been radio silence from her on social media, no public appearances, no paparazzi shots, she’s just…gone. While actual facts about her whereabouts are scarce, rumours run from the believable tax evasion troubles, to the ridiculous idea that Jackie Chan advised her to flee to Los Angeles.

Listen, I love a good dystopian story. 1984 is my jam. Reading about the Chinese Cultural Revolution is fascinating. And I know that, objectively, we are already living out dystopian tropes in ways that are inbuilt into our technology, our governments, our entire world. Fan Bingbing, however, does not belong to this world. She belongs to a gilded place where the rich and powerful are exempt from the concerns that plague us. So if someone as publicly visible as Fan Bingbing can be ‘disappeared’ like this, well, we should all be worried.

In July, just before Fan went ‘missing,’ the Communist Party’s propaganda department put out a statement condemning the film industry for “distorting social values,” “fostering money worship” instead of “core socialist values,” and leading Chinese youth to “blindly chase celebrities.” Sounds an awful lot like the moral policing the censorship bureau does with Bollywood, no?

In an effort to curb the kind of lavish celebrity lifestyle that people like Fan Bingbing promote, the Chinese government is limiting the amount of money actors can earn. When a TV host leaked documents that showed Fan had two contracts for the same film, one on record paying her a sum of $1.56 million, and the other an additional $7.8 million, she was accused of tax evasion. Amid the controversy that exploded on social media, and the public statements her representatives put out denying the allegations, Fan vanished.

Early last week, Securities Daily, the state-backed Chinese publication, reported that Fan had been placed “under control”  of the authorities and would “accept the legal decision.” But as the story made the rounds on social media, it was suddenly taken down, leaving us with even more questions. On Sunday, a ‘social responsibility’ report was published, assessing Chinese celebrities and whether they have a “negative” social impact based on their “professional work, charitable actions, and personal integrity.” Fan was at the bottom of that list with 0%. 

The Chinese government’s predilection for censorship and secrecy means that we might not find out where Fan Bingbing is anytime soon. Hopefully whatever the problem is will be resolved, and she’ll come back with a public apology to soothe the party’s ego. Hopefully she won’t end up in a Chinese labour camp. But really, what The Mystery Of The Missing Celebrity tells us is that no one is safe. The world is a scary, scary place where power moves in insidious ways, and even Fan Bingbing can go missing.

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Written By Nadia Nooreyezdan

Nadia Nooreyezdan is The Swaddle’s culture editor. Since graduating from Columbia Journalism School, she spends her time thinking about aliens, cyborgs, and social justice sci-fi. She’s also working on a memoir about her family’s journey from Iran to India.

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