Policing Celebrity in China
Television stars are in many ways the leaders of culture. Millions of people watch and emulate the opinions and actions of celebrities. Given this fact, it would make sense that in a communist country such as China, controlling the celebrities would be an absolutely necessary part of the campaign to control the culture. When a figure steps out of line, the communist party responds with striking efficiency, and this is no more evident than with the recent disappearance of Fan Bingbing.
Fan is the largest star in China. She tops the 2017 Forbes China Celebrity List. She has appeared in dozens of movies and TV shows, has released music, and appeared in many advertisements. In the West, she has appeared in the X-Men franchise. Her face is recognized across China, which means that whatever she does is noticed by hundreds of millions of people. If she “sets a bad example,” the response would have to be swift.
This is exactly what happened earlier this year. In May, a TV personality posted on social media saying he had evidence that Fan had utilized an illegal payment technique in order to avoid taxes. Her representatives firmly denied this. In the midst of the scandal Fan posted on social media about visiting a children’s hospital in Tibet. A week later, she was gone. This disappearance falls in conjunction with the 2017-2018 China Film and Television Star Social Responsibility Report that was released a few weeks later. The report takes the top 100 celebrities in China and ranks them on how good of a role model they are. Fan was placed dead last with a score of 0 out of 100. Just a few days after that, she was officially charged with tax evasion. This fits in line with a broader government crackdown on the film industry for “distorting social values” and “fostering money worship tendencies”.
Once these charges were made, Fan reappeared. On October 3rd, she posted on her Weibo account the following:
I failed my country which nurtured me; I failed the society which trusted me; I failed the fans who liked me.
Without the Party and the state’s good policies, without the love from the people, there would have been no Fan Bingbing.
I totally accepted all of them, and will raise funds to pay my taxes and penalties regardless of any obstacles.
This apologetic statement does a couple things. First, she “agrees” that she should be shamed her transgressions against the party. Second, it reinforces the message that the government should be obeyed by her wide audience.
So now the question stands, what was the true cause of her three-month disappearance? The official statement stands that this was a case of tax fraud, particularly problematic because it is coming from a sector of the economy that fosters disagreeable social norms. But the real point of this was for the regime to turn China’s biggest celebrity into a bogus cautionary tale, reminding 1.3 billion people that nobody is safe and everyone must obey.