The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Chinese movie star Fan Bingbing has been at least partly resolved, as the actress returned to social media on Wednesday after three months of complete silence to announce she would pay a $70 million fine for tax evasion.
The prevalent theory for Fan’s mysterious disappearance turns out to have been correct: the Chinese government accused her of running a “yin-yang” tax evasion scheme, in which two copies of a rich celebrity’s contracts are prepared. One copy shows them making much less money than they were actually paid, and that is the copy filed with the government for tax purposes.
Yin-yang contracts are reportedly a fairly common practice at the upper levels of the Chinese entertainment industry, so the government apparently wanted to make an example out of Fan.
The BBC on Wednesday cited reports she has been “held in secret detention” since her disappearance as the details of her punishment were hammered out. Her agent is still in police custody and has reportedly been accused of obstructing the investigation by destroying documents. The tax officials Fan and her agent dealt with are also under investigation.
While she and her corporate interests will pay enormous fines, she will not be charged with a crime and will spend no time in jail. The enormously popular 37-year-old actress will be required to eat a great deal of crow, however, as she helps transmit Beijing’s message to her peers. The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday:
In targeting Ms. Fan, authorities were clearly sending a message to other entertainment-industry personalities, said Stanley Rosen, a professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in Chinese politics and film industry.
“One aspect of the Fan case is to let celebrities know—including those with international reputations—that your celebrity is given and can be taken away by the state at any time,” Mr. Rosen said.
Ms. Fan, who was last seen in public visiting a children’s hospital in Shanghai July 1, apologized in a message posted on her Weibo account.
“I’m deeply ashamed of my actions and behavior,” Ms. Fan said. “It could be said that with every little achievement, I couldn’t have done it without the support of my country and the people. Without the [Communist] Party and the country’s good policies, without the people’s love, there wouldn’t be Fan Bingbing.”
Fan has already appeared in two big superhero movies, and her next Chinese production co-stars Bruce Willis. She probably has a better chance of reviving her acting and modeling careers abroad, as the BBC noted she has “fallen out of favor with the Chinese public” due to the charges against her, and there is already grumbling that her punishment is the kind of sweetheart deal ordinary Chinese citizens can never obtain from their oppressive government.