The disappearance of famous movie star Fan Bingbing now three months ago has kept many guessing for the reasons behind it. Being a celebrity in China has some extra risks, explains business analyst Shaun Rein, author of The War for China’s Wallet: Profiting from the New World Order, for AP. “There’s a greater risk for celebrities to get in trouble with the law and never be able to get a chance at redemption.”
Though China has become the world’s second-largest film market, authorities keep tight control on local productions, exercising final say over choice of cast, director and script. If Fan had stepped on official toes, it would be a simple task to retaliate by destroying her career, with Chinese authorities wielding broad powers to detain, interrogate and accuse citizens out of the public eye.
Other celebrities have run afoul of authorities over drug use, excessive pay or tax issues, said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group based in Shanghai.
“Then the government really cracks down hard and pretty much destroys their careers for several years if not forever,” Rein said. Companies that bet big on a-list Chinese celebrities incur a “huge political risk,” he said.
Known as a classical Chinese beauty with almond eyes and porcelain skin, Fan, 36, usually maintains a prominent presence on Weibo, where she has more than 62 million followers. Her account has been largely dormant for weeks, however, with a July 26 “like” about a posting on her charitable foundation being the last activity prior to the deletion of her birthday notice. Photos on social media also appear to show her visiting a pediatric cardiac ward at a Shanghai hospital for a charity event on July 1.
The strongest clue to Fan’s status may have been a Sept. 6 notice posted on the website of the Securities Daily, a newspaper published by the official Economic Daily. It stated that the local tax bureau had sent a notice to Fan’s studio that she had been “placed under control” — a legal term for being held under investigation. The article was later deleted from the website.
Fan’s disappearance has already taken a toll on her lucrative sideline as brand ambassador, throwing those companies’ plans into disarray. Australian vitamin brand Swisse issued a statement saying it was suspending use of her image and “continuing to monitor the situation and hope that it is resolved in the near future.”
British diamond giant De Beers, who signed with Fang just last year, appears to have already moved on: Another actress, Gao Yuanyuan, represented the company at a store opening last month in the ancient capital of Xi’an. Other firms she endorsed, from duty-free chain King Power to Louis Vuitton and Montblanc are also taking action. ”
“There’s a lot more risk for celebrities in China than in the United States, because the government takes much more of a moral crackdown,” said China Market Research’s Rein. “So there’s a greater risk for celebrities to get in trouble with the law and never be able to get a chance at redemption.”
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