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Adam Minter

China’s Dimming Its Biggest Stars

Cracking down on celebrities like Fan Bingbing won’t help its soft-power ambitions.

Fan was once ubiquitous.

Fan was once ubiquitous.

Photographer: Stefania D’Alessandro/Getty Images 

By late spring, Fan Bingbing, China’s most popular actress, had become a cultural juggernaut. She had 63 million followers on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social network, and high-profile endorsement deals with some of the world’s most prominent luxury brands. Besides roles in major Chinese and Hollywood films, she’d just enjoyed a prestigious turn as a juror at the Cannes Film Festival. If Anne Hathaway and the Kardashians merged, they would still have fallen short of Fan’s ubiquitous stardom.

That’s all been snuffed out now, thanks in part to a tax-evasion scandal and, more importantly, a government campaign to slash the influence of China’s celebrities. As Bloomberg News reported this week, Fan hasn’t been seen in public since early June. Beyond the star’s personal fate, her disappearance raises serious questions about whether China can create an entertainment industry that challenges Hollywood.