August 12, 2022

Billionaire actress no longer exists


One of China’s most famous and richest actresses has been completely erased and the Chinese government is thought to be behind it.
She has millions of adoring fans. She’s worth billions of dollars. But Beijing has all but erased actress Zhao Wei from history. And they won’t say why.
Zhao’s name won’t be immortal. Her entire internet existence has been scrubbed.
All serials and chat shows featuring her have vanished from major Chinese online streaming sites. She no longer even appears in the online credits for the movies she appears in.
Discussing why is being censored on social media.
Zhao Wei shot to fame in the late 1990s in China’s most successful television series ever, My Fair Princess. Since then, she’s progressed from being an A-list actress to director, pop singer and businesswoman.
Such success under Chairman Deng Xiaoping’s policy of “opening up” China and embracing the incentives of private enterprise made Zhao very wealthy.
But her business empire struck trouble under Xi Jinping. Zhao was accused of being unpatriotic for hiring a Taiwanese actor to play a leading actor in a 2016 film. Beijing had that choice overturned.
Shortly after, Zhao’s business acquisitions began to attract close regulatory and taxation scrutiny. Last month a public relations agency she owns became embroiled in a nationalistic scandal after one of its clients – actor Zhang Zhehan – took a selfie while visiting Japan’s Yasukuni war dead shrine.
On Saturday, reports emerged on Chinese news sites that Zhao had fled the country on a private jet and was spotted at Bordeaux airport in France, where she and her husband Huang Youlong own a vineyard.
Now Zhao appears to have become the highest-profile victim of a Chinese Communist Party crackdown on celebrities and billionaires.
There can be only one …
Beijing is worried about personality cults. At least any not centred on Xi Jinping.
“Xi Jinping thought” is now compulsory teaching at schools. “Xi Jinping urges” features in almost every state-controlled news report.
But the lives and acts of entertainment celebrities remain much more popular on social media chat rooms. Little wonder celebrity fan culture is not something Xi considers to be a Chinese characteristic.
On Friday, Beijing’s Cyberspace Administration agency issued a set of instructions to social media and internet operators aimed at “rectifying issues” with fan communities.
The purpose was to ensure “political and ideological safety in the cyberspace as well as creating a clean internet”.
Celebrities can no longer be ranked in order of popularity.
Talent agencies must submit themselves to Communist Party oversight.
Fan clubs must be licenced and officially authorised.
Any disagreement between fans of different high-profile personalities must immediately be censored.
The regulatory crackdown follows the publication of a policy guideline, Implementation Outline for the Establishment of a Rule of Law-Based Society, which mandates the establishment of “moral norms” as “legal norms”.
Cancel culture
China’s National Radio and Television Administration in 2018 ordered the banishment of actors whose “morality is not noble”, who was “tasteless, vulgar and obscene”, or whose “ideological level is low and have no class”.
All must ban “actors with stains, scandals and problematic moral integrity”.
At the weekend, the Communist Party-controlled Global Times accused Zhao of having “been entangled in various scandals over the years”.
It admits no official reason for her erasure has been given.
“Aside from her celebrity identity, Zhao was also widely known as a billionaire investor surrounded with lawsuits,” it reads. “As early as 2001, Zhao received an overload of criticism for publicly wearing a dress featuring a Japanese military flag …
“Zhao’s removal from video platforms comes two weeks after actor Zhang Zhehan … had all of his accounts and works banned on various social media platforms including Weibo, after posing at Japan’s notorious Yasukuni Shrine, sparking wide outrage.”
The list of fallen Chinese folk heroes is beginning to run high.
Zhang was subject to a similar erasure last month, with all online references to his work deleted.
Actress Zheng Shuang fell foul of Beijing Friday. She’s been accused of tax evasion and ordered to pay a $A63 million fine. If she pays the fine, she won’t be investigated. She may even be able to keep her profile.
Late last year, Zheng’s career ended after her private life exploded across the world. Her former partner accused her of abandoning two surrogate children in the United States. Zheng then vanished from public sight for four months.
Celebrity singer Huo Zhun recently resigned after being publicly attacked for promiscuous behaviour. And Chinese-Canadian singer Kris Wu was charged with “violation of morality” amid rape and underage sex accusations earlier this month.
Now state-regulated media is reporting China’s youth as welcoming the celebrity crackdown.
Eunice Zhang, an 18-year-old “fan circle member” said she used to spend hours every day defending her idols and promoting them on social media popularity ratings.
“In the past, when my idols got new commercial endorsements, I would use all my pocket money to buy (their products),” she reportedly said. “But now I only buy useful products.”
Communism strikes back
Chinese censors are busy setting things straight.
State-controlled social media has been promoting messages including “raise the threshold to become a celebrity”, “virtue before artistry”, and “the rewards of a moral society”.
Chairman Xi himself restated China’s commitment to Communist values at a Central Committee for Financial Affairs meeting earlier this month. He stressed that “Common prosperity is the prosperity of all the people, not the prosperity of a few people”.
“Common prosperity is the essential requirement of socialism and an important feature of Chinese-style modernisation,” he reportedly said. “It is necessary to follow the principles of marketisation and rule of law, and co-ordinate the prevention and resolution of major financial risks.”
It appears Chairman Xi equates independent billionaires with such risk. Especially as growing inequality threatens to undermine his message of eliminating poverty.
But concentrations of wealth are also perceived as threats to the power of the Communist Party, which has imposed strict new regulations on business investment, ownership and control.
In July, tech giant Tencent owner Ma Huateng saw his personal fortune slashed from $A82 billion to $A68 billion at the stroke of a pen.
He’s not the only one. Billionaire Jack Ma vanished from public life after his Ant Group was prevented from launching a public offering. That crackdown came after Ma dared criticise Communist Party regulators for stifling tech sector growth.
It should be no surprise. Chairman Xi promised to tackle “extreme wealth” when he returned to power for a second term in 2017. But it took until this month’s Central Committee meeting for the formal promise to enforce “reasonable adjustments to excessive income” to be made.
It’s not all about economics. It’s also about power.
In July, Chinese agricultural tycoon Sun Dawu was jailed for 18 years after being convicted under the catch-all “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” offence. He’d been outspoken about a simple property dispute.
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer | @JamieSeidel
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