Mystery over star’s disappearance
SHE'S one of China's most beloved actors, boasting an impressive film career and a combined social media following of over 65 million people.
But in early July, she disappeared without a trace, sparking rumours she had been detained by her country's authoritarian government.
Now brands she represents are pulling their support for her, authorities are refusing to divulge information on her whereabouts, and her millions of fans keep asking the same question: What happened to Fan Bingbing?
And more importantly, how does a world-renowned film star just vanish into thin air?
WHAT HAPPENED TO FAN BINGBING?
Fan Bingbing is one of China's most revered actors.
The 36-year-old has starred in over 50 films - both Chinese and Western - including Iron Man 3 and X-Men: Days Of Future Past.
She will also star in the upcoming film 355 alongside Penelope Cruz, Jessica Chastain and Lupita Nyong'o, appearing alongside them in Cannes in May to promote it.
But for three months and counting, the glamorous star has not been seen in public.
She has a whopping 3.8 million Instagram followers, but hasn't posted to that or her Twitter account since roughly mid-May.
Most Western social media platforms are banned in China, but despite having more than 62 million followers on Weibo - the Chinese equivalent of Twitter - Fan hasn't been active there in recent months either.
On May 24, a promotional video she recorded for De Beers was posted on YouTube - this was one of her final sponsored public appearances.
Her last documented appearance was July 1, when she visited a children's hospital.
And now? Nothing. It's as if she's dropped off the face of the Earth.
Little is known about what happened to the superstar, but some speculative reports say it relates to a government investigation into tax evasion in the film industry earlier this year.
In May, prominent retired Chinese TV presenter Cui Yongyuan appeared to accuse Fan of not paying her taxes.
According to The New York Times, the anchor posted two contracts for an upcoming film Fan was starring in. One allegedly showed a salary of $1.6 million to be reported to the tax authorities, while another revealed an actual payment of $7.8 million.
The outlet notes that dual contracts - also known as "yin and yang" contracts - are widespread across many industries in China, as a way to avoid paying taxes; the star receives one contract which is their actual salary, and a second contract with a lower wage number to submit to tax authorities.
Cui's accusation prompted authorities to launch a broad inquiry into the entertainment industry.
"If violations of tax laws and regulations are found, they will be handled in strict accordance with the law," his post warned.
However, it did not mention Fan by name, and the actor denied accusations of tax evasion.
The Chinese Government announced a crackdown on payments to film stars, capping pay-offs with leading actors at no more than 40 per cent of total production costs.
State-run Chinese publication Securities Daily subsequently claimed the star had been placed "under control, and will accept the legal decision" handed down by authorities.
In a now-deleted article, the outlet said her alleged tax evasion was just "the tip of the iceberg", saying: "She is also suspected of participating in illegal lending and other forms of corruption. In the worst case, she faces legal punishment."
To make things worse, the actor received a score of 0 out of 100 on the recently released China Film and Television Star Social Responsibility Report, a joint survey by a Beijing university and a state-affiliated Chinese institution that monitors celebrities as part of a wider government crackdown on "promoting money worship" and "distorting social values".
The Chinese Communist Party may have used the downfall of Fan, with her immense wealth and status, to send a message to the wider entertainment industry and to reinforce the country's socialist principles.
Following the actor's apparent fall from grace, several local and international brands she represents have sought to distance themselves from her
One of these is Australian health company Swisse Wellness, which announced it would be suspending the use of her name, Fairfax Media reported earlier this week.
"We have suspended using her image alongside our brand. As such we are unsure on her involvement in our Singles Day activity," a spokeswoman for the company said. "We are continuing to monitor the situation and hope that it is resolved in the near future."
Other international companies, including German accessories brand Montblanc, have also pulled support for her.
Still, it must be stressed that reports of Fan's detainment are speculative.
There are additional suggestions the actor fled to Los Angeles seeking asylum. According to Hollywood Reporter, a Hong Kong tabloid alleged that the star had been spotted at an LA immigration office.
The report cited an unnamed "industry source" who claimed Fan was seeking advice from Jackie Chan, who had urged her to seek asylum in the US.
These reports have not been confirmed, but one thing is certain - Fan remains nowhere to be seen.