China Politics

Chinese A-lister's mystery disappearance sparks suspicions of state intervention 

Key Points
  • Fan Bingbing, who starred in Hollywood franchises such as "X-Men" and "Iron Man," has not been seen publicly since early July.
  • The Chinese actress has also been uncharacteristically absent from social media such as Weibo and Instagram.
  • Chinese authorities have declined to comment on her disappearance.
Actress Fan Bingbing attends the screening of 'Ash Is Purest White (Jiang Hu Er Nv)' during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France. 
VCG | Visual China Group | Getty Images

The disappearance of one of China's most famous actresses has fueled suspicions about the role of Chinese authorities.

Fan Bingbing, the Chinese A-lister who's starred in Hollywood franchises such as "X-Men" and "Iron Man," has not been seen publicly since early July, shortly after she found herself at the center of a tax probe.

Fan's name has been expunged from posters for her forthcoming movie with Bruce Willis, a Chinese production known in English as "Unbreakable Spirit." The release date for the film has been pushed back from August to October, while the release of a second film featuring the star has been on hold since June, according to reports from The New York Times.

The once prolific social media user has disappeared online too. Fan has been silent among her 62 million followers on Weibo, China's version of , since July 26, when she liked a number of post. Her last posts on Instagram, meanwhile, were back in mid-May.

The star's disappearance coincides with recent reports that she was being investigated over tax evasion in the film industry.

Fan Bingbing and Hugh Jackman arrive at the Australian premiere of 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' on May 16, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. 
Scott Barbour | Getty Images

In late May, a former host for state-run China Central Television, Cui Yongyuan, posted pictures on Weibo of two contracts that were allegedly linked to Fan's 2003 blockbuster hit "Cell Phone." One showed a salary of $1.6 million for four days' work, while the other suggested that she received under-the-table payments of an additional $7.8 million.

Such "yin-yang" contracts are a common but illegal practice to avoid paying taxes in China. In the case of the film industry, production companies provide actors with two contracts: one stating the real fee and one denoting a lesser sum, which is shown to the taxman.

Fan's representatives have vehemently denied the allegations as slander, and Cui has since walked back on his claims, but the posts sparked an inquiry by Chinese authorities into the entertainment industry.

Shortly after Cui's post, the country's State Administration of Taxation released a statement saying: "If violations of tax laws and regulations are found, they will be handled in strict accordance with the law."

Thus far, no violations have been found against Fan, but the Chinese government has remained quiet on the subject of her mysterious disappearance.

"The situation is that we all speak with one voice from top to bottom: that is that we don't accept interviews and we have no comment," said an official tasked with her case, reported the Times.

Reuters has been unable to contact Fan.

The star, who turned 37 on Sunday, is one of China's highest-paid actresses with an estimated net worth of $40 million.

Since her disappearance, the actress has been dropped from a number of high-profile commercial relationships including with German accessories brand, Montblanc, a partnership which started in April.

Correction: An earlier version of this report included an image from a third-party provider that misidentified Fan Bingbing.