In August, increasingly frantic concerns began to surface that Fan Bingbing, widely considered China's most famous actress, had suddenly gone missing. Those behind the theory cited a number of reasons: that she hadn't been seen in public since July 1; hadn't posted on Instagram since May; had abandoned the 62 million followers she then had on her most popular platform, Weibo; and hadn't been in the news since a prominent Chinese TV personality publicly accused her of tax evasion in May—a claim so explosive that it sent the country's film industry into a crisis.
Four months later, on Wednesday, the world finally got an update on Fan's status: the 37-year-old actress, who's gained an international presence over the past few years thanks to films like X-Men: Days of Future Past and the upcoming star-studded spy thriller 355, released a long-awaited statement, which the New York Times published along with an article announcing that China has accused her of evading millions of dollars in taxes. The government has fined Fan what amounts to nearly $70 million in unpaid taxes and penalties.
The harsh welcome home comes after an investigation that concluded that Fan and employees of her production company had been underreporting her income—an apparently common practice in China, even outside of the film industry, involving the use of "yin and yang" contracts, or submitting an official contract with lower figures for taxes and keeping the one with actual earnings secret. Fan's personal film studio originally refuted the allegation. But after its investigation, the Chinese government now seems to be making an example of Fan, suggesting that those who continue to stick to such a practice will be subject to similarly serious consequences. (It has imposed a December 31 deadline for those in the entertainment industry looking to avoid their own investigations to declare any untaxed income.)
Meanwhile, Fan returned to Weibo for the first time since June 2 to issue her statement—and seemingly admit to the charges. "I have been through pain and suffering I have never had before. I have had deep and profound self-reflection. I feel shamed and guilty for what I have done," she wrote, along with a promise to pay the fine to avoid a criminal investigation. (The tax authorities in Beijing and Jiangsu, the province where her company is based, have said that as long as she does indeed pay up, she won't be facing any criminal charges, in part due to her lack of previous offenses.)
Fan isn't alone in facing such a predicament: Her agent, Mou Enguang, has reportedly been taken into custody, and the government also made it clear that it's investigating some of Fan's company's employees for "potentially criminal actions," including obstructing the tax investigation. (The government initially responded to the situation in June by imposing new limits that put a cap on how much actors can make, in what it said was a response to the industry's "distorting social values" and "fostering [of] money worship tendencies.")
The release date of her film with Bruce Willis, Unbreakable Spirit, has already been delayed, and now the authorities' reports that Fan declared only half of her 20 million yuan—or nearly $3 million—contract have prompted rumors that she won't make the movie's final cut. As for her boon of a role in 355, alongside actresses like Marion Cotillard, Lupita Nyong'o, Jessica Chastain, and Penélope Cruz, its fate now remains unknown.