After going AWOL for three months, China’s biggest actress, Fan Bingbing, is back—with a bill for 890 million yuan ($130 million) in fines and back taxes, and a deep apology to the Communist Party.
Chinese state media reported today (Oct. 3) that the 37-year-old actress misreported her income (link in Chinese) from a movie, Unbreakable Spirit, by using two contracts—a practice known as “yin-yang contracts”—and would need to pay back 255 million yuan in taxes. Tax authorities will not pursue criminal charges against Fan if she pays the amount by the end of the year.
“Yin-yang contracts” refer to dual-contract arrangements where only one—the “yang” contract—is disclosed to authorities for tax purposes. In May, Cui Yongyuan, a former news presenter, published evidence of Fan’s alleged tax evasion. Cui posted two contracts for an upcoming Chinese movie which he claimed belonged to Fan. Cui later apologized to Fan and said the contracts had nothing to do with her—but tax authorities launched an investigation into Fan anyway.
Known outside of China mostly for her roles in the X-Men and Iron Man franchises, the actress had been almost totally silent since June. She made an appearance at a children’s hospital in Shanghai in July, but stopped updating her Weibo later that month, having posted almost everyday before June.
Fan’s name was also expunged from the posters of Unbreakable Spirit, also known as Air Strike, which stars Bruce Willis. The film’s release date has been delayed from August to October.
While Fan’s physical whereabouts remain unknown, she resurfaced on microblogging site Weibo today, where she has over 60 million followers. In a letter (link in Chinese), she apologized profusely for her actions and said that she “fully accepts” the authorities’ punishment.
“Today, I feel afraid and deep discomfort about my mistakes… I have betrayed the trust of society,” read the letter. “I have to credit every bit of my achievements to the support of the country and the people. There’s no Fan Bingbing without the good policies of the Party and the country,” she wrote.
Fan’s wrongdoings may have opened the door to a broader crackdown on superstar salaries in the entertainment industry. In late June, five Chinese entertainment and propaganda regulators announced a rule (link in Chinese) to cap payments for actors and actresses in TV shows and films, citing “yin-yang contracts” as a problem, although they didn’t specifically name Fan.
Fan also isn’t the first high-profile actress in China to be embroiled in a tax-evasion scandal. Many have compared Fan’s case to that of Liu Xiaoqing, who was one of the richest people in the country in 1999. Liu was arrested in 2002 and released after spending a year in jail. Though she wasn’t charged, she was required to pay 7.1 million yuan ($858,500 at the exchange rate at the time) in fines. Both Liu and Fan are known in China for playing China’s only female empress in history, Wu Zetian.