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Zhao Wei

The actress erased by China

NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images

Zhao Wei was the most famous actress in China, says Wenxin Fan in The Wall Street Journal. The 45-year-old shot to fame in the late 1990s as the star of the country’s biggest TV show, My Fair Princess. She became a successful director, sold millions of records as a pop singer, made millions of dollars from tech investments and amassed 86 million followers on Weibo, China’s Twitter. She was the “Reese Witherspoon of China”. Then she disappeared.

The last time anyone saw Zhao was in August. Rumour has it she has fled to France, where she owns a vineyard with her husband. Either way, any trace of her has been completely wiped from the Chinese internet. Searches for her name on video-streaming sites come up blank. When you look up her film So Young on China’s equivalent of Wikipedia you wouldn’t know she was the director – the field just reads “–––”.

It’s no surprise she has vanished from records, says Professor Stanley Rosen. Celebrities represent everything the Communist Party hates – wealth, fame and individual success. Wei is the poster girl of all three. “It’s a demonstration that no one, no matter how wealthy or popular, is too big to pursue.”

This is what dictatorships do, says Daniel Kalder in UnHerd. They get rid of all the fun. The late despot of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, forbade ballet; Chairman Mao banned the Beatles; now Xi Jinping is wiping out film stars. More often than not, these totalitarians take culture very seriously themselves. Mao was a poet, Stalin was a bibliophile and Xi has written a few books. They understand the influence of culture and are desperate to control it themselves. “Totalitarians everywhere dream of a world of virtue, where everyone shares the same, correct opinions (theirs).”