Fame and celebrity

Fan Bingbing is not the first Chinese film star to fall from grace

The actor’s story of tax evasion is remarkably similar to that of Liu Xiaoqing, a star of the silver screen known for her portrayal of empresses

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 8:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 8:33pm

She was the darling of China’s film industry who made a string of award-winning films and a fortune for herself. Then she failed to pay her tax bill and the heroine became the villain.

The year was 2002 and the star was Liu Xiaoqing.

Sixteen years later, a similar story of deceit and downfall is playing out on mobile phone and computer screens across the country. And while the name of the protagonist might have changed to Fan Bingbing, the script is remarkably similar.

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing released from secret detention, told to pay US$130 million for tax offences

Famed for her portrayal of two of China’s most influential empresses, Wu Zetian and Cixi – she played the latter four times on the big screen and the former thrice on television – Liu’s career peaked in the 1980s with films such as The Burning of the Imperial Palace and Hibiscus Town, the latter telling the tale of a young woman trying to survive during the turmoil of Cultural Revolution.

In the 1990s, Liu took a step back from the entertainment industry to concentrate on business and in the years that followed she built up an empire spanning everything from film production to property and cosmetics.

Things started to go wrong in 2002, when she was investigated for and later found guilty of tax evasion. The authorities found that she had been understating her earnings to shave about 30 per cent off her annual tax bill.

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During a 14-month investigation, Liu spent time in Qincheng Prison, a maximum-security facility in Beijing known for housing high-ranking officials accused of corruption. Reports differ on how long she actually spent in jail, but after being released on bail in August 2003 she and her company were ordered to pay 26.8 million yuan (US$3.9 million) in unpaid taxes of 14 million yuan, late charges and fines.

Her brother-in-law, Jing Jun, who was also general manager of one of her companies was sentenced to three years in prison.

Fan, therefore, might consider herself fortunate not to have been imprisoned during the recent investigation into her tax affairs, although she did spend three months in “secret detention”.

The 37-year-old, who gained international fame after appearing in the X-Men and Iron Man film franchises, was ordered on Wednesday to pay nearly 884 million yuan in fines and monies owed after underpaying her taxes to the tune of more than 255 million yuan, Xinhua reported.

Beijing cracks down on Chinese film stars’ massive paychecks – but only after online storm over Fan Bingbing’s salary

The announcement that China’s highest paid actress had been charged came as the country is celebrating the National Day holiday, but that did not stop the news quickly going viral on social media.

“Now Fan Bingbing has attained the same historic status as Liu Xiaoqing,” a person wrote on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service.

Liu returned to acting to pay off her tax bill and even wrote a book – Rise from the Ashes – about her experiences in prison.

Another Weibo user said they doubted if Fan would be the last celebrity to be found guilty of tax evasion.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” the person said. “There are so many highly paid stars in China, do all of them pay their taxes?”