China’s billionaire actress Vicki Zhao Wei appears to have been blacklisted by the government, and her entire internet presence was scrubbed for unknown reasons on Thursday (Aug 26) evening.
Zhao’s name was removed from all television series, films, short videos and promotional materials from platforms such as Tencent Video, iQiyi and Youku.
The shows are still available with her scenes remaining intact, but any descriptions of her involvement were removed. Zhao shot to fame for her role in My Fair Princess, one of the most successful Chinese television shows of all time that ran from 1998 to 1999.
A hashtag that allowed fans of Zhao to share information about her on Weibo, called a chaohua, was also censored.
So far, there has been no official explanation as to why she has become a target of such thorough censorship. The lack of information has sparked online speculation about possible motivations.
Besides acting, Zhao is a businesswoman, film director and pop singer, helping transform her into a billionaire and one of the wealthiest entertainers in Chinese history.
On Friday night, the top trending topic on Weibo was a page that detailed the various business interests she had exited recently.
In 2017, Zhao and her husband Huang Youlong were banned from China’s securities markets for five years for irregularities discovered after their company failed in a takeover bid for an obscure animation company.
An agency owned by Zhao represented Zhang Zhehan, who was an up-and-coming actor until he was also blacklisted after an old selfie he took at Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine in 2018 emerged online. The Yasukuni Shrine honours Japanese soldiers who died fighting for the country and is a particularly sensitive political touchpoint in China.
Outside of business, Zhao courted controversy in 2001 when she wore a dress that resembled Japan’s imperial Rising Sun flag during a fashion shoot in New York.
Her political stance was again questioned in 2016 when a film she directed, No Other Love, was attacked for inviting Taiwanese actor Leon Dai to be a leading character. Chinese web users regarded Dai as an advocate of Taiwanese independence. Zhao was ultimately pressured to change him.
China considers Taiwan a renegade province that must eventually be integrated back into the motherland, by force if necessary.
Zhao’s disappearance from Chinese cyberspace came amid a widespread campaign by authorities to clamp down on “misbehaving celebrities”.
The government is simultaneously trying to rein in unruly fan culture that has resulted in extreme stalking, leaking of personal information and cyberbullying.
On Friday, the Cyberspace Administration, China’s central internet watchdog, issued a detailed list of measures to rectify issues among fan communities.
The directive said local authorities should monitor celebrity culture online to maintain “political and ideological safety in the cyberspace as well as creating a clean internet”.
New rules include cancelling all forms of celebrity rankings and tightening oversight on celebrity marketing agencies. They would also require all online fan communities to be authorised by agencies associated with the celebrity.
The regulations would punish platforms that fail to quickly delete verbal attacks among fans of different idols.
Other celebrities that have recently run afoul of the Chinese authorities were Zheng Shuang, who has to pay a US$46.1 million (S$62.1 million) fine for tax evasion, announced on Friday.
Singer Huo Zun was accused by his ex-girlfriend of cheating and bragging about his hookups earlier this month. He has denied the allegations but also quit show business.
Multiple women accused Chinese-Canadian singer Kris Wu of date rape and he was charged with rape on Aug 16.
Another male celebrity, Hunan TV anchor Qian Feng was accused of rape after the Wu case. Qian denied the allegations but stepped down from Hunan TV on Friday.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.