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X-Men star goes missing

X-Men star Fan Bingbing's Beijing management office is dark and abandoned. Her birthday passed almost unremarked in China's hyper-adrenalized social media environment.

For one of China's best known stars and a rising Hollywood actress, Fan's vanishing is stunning, coming amid vague allegations of tax fraud and possibly other infractions that could have put her at odds with Chinese authorities.

Fan has starred in dozens of movies and TV series in China and is best known internationally for her role as Blink in 2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past," a cameo in the Chinese version of "Iron Man 3," and star turns on the red carpet at Cannes as recently as May. She was booked to star with Penelope Cruz in the Hollywood film "355" and has a role in the upcoming Bruce Willis-Adrien Brody feature "Air Strike."

Yet for nearly three months, Fan hasn't been seen or heard from in public in any verifiable way.

One of China's wealthiest entertainers, Fan pulled down tens of millions of dollars for her roles, along with handsome sums in appearance fees and product endorsements. Some of those contracts may have landed her in hot water with the authorities.

Fan's name has been mentioned in reports about a reportedly common entertainment industry practice — an actor having a public contract stating an official salary and a private contract detailing the true, much higher payday. A talk show host, Cui Yongyuan had said in May that Fan had such an arrangement — which allegedly helps facilitate tax evasion — and revealed details that sparked a public outcry. Cui later apologized.

At Fan's management office in Beijing's Dongcheng district, doors are locked, the lights are out and a calendar hanging alongside posters advertising Fan's film appearances is still turned to July. A worker at an office across the hall said she couldn't remember the last time she'd seen anyone enter the company premises.

Fan turned 37 on Sept. 16, but only a handful of entertainment notables sent greetings online, a stark break from the past when her birthday celebrations were lavish, well-attended affairs, marked last year by a public marriage proposal from boyfriend Li Chen.

Shi Shusi, a columnist and commentator on Chinese popular culture, suggests Fan's high profile was her undoing, having made her a target for officials wishing to set an example for would-be tax cheats amid China's slowing economy.

Known as a classical Chinese beauty with almond eyes and porcelain skin, Fan, 36, usually maintains a prominent presence on Weibo, where she has more than 62 million followers. Her account has been largely dormant for weeks, however, with a July 26 "like" about a posting on her charitable foundation being the last activity prior to the deletion of her birthday notice. Photos on social media also appear to show her visiting a pediatric cardiac ward at a Shanghai hospital for a charity event on July 1.

The strongest clue to Fan's status may have been a Sept. 6 notice posted on the website of the Securities Daily, a newspaper published by the official Economic Daily. It stated that the local tax bureau had sent a notice to Fan's studio that she had been "placed under control" — a legal term for being held under investigation. The article was later deleted from the website.



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