We were promised great things when the U.S. opened trade with communist China.
We were told free trade would expose the Middle Kingdom to western values of liberty and democracy. We were told free trade would loosen the Chinese Community Party’s grip on its people and neighbors and soften the regime’s single-minded pursuit of being the dominant global superpower.
The exact opposite has happened.
China has grown stronger, wealthier, and more dangerous, its grip tighter than ever. Now it’s exporting its “values” into the U.S. But what did you expect of the country that deletes its own stars from the Internet?
Zhao Wei is one of China’s most famous actors, her name and image ubiquitous throughout the sprawling communist empire. At least, she was. It’s basically impossible now for Chinese people to watch her or even read about her online thanks to regime censorship, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“Today, the 45-year-old star has been erased from the Chinese internet,” it reports. “Searches for her name on the country’s biggest video-streaming sites come up blank. Her projects … have been removed. Anyone looking up her acclaimed film ‘So Young’ on China’s equivalent of Wikipedia wouldn’t know she was the director; the field now reads ‘—.’”
“Ms. Zhao’s online disappearance on Aug. 26 came at the onset of a broader clampdown on the country’s entertainment industry as the Communist Party attempts to halt what it sees as a rise in unhealthy celebrity culture. The Chinese government hasn’t publicly stated what prompted this sudden change to her status, raising questions among fans and observers about how far it is willing to go against her and other celebrities, and why,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
It adds, “The mystery also has sparked open speculation about what, if anything, she might have done wrong.
Zhao is not the first Chinese celebrity to be memory-holed by the regime.
“In the past few weeks,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “other celebrities also have been scrubbed, including Zheng Shuang, an actress bogged down by a tax-evasion probe, and Zhang Zhehan, a young actor who was earlier slammed by the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper after he was found having visited a controversial shrine in Japan related to World War II while attending a friend’s wedding.”
It adds, “In an unprecedented campaign launched last month, the party banned the ranking of celebrities by name on social-media platforms, ordered traditional broadcasters and streaming platforms to ban artists who don’t meet political or moral standards, and effectively banned the children of pop stars from appearing in entertainment shows.”
This is terrible, you may say to yourself. Something so dystopian would never happen in the U.S.
About that. Do you remember Richard Gere? Sure you do.
He was once one of the biggest names in the business, starring in A-list audience-p
leasers such as Pretty Woman and an Officer and Gentleman.
Now, ask yourself this: When was the last time you saw the 72-year-old actor in a full-fledged studio movie? Was it 2002’s Chicago? Was it 2008’s Nights in Rodanthe? If you’re struggling to think about the last time you saw Gere in a major studio production, it’s because he has been banished to the realm of “indie” films. There’s a reason for this. It’s not his acting abilities. He has enjoyed some of his highest critical praise thanks to “indie” movies. It’s not his age. Tom Hanks, 65, Denzel Washington, 66, and Liam Neeson, 69, clearly have no problem landing roles in major studio movies.
The reason for Gere’s disappearance is China.
Gere is a devout Buddhist and advocate of the Free Tibet movement. In 1993, he used his speaking time at the Oscars to condemn China’s occupation of Tibet and its “horrendous, horrendous human rights situation.” Later, in 2008, he called for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics.
Because of this, the bigger studios won’t touch him. They’re terrified of running afoul of the gatekeepers to Chinese audiences.
“There are definitely movies that I can’t be in because the Chinese will say, ‘Not with him,’” Gere told Variety in 2017. “I recently had an episode where someone said they could not finance a film with me because it would upset the Chinese.”
The simple fact of the matter is the U.S. entertainment industry is positively obsessed with breaking into the Chinese market, no matter the cost. It’s the industry’s white whale. From removing imagery that may offend the Chinese government, to avoiding casting dark-skinned actors, to inserting pro-Chinese agitprop into the Chinese-release of certain movies, the U.S. entertainment industry will do whatever it takes to gain access to that supposedly all-important overseas demographic – even if it means blackballing an A-lister.
Gere spoke of another incident, one where he was dropped from a film that was never even intended for release in China.
“There was something I was going to do with a Chinese director, and two weeks before we were going to shoot, he called saying, ‘Sorry, I can’t do it,’” Gere said. “We had a secret phone call on a protected line. If I had worked with this director, he, his family would never have been allowed to leave the country ever again, and he would never work.”
Maybe Gere and Zhao should start a support group.
The biggest lie we told ourselves about opening trade with China is that it would mean exporting our values to them. Just the opposite has occurred.