Six months ago, after admitting to committing tax evasion, paying $70 million to avoid criminal charges, and begging for forgiveness in an apology letter, it was nearly impossible to fathom how Fàn Bīngbīng 范冰冰, arguably the most famous and highest-paid actress in China, might plot her return. Since then, she quietly disappeared from the public eye.
Now the lengthy absence appears to be officially over. On Monday, the 37-year-old actress made a surprise appearance at the ninth anniversary gala of iQiyi, one of China’s most popular video-streaming platforms. But unlike other celebrities at the event, Fan arrived late on the red carpet and didn’t take any questions from the media.
Following her walk, Fan attended the gala dinner, which no media had access to. But according to people present, the actress made some champagne toasts and played some party games with a group of high-profile figures in the entertainment industry, including Yue Hua Entertainment’s CEO, Dù Huá 杜华, and iQiyi’s chief content officer, Mǎdōng 马东.
This was Fan’s first public appearance after the tax scandal. According to sources close to the mega star, her attendance was a cautious attempt to assess her influence in the industry and test the waters of public opinion. “It’s a calculated and reserved move filled with hesitations and possibilities. It leads to a sign of predictable relaxation,” The Circle (贵圈 Guìquān), a WeChat blog owned by Tencent’s entertainment news channel, commented (in Chinese).
If it was a test, Fan’s appearance had mixed results. On one hand, the fact that she got invited and had a pleasant time with other attendees indicates that she is welcomed back into establishment show business. The outfit she was wearing — an Alexander McQueen suit and a Louis Vuitton handbag — which were presumably sponsored by these luxury brands, also signified that she still holds power in the fashion world. On the other hand, judging from the social media reactions to her reemergence, the public isn’t fully ready for her return yet.
Shorty after photos of Fan’s red carpet look emerged on the internet, an internet user on Douban published a post about her return. Within 12 hours, the most upvoted comment under the post, which says “Get the f**k outta here,” received more than 2,000 likes.
Below is a collection of how Weibo users reacted to the news, which was overwhelmingly negative (in Chinese):
“She’s gone too far. How dare she come back?”
“Seems everybody only has a seven-second memory span like goldfish.”
“Why didn’t she receive a lifetime ban?”
“So we just pretend nothing happened?”
“The media has no ethics. What are you reporting? Is there any value in your reporting? These scandalous celebrities should be forever discarded by the audience!”