On Wednesday, Chinese actress Fan Bingbing returned from her three-month disappearance with a message on her Weibo account.
"I feel ashamed that I committed tax evasion in Unbreakable Spirit and other projects by taking advantage of 'split contracts,'" she admitted. "Throughout these days of my cooperation with the taxation authorities’ investigation of my accounts as well as my company’s, I have realized that, as a public figure, I should’ve observed the law, setting a good example for society and the industry."
The next day, The Hollywood Reporter reported that the actress' disappearance was because of a Chinese practice called "residential surveillance at a designated location." She was apparently kept in a "holiday resort" in a suburb of Wuxi in coastal Jiangsu province. An executive told THR that Fan "has regained her liberty and is in relatively good spirits." However, she still hasn't been seen since July 1.
Fan is not the only notable Chinese person to have been a target of the practice. Artist Ai Weiwei and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo were also detained, Ai in 2011 and Liu in 2008. Liu died in custody in July 2017.
According to the New York Times, the law was amended in 2012 to widen the parameters for those who can be kept under surveillance. In general, the country detains anyone who can be deemed as a threat to "state security," and it's thought Fan's detention was meant as a warning to other Chinese celebrities as a part of the government's efforts to combat tax evasion in the entertainment industry.
The detention centers themselves have also been the subject of controversy. Michael Caster of Safeguard Defenders told the New York Times that "residential surveillance" violates human rights and international law based on first-hand accounts of the facilities. Tang Jitian, a defense lawyer, was arrested and put under surveillance in 2011. He told the Times he was deprived of sleep, kicked, and made to do military drills. Liu Shuhui, a former lawyer also arrested in 2011, told the outlet he was also sleep-deprived, and described the facilities as "a place where the law does not exist."
It's unknown if these experiences under surveillance are universal, or if they've continued since 2011 in the same capacity. As of now, Fan has not discussed her time under surveillance.