Who is Zhao Wei? Mystery Surrounds Chinese Actor Deleted from the Internet

Mystery sounds the fate of billionaire Chinese actor Zhao Wei after her personal and professional presence was deleted from China's internet services without explanation last week.

The 45-year-old, also known as Vicky Zhao, is among the country's most widely recognized faces in film and television. She is also a prominent businessperson and investor who has since been described by the country's state-affiliated media as "scandal-hit."

Zhao's works, including movies and series she had appeared in or produced, were scrubbed from Chinese streaming platforms such as Tencent and Iqiyi on August 26, prompting widespread discussion on social media service Weibo, where she has an account with more than 85 million followers.

The hashtag "What happened to Zhao Wei" gathered momentum while her Weibo follower feature known as "chaohua"—showing fans the latest and most popular updates—was disabled. The website is now awash with rumors about Zhao's alleged gaming of the Chinese financial system, but there is still no official explanation for her disappearance from the internet or why she has been targeted by the country's regulators.

Amid rumors over the weekend that she and her husband, 44-year-old Singaporean businessman Huang You Long, had fled for France, where they own a vineyard in Bordeaux, Zhao took to Instagram to hint that she was still in China. A picture posted on Sunday and accompanied by a caption suggesting she was in Beijing with her parents was deleted an hour later.

Her disappearance comes shortly after Zhang Zhehan—singer, actor and one of Zhao's agency clients—was "canceled" by nationalistic Chinese fans over a 2018 selfie taken in front of Japan's Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates the country's war dead.

Zhao herself fell foul of domestic ultranationalism in 2001 after taking part in a magazine photoshoot wearing a dress featuring a World War II Japanese wartime flag. This time around, however, the Chinese Communist Party may have been the ones to take offense.

On August 27, the party-owned tabloid Global Times described Zhao as the country's "scandal-hit actress," who had been charged with securities fraud in 2017.

Zhao, who shot to fame for her leading role in the 1990s historical drama My Fair Princess, could also have been targeted for her close relationship with Chinese businessman Jack Ma, who questioned China's tightly controlled financial system last October, before regulators axed his Ant Group IPO and launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba.

Zhao and husband Huang became the second-largest stakeholders of Ma's Alibaba Pictures in 2014, catapulting them onto the Hurun rich list two years later.

A day after her works were taken offline, the Cyberspace Administration of China—the country's internet watchdog—ordered social media services and forums to clamp down on harmful celebrity fan culture.

Commentary in state-owned media outlets has warned of toxic and cultish celebrity culture, in a campaign that is likely to reach many popular personalities who do not fit the party's mold.

China's Zhao Wei Scrubbed From Internet
File photo: Chinese actor Zhao Wei attends the closing ceremony of the 73rd Venice Film Festival at Sala Grande on September 10, 2016, in Venice, Italy. Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images