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Chinese Actress Disappears From Social Media As China Cracks Down On Influencers

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Chinese government has been tightening its control over culture and the economy in that country. In recent days, its sites have apparently turned towards an A-list movie star. NPR China affairs correspondent John Ruwitch reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MULAN: RISE OF A WARRIOR")

ZHAO WEI: (As Hua Mulan, non-English language spoken).

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Zhao Wei, also known as Vicki Zhao, has been acting in and producing internationally known movies for more than 25 years, including this 2009 take on the story of the Chinese heroine Mulan.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MULAN: RISE OF A WARRIOR")

ZHAO: (As Hua Mulan, non-English language spoken).

RUWITCH: But as of a few days ago, she had disappeared from Chinese social media. Her work was also removed from video streaming sites in China. The Chinese government hasn't commented. Aynne Kokas, an expert in Chinese media at the University of Virginia, sees this in a broader context.

AYNNE KOKAS: I see this as part of a larger pressure campaign by the Chinese government to crack down on private entities that can wield a lot of social power.

RUWITCH: Chinese leader Xi Jinping has consolidated power and strengthened Communist Party rule, in part by aggressively keeping any independent voices in check. In recent months, the state has tightened regulation of the media, clamped down on what it sees as decadent forms of entertainment and sought to limit foreign influence. It's reigned in several prominent figures, including perhaps the country's best-known businessman, Alibaba founder Jack Ma.

KOKAS: Whether it's Zhao Wei or Jack Ma, there is a very clear interest on the part of the party and on the part of party leadership to limit the ability of those individuals who have both economic and social power to guide opinion or to raise capital independently.

RUWITCH: Some observers have dubbed what's happening Cultural Revolution 2.0. That's a reference to the period of chaos and conflict in China from 1966 to 1976. Katherine Chu, who teaches at California State University Dominguez Hills, says crackdown campaigns are the norm regardless of whether or not movie stars or business moguls actually threaten one-party rule.

KATHERINE CHU: This is their DNA. If they want to continue this one-party regime in China, they have to do it. They have no other way to adjust the economy. They have no other way to adjust, like, the conflict between the people and the government or the people and the leadership.

RUWITCH: This weekend, as controversy swirled, Zhao reportedly posted some photos to Instagram, as well as a line saying she was hanging out with her parents. Those posts were later taken down. John Ruwitch, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF JUAN RIOS' "I WISH (INSTRUMENTAL VERSION)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.