The New York Times
By Andrew Jacobs Nov. 26, 2015
■ Toronto — Clasping hands with youngsters in red Communist Youth League scarves, contestants from more than 110 nations descended on the southern Chinese island of Hainan this week for the 65th annual Miss World contest.
But one contestant was absent from the opening ceremony: Miss Canada, otherwise known as Anastasia Lin, a 25-year-old actress and classically trained pianist who has been denied a Chinese visa to attend the monthlong pageant, apparently because of her outspoken advocacy for human rights and religious freedom in China.
After waiting in vain for weeks, Ms. Lin packed up her Canadian-designed eveningwear on Wednesday and quietly boarded a Hong Kong-bound flight with the hope she might obtain an on-demand visa at the border and perhaps slip unnoticed into mainland China.
|Miss Canada, Anastasia Lin, was denied a visa to
participate in the Miss World contest in China.
Credit Ian Willms for The New York Times
It was not to be.
The Chinese authorities, tipped off to her arrival, barred her from flying onward to Hainan.
Speaking by telephone from Hong Kong on Thursday, Ms. Lin said she was angry and disappointed but not entirely surprised. “I have every right to be at that event,” she said. “It’s kind of sad. I mean, I’m just an acting student and a beauty queen. What could they possibly be so afraid of?”
The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa declined to comment on Ms. Lin’s visa application but issued a statement on Thursday saying “China welcomes all lawful activities organized in China by international organizations or agencies, including the Miss World pageant. But China does not allow any persona non grata to come to China.”
Ms. Lin, it turns out, has become a public-relations nightmare for Beijing. A Chinese émigré who moved to Canada as an adolescent, she is a practitioner of Falun Gong, the Buddhism-inspired spiritual movement that China has deemed an “evil cult.” She is also charismatic, canny and media-savvy.
|Anastasia Lin at the Hong Kong airport after she was barred
from continuing her journey to the Miss World contest.
Credit Kin Cheung/Associated Press
Despite what she says are threats to family members in China, she has refused to back away from her official pageant platform of speaking out about human-rights abuses in the country of her birth.
Her David-and-Goliath clash with the Chinese government has drawn sympathetic media attention and legions of supporters around the world, providing her an even bigger platform to speak out about the imprisonment and torture Falun Gong adherents face in China.
“If I don’t speak out for what’s right, it will send out a terrible message to those who experience China’s fear and intimidation and don’t have the ability to fight back,” she said in a recent interview in Toronto.
Ms. Lin’s confrontation with Beijing highlights the contradictory impulses of Chinese leaders: the desire to silence critics both influential and insignificant, and the yearning to be a respected world power.
China has sought to burnish its soft power by hosting scores of international conferences and sporting events, from the Formula One Grand Prix in Shanghai to the Olympics in Beijing — both the 2008 Summer Games and the coming 2022 Winter Games.
But the government has not hesitated to punish foreign celebrities, academics and religious figures who step over the red lines of what it considers politically heretical speech.
In recent years, the authorities have abruptly canceled concerts by Bon Jovi, Linkin Park and Oasis, among other acts, apparently because one or more band members had previously expressed sympathy for the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. Also on the putative blacklist are Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Harrison Ford and Richard Gere, actors who have taken voluble stands on human rights.
Ms. Lin, it turns out, is not the first beauty queen to cross China. Last weekend in Austria, officials with the Miss Earth contest, acting on China’s behest, ejected the contestant from Taiwan after she insisted on wearing a sash that said “Miss Taiwan ROC” and refused to wear the replacement that said “Miss Chinese Taipei” — an identity that Beijing often requires Taiwanese residents to adopt during international events to acknowledge its claim that the self-governed island is a part of China.
As China’s economic and diplomatic stature has grown, so, too, has its ability to project its influence well beyond its borders. Hollywood, eager to gain access to China’s vast market, has altered film scripts to please China’s censors, and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain has been widely criticized at home for seeking to curry favor with Beijing by avoiding public discussion of China’s human-rights abuses.
Minxin Pei, an expert in Chinese politics at Claremont McKenna College in California, said Beijing had become increasingly successful in bending others to its will.
“Chinese leaders are realists and they know that people will hold their noses and continue to kowtow to them because they have a big checkbook,” he said. “The way they are treating Anastasia Lin is part of a larger strategy for deterring would-be critics: the proverbial slaughter of the chicken that is killed to frighten all those monkeys.”
Ms. Lin, however, refuses to be a chicken. Last May, days after winning the Miss Canada contest in Vancouver, she says security agents visited her father, who remains in China, and urged him to rein in his daughter’s talk about human rights. When she reached him by phone, he refused to talk, hinting that the line was being monitored, but he threatened to sever ties with her if she did not comply.
Instead, Ms. Lin went public with the threats to her father, who owns a medical equipment company. She wrote an op-ed article in The Washington Post and testified at a Congressional hearing on human rights in China.
He subsequently cut off financial support.
She said her father was emblematic of the mind-set that hobbles many Chinese, who have been traumatized by the country’s turbulent past and are too fearful to stand up for what they believe is right. “It’s sad because my father thinks putting a picture of Mao in his office will bring him protection,” she said. “But his support of the Communist Party isn’t really about love, it’s about fear.”
Ms. Lin has had a taste of the government’s ability to inspire both love and fear in its citizens. As the anointed leader of her middle-school class in Hunan, Ms. Lin was charged with demonizing Falun Gong by organizing viewings of a propaganda film and telling students they should report practitioners to the police.
Even after she and her mother emigrated to Canada in 2003, she developed a set of talking points to defend Communism during social-studies class. “It’s hard to shed a lifetime of indoctrination,” she said. “I mean one of the first songs we learn in kindergarten is ‘The Communist Party is closer to me than my mother.’ ”
All that changed the day her mother handed her a book produced by Falun Gong supporters that detailed the persecution its practitioners endure in China.
Although Ms. Lin has earned widespread support from her fellow Canadians, she has been disappointed by the silence from the government of Justin Trudeau, who was elected prime minister last month. In an email, François Lasalle, a Foreign Affairs spokesman, said, “Canada is committed to constructive engagement with China on human rights,” but he declined to comment on China’s refusal to give Ms. Lin a visa.
The Miss World Organization, whose motto is “beauty with a purpose,” has also refused to publicly advocate on her behalf, though Ms. Lin says pageant officials have offered to allow her to compete in next year’s finals.
Officials with the London-based organization did not respond to phone messages and emails seeking comment. On Thursday, Ms. Lin’s photo was conspicuously absent from the organization’s online roster of Miss World contestants.
“They’re just going to hang me out to dry,” Ms. Lin said.
Ike Lalji, chief executive of Miss World Canada, has been more outspoken, saying he is disappointed by China’s intransigence. “Some people don’t respect pluralism and diversity,” he said in a phone interview. “It would be a good thing, and help bring about peace in the world, if we were to embrace one another’s cultures and beliefs.”
An ethnic Indian whose family was expelled in the 1970s from the Democratic Republic of Congo when the country was known as Zaire, Mr. Lalji said he was proud of Ms. Lin’s passion for human rights. Since taking over the Miss Canada organization five years ago, he has sought to channel the empty platitudes that contestants often utter during pageants into a more vigorous humanitarianism.
“We want to empower young women to be effective and powerful rather than having a queen who wanders around waving her hand,” he said. “Because nowadays, people tend to listen to young women, especially if she is wearing a crown and a sash.”
Despite her disappointment at missing the finals, Ms. Lin allowed herself to savor her newfound power to broadcast her message. “When I was told I’m persona non grata, I had to look it up on Wikipedia,” she said by phone. “At first I was mad, but then I realized I’ve joined the ranks of such handsome men as Brad Pitt and Christian Bale. Now I realize it’s a badge of honor.”