Chinese actress Fan Bingbing cries real tears after filming an emotional scene for the film East Wind Rain in Shanghai in 2009. All photos by Rian Dundon.

My 9 Months on the Road With Fan Bingbing, China’s Biggest Movie Star

A decade before her disappearance, the Angelina Jolie of China hired me as her tutor. I got a crash course in China’s dizzying celebrity-industrial complex.

Rian Dundon
Published in
25 min readJul 11, 2019

--

TThe night I got a job as a fake English tutor to the very real Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, I celebrated by treating myself to a new pair of shoes at a knockoff mall in Beijing. The multilevel marketplace was where I went to buy polo shirts with inverted Ralph Lauren logos or ersatz New Era baseball caps that never quite fit. The clothes rarely lasted long, but they always helped me feel a little less homesick. Even a fake Nike tracksuit can do wonders for the soul of an expat.

It didn’t matter that the fresh “Adidas” shell toes I walked out in would start giving me blisters within a week, or that their non-treaded soles would cause me to slip repeatedly on greasy restaurant floors. They looked authentic enough to fool the casual observer, which made them a perfect fit for a charlatan ESL teacher.

A lifelong mumbler, I’d never been particularly good at speaking English, let alone teaching it. I’d even been fired from my former classroom job, at a college in Hunan province, for failing to “inspire the students.” I had…

--

--

Rian Dundon
GEN
Writer for

Photographer + writer. Former Timeline picture editor.