HONG KONG — Sometimes, pageants court controversy.
From feminist flour bombs in London to widescale protests in Bangalore, the Miss World Organization is no stranger to rocky events. This year’s Miss World pageant has its dispute too. Check 2015’s gallery of contestants, and you’ll find that one headshot has been removed. Miss World Canada, Anastasia Lin, is stranded in Hong Kong, unable to reach Sanya, the southernmost point of China at the tip of Hainan Island, a tropical city billed as China’s Hawaii and this year’s battleground for the title of Miss World.
The nightmare began shortly after she arrived Hong Kong last Thursday, where Anastasia had a 12-hour layover between Toronto and Sanya. When she tried to obtain a boarding pass for the final leg of her journey, Lin was asked to speak to “an official” in Sanya by phone. The man only offered his last name: Chen. He asked for Lin’s personal details, as well as her birthplace in China and when she emigrated to Canada with her mother. Once Chen confirmed Lin’s identity, he said she wasn’t eligible for a Chinese visa. When Lin asked why, the Sanya official surnamed Chen offered none.
What has the Miss World Organization done to assist Lin in a time of stress and uncertainty? “Nothing. That is the very disappointing part,” she said.
“They attribute this whole thing to an administrative issue, not discrimination, so they don’t have to take a stand.”
Lin also said the Miss World Organization cited the cases of five women failing to secure visas for last year’s event in the United Kingdom, suggesting that her current situation is the same thing. Perhaps in an attempt to smooth things out, they offered her a spot in next year’s Miss World competition. Lin isn’t sure if she’s ready to take it. “I feel a little bit disappointed that they weren’t standing up for their own contestants.”
It has been reported that Lin is a Falun Gong practitioner, but she says that’s not entirely accurate. However, as an aspiring thespian, Lin took film roles that encompassed the theme of religious freedom, and played characters who were members of Falun Gong. Someone took notice, and she was scouted to participate as a consultant in a roundtable discussion hosted by the Canadian Office of Religious Freedom.
“Personally, I don’t really see myself as a human-rights activist,” she told The Daily Beast in Hong Kong. “I’m an actress.” And yet, her circumstances have generated the opportunity to speak truth to power. “It wasn’t that I was a very credible academic or a lifelong professional human-rights activist. It was really that I had the platform and was put on the spot to do that.”
In May, after Lin was crowned Miss World Canada, Lin’s father, who still lives in China, received threats because of her public statements abroad. His pride of having raised a daughter whose drive earned her incredible success quickly dissipated after a visit by agents of the Chinese security apparatus. In messages to Lin, her father adopted a new voice: “You are dooming the family. I will sever relations with you.” He said other hurtful things. Lin said it didn’t feel like her father was speaking to her. Those words resembled talking points that were handed to him.
Again, someone took notice, this time in Washington, D.C. Lin was invited to provide testimony before the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China, where she spoke about the plight of men and women who are jailed for beliefs that aren’t in line with the Chinese Communist Party’s dictates.
It isn’t a huge leap to draw a comparison between the case of Anastasia Lin with the flood of Chinese students entering prep schools and universities in North America, Australia, and Western Europe. Patriotic education, as it is known in China, conditions young minds to merge their own egos with the nation’s, and encourages Chinese students to harbor extreme nationalism, to the point where their words and actions resemble unofficial spokespersons of the People’s Republic.
The pageant queen who spoke before members of Congress in July wasn’t always the free-thinking spirit that she is today. Lin is very open about her past in China: “I was a student leader with a little red scarf and all that. In middle school, I actually did a lot of propaganda work because that was part of the job.”
Unsatisfied with the political climate and education system in China, Lin’s mother organized regular hikes to the top of a mountain near their home. At the peak, their radio could receive the signal of Voice of America. When they reached Canada, Lin’s re-education continued. “My mother showed me a lot of things that aren’t shown in China, like the Tiananmen massacre, Falun Gong persecution, and the Tibetan issue,” Lin said. “I felt so deceived. I felt like my life was in a smear campaign for 13 years.”
Global Times, a madcap CCP mouthpiece, calls Lin “misguided.” The outlet’s latest article about Lin says she “needs to learn to be responsible for her words and deeds, and for the possible consequences of the path chosen based on her own values.” It sounds thuggish. Bullies make threats because they’re scared.
“The Communist Party is really afraid of me getting into China and being on CCTV for the Miss World final,” Lin said. “If Chinese people see something that is hopeful, that is encouraging, and inspires them to speak up, that might cause real change, and that’s what I think they’re afraid of.”
Though she is stuck in Hong Kong, Lin’s trip isn’t wasted. If Mainland China won’t have her, Hong Kong gladly will. Since she no longer has to prepare herself for round after round of competition, Lin has been able to meet with leaders and participants of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.
Individuals outside of China, like civil-rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who escaped house arrest in Beijing by fleeing to the U.S. Embassy and eventually left his home country to seek refuge in the United States, called Lin once he found out she was barred from flying to Sanya.
Aside from messages of encouragement left on social media, a former Miss World candidate reached out and offered her support as well. However, the latter couldn’t do so publicly, fearing repercussions that may affect her ability to enter China in the future.
“This reign of terror, this reign of fear, is getting to everybody,” Lin said. “It’s not just jeopardizing the safety of Chinese citizens. I’m a Canadian citizen. I spoke within my own borders. I didn’t do anything wrong or against the law, and I’m being punished by a foreign government and was barred from an international contest—a beauty pageant.”
Lin says she’s not a spokesperson for anyone but herself. When she speaks up about the oppression of individuals in China, it’s not for feel-good activism. It’s because she sees an injustice that she knows in her bones needs to be stopped. The sick calculus used by the mysterious Mr. Chen, the Sanya official who told Lin she was grounded, has only led to extra chatter about the issue.
Like the signal of Voice of America rolling over the hills of Hunan to reach her mother's radio, Lin can also speak to anyone who is tuned in and ready to listen. Thanks to Chen, she enjoys a broader platform than ever before.