Q&A: Anastasia Lin, the Canadian beauty queen on China’s black list
Anastasia Lin is an actor, beauty queen, pianist and Chinese dissident. Her criticism of China’s human rights record is putting her father in danger, but she won’t back down
As Miss World Canada, you travelled to China to compete for Miss World but were denied entry. Why was that?
I was born in China and moved with my mom to Surrey, B.C., after my parents divorced in the mid-’90s. I eventually started speaking out about human rights abuses in my home country, and in July, I was invited to speak at a U.S. congressional hearing. I testified that China uses fear to restrict freedom of choice.
You’re a graduate of U of T’s theatre program and have starred in films that are unflattering to the Chinese government. Was that a factor in getting rebuffed at the border?
I believe so. After I won Miss World Canada, the state newspapers were very congratulatory. Then someone must have done research on me, because the Chinese security force visited my dad, who still lives in China. I’m not sure what they said because he wouldn’t talk about it on the phone. He intimated that they were listening in. He sent me a text that said, “Stop your political and human rights work immediately or else we’ll have to go our separate ways.”
Why didn’t you stop?
It was a very difficult decision, but I figured what’s done is done—I had already spoken out. And I felt a duty to continue to spread the message. So my dad cut off my credit card.
What line of work is he in?
He’s the CEO of a large company that sells medical equipment, Samsung cellphones, and other products. For a long time he owned a chain of about 50 hotpot restaurants in China, but he sold them during the SARS crisis.
How do you pay the bills?
I’ve been living with relatives in Scarborough. In November I sold my Honda Accord to buy a last-minute ticket to China for the Miss World competition. That flight was about $2,000.
That was a costly undertaking, especially since you didn’t get in.
It was. I got all the way to the desk for my connection in Hong Kong and tried to get my boarding pass, and a Chinese official told me I’m not eligible. I’ve since been officially branded persona non grata.
You’re a practitioner of Falun Gong. For the uninitiated, what’s it all about?
It’s essentially a meditative yoga, and its adherents are persecuted in China. Its central pillars are truthfulness, tolerance and compassion.
When do you meditate?
I try for every morning, but hey, I’m a millennial. When I find the time, I aim to free my mind of burden, seek calm and search for my true self.
Why did you decide to compete for Miss World Canada?
A few years ago, I heard a speech by Nazanin Afshin-Jam, Miss World Canada in 2003—she is now Mrs. Peter MacKay. She said the Miss World motto was Beauty With Purpose. It seemed like an opportunity to speak up about what I believed.
Did you have to train?
Not really. My mother made me practise my diction from a young age. She used to take me up to the top of hills near our home and make me scream English words to get rid of my accent. I’ve been playing classical piano since I was two, so the talent part came easily.
What does your mom think about you taking on the Chinese government?
She yelled at me on the phone to stop speaking out, because it was putting my dad in danger. But then she came to visit me in Scarborough, and I took her for a run in the park near my place and we had a very frank conversation. She understands why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Have you always been so outspoken about human rights?
The opposite, in fact. As a schoolgirl, I was brainwashed by the state. The first song we sang in kindergarten was about the “glorious” Communist party. I was a proud little Commie. I’d coach my classmates to turn in traitors.
When did your views change?
When I was 13 or so, my mom gave me some material to read. I learned about the Tiananmen Square massacre. I watched videos online and cried so hard. The people really did try to fight back.
Your Miss World Canada reign ends on May 16. What’s your plan to take advantage of the platform while you’ve got it?
I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. I also have some projects on the go. One is a popular TV series in the U.S., but I can’t disclose any other details until I sign. Stay tuned.