China is completely different to any other country in the world.
It has a totally different culture, different customs, and different mindset.
It also has unique laws, and this has resulted in something that doesn’t often occur in other countries – banning people from entering for vague reasons.
There are more people who are banned from China than you might think and some of them are quite famous, prominent figures.
So, let’s take a look at some of these people who can’t travel to China and what they did to get on this list.
1. Justin Bieber
Canadian-born pop star Justin Bieber has been a beloved part of the mainstream music scene for more than a decade. But not everyone is enamored with the singer.
In 2017, Justin was on a global tour and was scheduled to perform in China until he was banned by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture.
No specific reasons were given about the ban, though the bureau claimed that the injunction was put in place because of his bad behavior.
“In order to maintain order in the Chinese market and purify the Chinese performance environment, it is not suitable to bring in badly behaved entertainers”, the bureau said.
In 2013, Justin was carried up the Great Wall by his bodyguards. He also caused a stir in 2014, during a visit to Tokyo.
On social media, he posted photos of a shrine which honors the war dead, including those who inflicted atrocities upon the Chinese in the Sino-Japanese War.
Either of these incidents could explain or at least be partially responsible for the ban.
You can read more about the Biebs ban in The New Yorker.
2. Richard Gere
Richard Gere was one of Hollywood’s favorite leading men in the nineties and the star of iconic movies such as Pretty Woman.
But as popular as he was, his views on the issues between Tibet and China have gathered nearly as much press as his acting.
Richard Gere is a Buddhist and a supporter of the Dalai Lama, the foremost spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism (who is in exile in India). This has put him in direct conflict with China.
At the Academy Awards in 1993, Gere made a speech condemning the Chinese occupation of Tibet while presenting the award for the best art director. He was subsequently banned from the Oscars and from China.
The beloved actor also called for the boycott of the Beijing Olympics and supported the Tibetan cause through two foundations, the International Campaign for Tibet and The Gere Foundation.
This combination has earned him a lifetime ban from China and has affected his career as well.
Jay-Z is still one of the biggest hip hop artists in the world and is known for chart-topping songs like Big Pimpin’ and Empire State of Mind.
But while he may be the idol of millions, he’s definitely not welcome in mainland China.
In 2006, Jay-Z had his Shanghai gig cancelled due to having too much vulgar language in the lyrics.
And, given tattoos and hip hop culture can no longer be shown on Chinese TV, there’s zero chance Jay-Z’s music videos are getting any airplay, either.
4. Brad Pitt
In 1997, Brad Pitt starred in Seven Years in Tibet, a movie about an Austrian mountaineer who went on an expedition to the Himalayas.
While he was there, he was captured by the British during World War II and once he escaped, he went to the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Lhasa, and met the Dalai Lama.
Seven Years in Tibet was banned in China because of its negative portrayal of the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in 1950.
Brad Pitt himself was banned from entering China from 1997 until 2014, when he was finally allowed back into the country.
See also: The best movies about China
5. Katy Perry
The relationship between China and Taiwan is extremely contentious and Kary Perry was banned from China in 2014 because of it.
While doing a concert in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, she wore a sunflower dress, which many viewed as a pro-Taiwanese statement and a symbol of solidarity with the 2014 Sunflower Student Movement.
She also wore a Taiwanese flag during the concert, which only further angered China and resulted in the singer being banned indefinitely from visiting the country.
Even if the ban was lifted, I can’t imagine her biggest song, “I Kissed a Girl”, would go down well in socially conservative China, where same-sex relationships are censored in the media.
See also: Gay apps in China
6. Miley Cyrus
This entry is a little more open to interpretation than some of the others on this list.
Miley Cyrus is one of the most successful solo artists in recent years. While she’s best known for her string of hit pop songs, she’s a bit controversial in some circles.
In 2009, the then 16-year-old Cyrus was accused of denigrating Asian people by pulling back the skin around her eyes in a picture.
She was subsequently banned from entering China. At the time, Cyrus stated that she was just making a goofy face, was sorry if people took that out of context and refrained from saying anything further.
In the more than 14 years since then, Miss Cyrus has stuck to her story, but is still reportedly banned from China because of this incident.
It’s anyone’s guess when travel restrictions will be lifted for the Flowers singer.
7. Steve Bannon
It really isn’t surprising that there’s a number of American politicians on the list of people banned from entering China.
And once I tell you that Steve Bannon was the White House chief strategist under United States President Donald Trump in 2017, you’ll probably understand this entry even better.
In 2021, when Joe Biden took the presidential oath, the Chinese Foreign Ministry imposed sanctions on Steve Bannon and 27 other top officials under Trump.
According to accusations from the ministry, all of these officials including Bannon, had “planned, promoted and executed a series of crazy moves, gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs, undermined China’s interests, offended the Chinese people, and seriously disrupted China-U.S. relations”.
I’ll say no more!
8. Jon Bon Jovi
The singer of famous rock anthem Livin’ on a Prayer was scheduled to perform in Shanghai and Beijing as part of a tour in 2015.
However, his concerts were unceremoniously canceled a week before the concert dates.
No reason was given for the ban by the Chinese authorities, but it’s believed that a 2010 concert in Taiwan might be to blame.
During the concert, Bon Jovi and his band used an image of the Dalai Lama as a backdrop.
This was probably enough of a reason to give Chinese Bon Jovi fans a ‘shot through the heart’ (sorry, I had to do that).
9. Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga is one of the most recognizable female artists on the planet.
She first became famous for her music and over-the-top stage persona but recently has been getting a lot of attention for her roles in movies like A Star Is Born and House of Gucci.
However, in China, she’s famous for another reason. Local authorities banned the singer-actress in 2016, after she attended a meeting with the Dalai Lama to discuss yoga.
However, there may also be other reasons for the ban. In 2011, the Chinese government blacklisted her music for being in “poor taste” and “vulgar”, so Gaga fans couldn’t buy her songs in China until 2014.
Lately, Chinese residents are much more interested in Taylor Swift’s music, which is not so controversial.
10. Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese is one of the most prestigious and important film directors in the world, famous for his depictions of American culture.
However, he’s also someone who was banned from China for over a decade.
Over the years, Scorsese has directed unforgettable and groundbreaking movies such as GoodFellas, Taxi Driver and The Wolf of Wall Street.
But in the late 1990s, he made a not-so-well-known movie called Kundun. It’s about Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama and the spiritual leader of Tibet.
The movie explored the state of Tibet from 1937 until 1959, and covered the period when China took sovereignty over Tibet in the 1950s.
As you might imagine, China banned both Kundun and Martin Scorsese shortly after the release of the film. In fact, Scorsese and his movies were banned from 1997 to 2012.
China also banned Disney films during the same period because Kundun was produced by Buena Vista Pictures, one of Disney’s sub-brands.
The ban on Disney and Scorsese was lifted in 2012 after the release of Hugo and after Disney formally apologized for the release of Kundun.
Here’s another outspoken singer banned from entering China, but this time not an American one.
Björk, who hails from Iceland, was put on China’s blacklist after she chanted “Tibet! Tibet!” after singing her song Declare Independence at a Beijing concert in 2008.
Tibetan independence is not the kind of topic you want to be shouting about if you’re a musician wanting a Chinese visa any time soon.
12. Anastasia Lin
Anastasia Lin is a Chinese Canadian model, beauty pageant title holder, and human rights advocate.
In 2015, she won the Miss World Canada title but was refused entry into China for the Miss World 2015 pageant.
She was later labeled persona non grata by Chinese embassy staff when she attempted to enter China through Hong Kong and was not permitted to enter.
No official reason was given for her treatment, but most suspect that it was due to her outspoken support for human rights in China. She’s also a Falun Gong practitioner (the practice is banned in China).
Lin spent much of her early life in China until she joined her mother in Canada when she was 13. Once in Canada, she came to see a different way of life and started to use her platform to speak out against the Chinese government.
13. Harrison Ford
Last but not least is famous actor, Harrison Ford.
He’s best known for Indiana Jones, one of the most successful movie franchises ever made, but he’s also known for speaking out against human rights violations.
Ford was banned in 2015 after testifying at the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of Tibetan independence.
Ford’s then-wife Melissa Mathison worked with Martin Scorsese on Kundun, and Ford had the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama.
Sadly, Harrison Ford is no longer a friend of China.
The takeaway: People who are banned from China
Cultures and local laws are different in every country, and this is something that you must be aware of when you travel.
Famous and noteworthy people are not above the law, and this is especially the case in China.
Famous people who speak out against China, or make comments about the country’s internal affairs, simply aren’t let in.
Such bans can last for years, or in some cases, forever.
If you liked my article about the people who are banned from China, I think you’ll love the one about the things banned in China. Enjoy!
Keep reading about intriguing China
- Look up the banned apps in China
- See what’s different about Christmas in China
- Find out what Chinese people are really like
Main image credit: petrov-k on Shutterstock.
FAQ about famous people banned from entering China
Who are the most famous people banned from China?
The biggest names include Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Jay-Z and Harrison Ford.
Is Selena Gomez banned from China?
It’s been reported that Selena Gomez was banned from performing in Guangzhou and Shanghai in 2016 due to a photo of her with the Dalai Lama taken a couple of years earlier.
How did Sharon Stone upset China?
Sharon Stone was banned from returning to the Shanghai International Film Festival following her comment about the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. She referred to the quake as “karma” for Beijing’s treatment of Tibetan people.
Does Chinese leader Xi Jinping get involved in bans?
It’s extremely unlikely. Until March 2018, the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China was responsible for cultural policy which included censorship. That responsibility is now held by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China. There are other government agencies involved in censorship too, depending on the medium (e.g. news and print publications).