When the United States opened trade relations with communist China, we were promised great things.

Free trade, we were told, would expose the Middle Kingdom to Western values such as liberty and democracy. We were told that free trade would weaken the Chinese Communist Party’s grip on its people and neighbors, as well as soften the regime’s single-minded pursuit of dominance as the world’s dominant superpower.

The polar opposite has occurred.

China has grown stronger, wealthier, and more dangerous, and its grip on the world has tightened more than ever. It is now exporting its “values” to the United States. But what did you expect from a country that removes its own celebrities from the Internet?

Zhao Wei is one of China’s most well-known actors, her name and image known throughout the vast communist empire. At the very least, she was. Because of regime censorship, it is now nearly impossible for Chinese people to watch her or even read about her online.

“Today, the 45-year-old star was erased from the Chinese internet,” according to the report. “Searches for her name on the country’s most popular video-streaming sites yield no results. Her projects… have been deactivated. Anyone looking up her acclaimed film ‘So Young’ on China’s Wikipedia wouldn’t know she was the director; the field now reads ‘—-.'”

“Ms. Zhao’s online disappearance on August 26 coincided with the start of a broader crackdown on the country’s entertainment industry as the Communist Party seeks to curb what it sees as an increase in unhealthy celebrity culture. The Chinese government has not publicly stated what prompted her sudden change in status, raising questions among fans and observers about how far the government is willing to go against her and other celebrities, and why.”

“The mystery has also sparked open speculation about what, if anything, she might have done wrong,” it continues.

Zhao is not the first Chinese celebrity to be erased from memory by the regime.

“In an unprecedented campaign launched last month, the party prohibited the ranking of celebrities by name on social-media platforms, ordered traditional broadcasters and streaming platforms to ban artists who do not meet political or moral standards, and effectively prohibited the children of pop stars from appearing in entertainment shows.”

You may think to yourself, “This is terrible.” Something so dystopian would never happen in the United States, to be sure. Do you recall Richard Gere? Yes, you do.

He was once one of the biggest names in Hollywood, starring in A-list blockbusters like Pretty Woman and An Officer and a Gentleman.

Now consider the following: When was the last time you saw the 72-year-old actor in a major studio film? Was this the Chicago of 2002? Was it Nights in Rodanthe from 2008? If you can’t recall the last time you saw Gere in a major studio production, it’s because he’s been relegated to the realm of “indie” films. This is for a reason. It’s not because of his acting abilities. He has received some of his highest critical acclaim as a result of “indie” films. It isn’t his age. Tom Hanks, 65, Denzel Washington, 66, and Liam Neeson, 69, clearly have no trouble landing major studio film roles.

China is the reason for Gere’s disappearance.

Gere is a practicing Buddhist and supporter of the Free Tibet movement. He used his Oscar speech time in 1993 to condemn China’s occupation of Tibet and its “horrendous, horrendous human rights situation.” Later, in 2008, he called for a boycott of the Olympics in Beijing.

As a result, the bigger studios aren’t interested in working with him. They’re afraid of upsetting the gatekeepers to Chinese audiences.

The simple fact is that the American entertainment industry is obsessed with breaking into the Chinese market at any cost. It’s the industry’s eponymous “white whale.” From removing imagery that may offend the Chinese government to avoiding casting dark-skinned actors to inserting pro-Chinese agitprop into the Chinese-release of certain films, the American entertainment industry will go to any length to gain access to that ostensibly all-important overseas demographic – even if it means blackballing an A-lister.

Gere also discussed another incident in which he was dropped from a film that was never intended for release in China. Perhaps Gere and Zhao should form a support group.

The most significant lie we told ourselves about opening trade with China was that it would imply exporting our values to them. The exact opposite has occurred.