Beauty queens aren’t usually admired for their political courage. That’s changing, though, thanks to some badass Canadian babes who’ve had it with the ‘look good, be neutral’ memo. Much like Mrs. Universe Ashley Callingbull, the reigning Miss World Canada Anastasia Lin, 25, isn’t your average pageant girl.
The China-born, Scarborough, Ont.-based, actress and human rights activist has used the pageant platform to draw attention to the plight of the persecuted in her native country. Her public defense of Falun Gong practitioners—a spiritual practice that’s banned in China—and her consistent critique of China’s human rights record hasn’t won her any fans in her homeland, however. In fact, her political activism may be one reason why she’s the only contestant who hasn’t been able to get her visa to attend the Miss World finals in China yet.
Lin talks to FLARE about the roots of her activism, how it feels to live your convictions and what she’ll do if she’s allowed to go to China.
You won the Miss World Canada crown in May; the Miss World finals competition will be held in Sanya, China in December. However, as of yet you haven’t received a visa to travel to China—possibly due to your outspokenness. At this point, do you think you’ll get there?
I believe the Miss World organization has the power to change the outcome and so does every other international organization that hosts an event like this in China. China has already promoted Miss World as a state propaganda event. They have invested too much and there are a lot of reputational costs for them. If Miss World says it’s all [of our contestants] or none and they really mean it, especially when it’s based on political discrimination, then I bet China will send my invitation letter the next day.
What made you want to defend Falun Gong publicly and break with official Chinese policy? Was there a moment that made you want to speak up?
I went to a lecture where [former Miss World Canada 2003] Nazanin Afshin-Jam, was speaking. She was speaking out about the organ harvesting issue of Falun Gong practitioners and I was there and I was looking at her like, This is so inspiring. She is this really beautiful Iranian beauty queen and I talked to her and she said, if you’re passionate about human rights and these topics you can try and get involved in pageants. They’re charitable organizations.
That comment stayed in the back of my mind and never thought I’d go for it. But 10 years later, I’m Miss World Canada. It’s kind of magical.
Your father still lives in China. What have been the consequences of your activism for him?
A few days after I won Miss World Canada, my dad sent me a text saying, “You’ve got to stop all human rights work all together otherwise we’ll have to go our separate ways.” That’s something very strong coming from him. He’s a very traditional man. His kids are everything to him.
He was scared?
He was very very scared. He said that the state security forces had approached him. That’s one of the most notorious Chinese organizations that’s almost outside the police force. They approached him and told him that if I don’t stop my family would experience consequences like in the Cultural Revolution. My father spent his formative years growing up during the Cultural Revolution. It’s a very traumatic period in Chinese people’s minds. Our entire traditional values were turned upside down. Family members turned against each other. Anyone who didn’t tow the party line received severe persecution.
That visit triggered his memories obviously…
Yes. He told my mom he felt like he was living through it again. His entire life has been spent in China, living in an environment that stifles people’s minds and places fear in their minds. It’s like a smell that after a while you don’t notice anymore. You just internalize it, the fear, and it becomes a part of you.
Do you have any concerns about going back to China?
Uh, yeah! I’d be going to stay there for a month. That’s a long time. I think it’s important to go, though. The Miss World final is going to be broadcast on CCTV, the official Chinese Communist TV station. The Chinese people will be able to see me and I hope that I can give them courage. I think this is why the Communist Party is really afraid of me going back.
Do you ever imagine being there and what you will say or do?
Yeah, I have thought about that. The Miss World motto is ‘Beauty with purpose,’ so I thought about a lot what my real purpose is for doing this. My hope is really to bring in the light I have received, the courage and the inspiration, through the people that I have encountered. I have been inspired by them and I want use this light to chase away the darkness for the people who still find themselves in the dark; for Chinese people like my father who are not in prison, but I really believe that their minds are not free. Their minds are in prison. They live in fear and darkness. I want to bring this message of courage to them; to encourage them to speak up, to be themselves, and to be whole again.
Your mother brought you to Canada to have a different life. How does she feel about your activism?
She understands why I’m doing this. I told her why it’s important to speak up and I reassured her that I’m just doing what is really true to myself and what I believe and that is what she educated me to do, to have an independent mind. She understood that and knows it’s a conscious choice I’m making and that I take responsibility for the consequences and she’s been supportive. But now, she’s getting a little scared again because of the propaganda from the Chinese state government on the Internet.
China has a huge state machine and I often feel like I’m dealing with it on my own…I think she knows I’m doing what I think is right, and really [living out] part of the Canadian value [system] too.
I remember when I competed for Miss World Canada in 2013 [Lin came in third] my final question was, ‘Why do you fight for religious freedom for people?’ And for my answer, I quoted Prime Minister Diefenbaker: “I am a Canadian free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I think wrong, or free to choose those that shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and for all mankind.’ I said it like I really meant it then and now I’m sort of living it. It’s such an incredible experience.