When she signed up for Miss World Canada 2015, Anastasia Lin never thought she would receive international attention for her criticism of human rights abuses in China, or that the Chinese government would block her from representing Canada in the Miss World pageant there. Now, as her pageant career comes to a close, not even her exit is going as she planned.
"Part of me can't wait to give the crown away because it's such a huge responsibility, but I feel that it needs to end right and let everyone see that there is nothing wrong with doing what I did for the past two years, there is nothing wrong in speaking the truth," Ms. Lin said in an interview, adding that young girls see her as a role model for her commitment to speaking out.
She had expected that, in keeping with tradition, she would crown her successor at the Miss World Canada 2017 ceremony on Saturday, but because of a change in ownership of the pageant, she will have to say goodbye to the world of pageants from afar.
She said she is puzzled about why she was not invited to this year's crowning ceremony on July 22. But Miss World Canada says the decision is purely logistical.
"The pageant now is under new direction, headed by director Michelle Weswaldi, who is the former Miss World Canada 1996. She will be crowning the recipient. She did not crown her successor in 1997 as the organization switched hands in that year as well," a spokesperson for Miss World Canada said.
Ms. Lin has been a part of the pageant world for years, placing third in Miss World Canada in 2013 and going on to win it in 2015.
During the contest, Ms. Lin spoke about the plight of Falun Gong practitioners in China. When she attempted to travel to Hainan for the Miss World pageant, Chinese authorities formally barred her from entering.
Miss World organizers allowed Ms. Lin to represent Canada in 2016 in Washington. However, she said she was told at the competition, which is largely sponsored by Chinese companies, that she could speak to media only with the approval of pageant officials.
She has continued her activism on the Falun Gong issue, and says she is still unable to enter China, as are some members of her family. Despite the pain of not being able to go to the country of her birth, where her grandparents and father reside, Ms. Lin said she does not regret her pageant experience because it gave her the platform to speak on behalf of those who seek her help.
Falun Gong is a spiritual practice that emerged in China in the early 1990s. By the end of the decade, human-rights organizations such as Amnesty International had published reports of a crackdown on the group by the Chinese Communist Party, and that thousands of practitioners had been tortured in prison.
"The whole experience gave me courage, I don't think there is anything I can't do right now," she said. "I saw how scared the Chinese government is of a single person's voice. I realized the government, as the Chinese say, is a paper tiger, with nothing to back them up."
Ms. Lin said she will continue her acting career and her activism – something she had never expected to do when she first entered the pageant.
"I always tell myself that this is the last time I'm going to do this, this is the last time I'm going to speak up about anything to do with China or human rights because it's not my job, I'm an actress," Ms. Lin said, adding that, despite the difficulties, she cannot abandon the victims who come to seek her help.
Ms. Lin is advocating on behalf of a Canadian woman, Sun Qian, who is a Falun Gong practitioner and has been behind bars in China since February. Ms. Lin spoke about the case at the United Nations Human Rights Council in June and has launched a petition calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "to do everything in his power to secure her safe release."
"I never thought one individual would have the chance to stand on the international stage and talk about things that even the mainstream media sometimes doesn't cover," she said. "It means a lot to the people of China. People on the street and at T&T [Supermarket] approach me and tell me they support my work because if no one speaks, then everyone will suffer."