Even movie stars have to breathe the same air we do. Yao Chen, one of China’s most beloved rom-com darlings, could have just kept quiet about the disturbing by-products of her homeland’s epic economic rise. But the 34-year-old took her thoughts online. Yao now outranks Twitter luminary Katy Perry with her more than 66 million followers on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging service. (Twitter is blocked by the Chinese government, which is spooked by social media it can’t control.)
She has opined on everything from the effect on her young child of China’s poisoned environment — choking smog, foul water and a toxic food chain — to the brave stand of a Chinese newspaper battling state censors. Last year she even quoted Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.” Or perhaps one gulp of China’s polluted air.
Beech is TIME’s China bureau chief