After making sexual accusations about a former Politburo official, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has been missing for the past 10 days, sending shockwaves of concern throughout the tennis community.
Peng’s message of her accusations, the first to strike the topmost heights of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), have also vanished in what is a typical pattern of silencing sensitive information.
The star and her story
A former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, Peng Shuai, 35, wrote lengthy post on China’s Twitter equivalent, Weibo, accusing former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, 75, of sexual assault.
However, the post has since been removed from Weibo, with attempts using search results yielding nothing. Peng’s account was also disabled and users could not comment on her posts.
According to the post, which was written as an “open letter to Zhang,” Peng mentioned that there was a relationship over an intermittent period of at least 10 years.
Tennis Star Peng Shuai Claims She Had Affair With China’s Former Vice Premier, Was Sexually Assaulted
“Why did you have to come back to me, take me to your home to force me to have sex with you?” Peng wrote. “Yes, I did not have any evidence, and it was simply impossible to have evidence.”
In a report by CNN, Peng’s post mentioned that she first had consensual sex with Zhang more than a decade ago, during the latter’s tenure as CCP boss in the tennis star’s home city of Tianjin. After he was promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing, Zhang later severed contact with Peng, as written in the post.
Peng later wrote about how Zhang, after he retired three years ago, invited her to play tennis in Beijing before he and his wife invited her to their home. Here, the tennis star claimed that she was coerced into having sex with Zhang.
“That afternoon I did not agree at first and was crying all the time,” she wrote. “I was panicking and I was scared, and I agreed to it with my feelings for [Zhang] from seven years ago.”
Though Peng did not offer evidence for her accusations, many have praised her for speaking out against such a powerful figure in the Chinese regime elite.
“I know that for someone of your eminence, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you said you were not afraid. But even if it’s just me, like an egg hitting the stone, a moth flying into flames, courting self-destruction, I would tell the truth about us.”
CNN and other news outlets like AFP have attempted to reach out to Peng and related officials for comment, but have not received any response.
Tennis world speaks out
Ten days after Peng Shuai’s disappearance, her supporters, including several other tennis stars from around the world, have expressed their worries for the star, rallying under the Twitter hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
On Nov. 15, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) requested a full investigation into the allegations of sexual assault by Zhang Gaoli.
WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon said in a statement online that Peng’s allegations were of “deep concern” and that they must be investigated “fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship.”
Simon then declared that, should the investigation not find anything on Peng and her whereabouts, the WTA would leave and not do business in China.
“If at the end of the day, we don’t see the appropriate results from this, we would be prepared to take that step and not operate our business in China if that’s what it came to,” Simon told the New York Times on Nov. 14.
“I think everybody fully understands what’s at stake here on many different fronts as we’re going through it. I think we’re certainly, from players to board to council, fully united that the only acceptable approach is that of doing what is right.”
18-time Grand Slam winner Chris Evert, a long-time friend of the Chinese tennis star, tweeted on Sunday, sharing her deepest concerns for Peng and the frightening circumstances surrounding her disappearance.
“Yes, these accusations are very disturbing,” Chris wrote. “I’ve known Peng since she was 14; we should all be concerned; this is serious; where is she? Is she safe? Any information would be appreciated.”
After his ATP Tour Finals match on Nov. 15, Serbian tennis star, Novak Djokovic, described the disappearance as “terrible”.
“Honestly it’s shocking that she’s missing,” he said. “More so that it’s someone that I’ve seen on the tour in previous years quite a few times.
“There’s not much more to say than to hope that she’s ok and it’s just terrible… I can imagine how her family feels, you know, that she’s missing.”
French tennis player Nicolas Mahut also shared, “The fact that Peng Shuai is missing is not only the [World Tennis Association]’s problem. “We are all concerned,” he said.
Fox Sports reported that the Chinese authorities have been silent over Peng’s disappearance after her allegations.
When questioned over the situation, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “I have not heard of the issue you raised. This is not a diplomatic question,” he added, declining to elaborate on the issue any further.
While recent years have seen Chinese women come out to accuse powerful men of sexual abuse or rape, Peng’s account is unprecedented, striking at the “very upper echelons of the Communist Party.”
In what seems to be a usual routine to ensure their absolute rule, the CCP has once again moved towards censorship to remove all criticisms and perceived attacks against them.
Steve Simon has made comparisons of the current situation to the National Basketball Association (NBA), which had previously been forced to submit to CCP pressure by silencing its own stars for their criticisms against the communist party’s policies.
Zhang Gaoli has also not responded to any questions regarding his role in the accusations of sexual assault.
Zhang joined the CCP in 1973, where he served several roles until he became the Vice Premier of China from 2013 to 2018. He oversaw projects such as the Three Gorges Dam, as well as food safety and international investment.