International

Watch | What happened to Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai?

The Hindu Net Desk 28 November 2021 11:20 IST
Updated: 28 November 2021 11:20 IST

A video on China's tennis star Peng Shuai's revelations of sexual assault and her consequent disappearance.

Top Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai’s allegations of a sexual assault by the former Vice Premier of China has triggered intense debate in the country. 

Despite numerous people speaking out since 2018, China’s “Me Too” movement has largely been stifled by the authorities.

Cases against prominent personalities in universities, the media and major companies usually come to light through social media posts, but information is usually scrubbed out or restricted.

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Peng Shuai's case, however, is the first allegation made against the highest levels of the party leadership.

Who is Peng Shuai?

For more than a decade, 35-year-old Peng Shuai has been a household name in China.

Born in the south-central province of Hunan, Peng rose quickly up the ranks of China’s youth tennis circuit.

Today, she is arguably one of the country’s most well-known tennis players of all time.

Peng became a national icon for her exploits in doubles, becoming the most decorated Chinese athlete in that format.

Despite all her success on court, Peng maintained a very low profile off it.

What were Peng's revelations?

On the night of November 2, Peng sent out a message on Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like social media site used in China, saying she had been sexually assaulted by Zhang Gaoli.

In an emotional post, she detailed how 10 years ago, when she was 25, Zhang, then 65, and his wife, had invited her home before he assaulted her.

She then narrated how they had subsequently begun a years-long affair, until Zhang broke it off when he was promoted to the party’s top body in 2012, the Politburo Standing Committee.

He resumed the affair three years ago.

She said in the message she had no evidence for her claims, but added she was determined to tell the truth.

Who is Zhang Gaoli?

Zhang served on the Politburo Standing Committee for five years,

This is China's ruling party, the Communist Party of China's highest body.

As a member of the Politburo, Zhang was once one of the most powerful people in China.

An economist by education, he served as vice premier between 2013 and 2018.

He also spoke as Xi Jinping's special envoy at a UN climate conference in 2014.

Since retiring from his role in 2018, Zhang has stayed out of the spotlight.

What was the reaction to Peng's post?

Peng's note was censored half an hour after it was published.

But by the following day, it had become a huge talking point regardless of a mammoth censorship effort that blocked all searches of Peng’s name

Even searches for “tennis” were blocked for a while.

As the China Digital Times noted, the post was only shared 1,000 times in the 34 minutes that it was uncensored.

But after it was deleted, it was searched for 67,49,000 times and screenshots were shared by Internet users.

When those were blocked, inverted screenshots were posted to evade censors.

After speaking out, Peng, who has a large list of sponsors and endorsements in China, now faces an uncertain fate.

Did Peng go missing?

The hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai started trending on Twitter after Peng had not been seen for more than two weeks post her accusations on social media and concerns arose about her whereabouts.

Several tennis stars including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic have spoken in support of Peng.

The UN and U.S. called for proof of Peng's whereabouts.

The Women's Tennis Association had revealed it had failed to reach Peng after “repeatedly” trying to contact her.

Peng reappeared in public for the first time at a weekend when she was seen attending a Beijing tennis tournament.

She then appeared at a dinner with friends, the next day.

Photos and videos of the events were published by Chinese state media journalists and by the tournament's organisers.

But they have done little to quell concerns.

In a statement issued in response to the videos, WTA chairman Steve Simon said he was “glad to see the videos released by China state-run media that appear to show Peng Shuai at a restaurant in Beijing” but remained concerned about Peng.

A video call was arranged between Peng and the president of the International Olympic Committee.

But the WTA said it does not address or alleviate its concern about her well-being.

China on Tuesday said the controversy surrounding Peng Shuai was being “maliciously” hyped up.

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