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Who Is Chinese Tennis Player Peng Shuai, And Why Is Her Story Important?

Who Is Chinese Tennis Player Peng Shuai, And Why Is Her Story Important?



Peng Shuai pictured playing tennis // via CNN

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai made headlines recently and not because of her tennis career. After speaking out on November 2 about her sexual abuse and subsequently vanishing, she has denied all of her previous claims.

She had published a 1,600-word post on Weibo. This sexual assault accusation would become one of the most critical cases of the #MeToo movement in China.

She wrote that she was forced to engage in sexual relations with former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli. She elaborated, saying that Gaoli had invited her to come to his home three years ago and coerced her into sex. She said she didn’t consent at first and was crying the whole time.

Once she published the allegations, she vanished from public view, which raised even more questions.

Allegedly, Mr. Zhang and Ms. Peng had a romantic relationship. One of the lines of the note read: “Why did you come back and seek me out, take me to your home, and force me to have sex with you,”

As with many internet news, the post was taken down, but it had already become viral by then.

After briefly reappearing days ago, she has claimed that there were many misunderstandings regarding the post. She said:

“I have never said or written that anyone sexually assaulted me. This point must be emphasized very clearly.”

Denying her allegations about being forced to have sex with an influential person suddenly raised concerns about her ability to express herself without outside coercion.

Global authorities have been concerned about Ms. Peng’s wellbeing, with a campaign titled #WhereIsPengShuai being launched. Other tennis stars, including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, issued calls to find Shuai’s location.

The WTA also issued calls for an investigation of her claims. The International Olympics Committee (IOC) contacted Peng in video calls, where she claimed to be well and safe. In the video, Peng can be seen talking with two people: Chinese basketball player Yao Ming and another unidentified person.

The WTA’s CEO, Steve Simon, asked if she had been placed under surveillance through email. She replied that her response was entire of her own volition and asked why people would follow her. She also said that she wasn’t under duress and could move around.

Simon said that he had a hard time believing she wrote the emails.

The scandal has prompted the WTA to suspend all of its Chinese tournaments. This action has placed pressure on global sporting groups, the IOC included, to do the same to take a stance. They’ve declined to do so, however.

Chinese state media posted pictures of her and sent an email supposedly written to the WTA where she claimed everything was fine to make things even more suspicious. Doesn’t that seem a bit shady, though? The WTA questioned the validity of this email.

The UN human rights office and the Biden administration have joined forces to pressure Beijing to prove Peng’s wellbeing.

A Communist-party-controlled newspaper released videos of Peng attending a tennis match in Beijing and eating at a restaurant.

As many worldwide authorities have pointed out, a couple of videos not published by her and hollow claims of wellbeing aren’t enough proof to placate the accusations.

Given the Chinese’s government known track record of coercing people that denounce comments that negatively affect the Communist Party, most human rights groups have rightfully concluded that Ms. Peng is being pressured to act the way she has.

Chinese authorities silenced all the conversations on the topic, even blocking online searches for the word “tennis” at one point.

The way things have been handled in this case makes it seem as if the government is manipulating Ms. Peng, and only outside authorities can assist her and the truth to come forward.

Human rights organizations even went as far as to call for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

At 35 years old, Peng Shuai is a three-time Olympian tennis player who won the doubles crown at Wimbledon in February 2014. She became the first Chinese player to become world No. 1 in doubles, though she was barred from professional play for six months in 2018. She hasn’t played professionally since early 2020.

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