The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai shows another example of a country intent on cracking down on anyone who poses a threat to the authority of cultural purity of the country.
Tennis players across the world have called for an investigation into allegations Peng made in a social media post describing sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli. Peng, 35, claimed Zhang forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals following a round of tennis three years ago. She further claimed Zhang’s wife guarded the door during the incident.
The post disappeared from her verified Weibo account, and China’s state-controlled media appears to have suppressed any reporting on the case. Peng also disappeared from the public since making the post.
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 23: Shuai Peng of China plays a backhand during her Women’s Doubles first round match with partner Shuai Zhang of China against Veronika Kudermetova of Russia and Alison Riske of the United States on day four of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
World Tennis Association (WTA) CEO Steve Simon told TIME that no one at the group has talked directly to Peng but that he had received assurances that she was safe and “not under physical threat.”
Association of Tennis Professionals Chairman Andrea Guandenzi echoed these sentiments, adding that the organization was “satisfied” by these claims while also urging an investigation into the allegations.
“Separately, we stand in full support of WTA’s call for a full, fair and transparent investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Peng Shuai,” Guandenzi said.
Peng’s disappearance echoes similar incidents in the recent past that indicate the lengths Beijing may go to control any level of dissent or poor reflection on Chinese culture.
Alibaba founder Jack Ma thanks the crowd after speaking in Hangzhou, on May 10, 2013. Activists have called on Ma to apologise over remarks in which he appeared to condone the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. (AFP/File)
Alibaba founder Jack Ma disappeared for three months starting Nov. 2020 following a controversial speech he gave criticizing the Chinese financial system.
Ma accused the Chinese banks of operating with a “pawn shop mentality,” laying blame on officials who he implied were not ready to regulate digital finance. His comments may have reached President Xi Jinping, who summoned Ma for a meeting with regulators.
Touted as the richest man in China at the time, shares in his company fell, wiping $76 billion off its value. Ma did not appear for months after the meeting.
Rumors indicated authorities may have placed him under house arrest or otherwise detained him, according to the BBC. Ma appeared in a short video address for a charity event on Jan. 20, and experts have speculated that he may have merely kept a low profile during the time.
But more recently and concretely, Beijing seemed to wipe the country’s biggest film actress, Zhao Wei, from the internet as part of a possible clampdown on celebrity culture, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Photos, videos and even film credits for Zhao disappeared from Chinese websites.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission. Xi is said to be China’s most authoritarian leader in decades. (Photo by Wang Ye/Xinhua via Getty Images) (Wang Ye/Xinhua via Getty Images)
Other celebrities faced similar “scrubbings,” such as Zheng Shuang, an actress embroiled in a tax-evasion probe, and Zhang Zhehan, an actor who visited a controversial shrine in Japan related to World War II.
Peng won 23 tour-level doubles titles, including at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014. She was a semifinalist in singles at the U.S Open in 2014. Peng hasn’t played at the top tier since the Qatar Open in February of last year before COVID-19 restrictions were imposed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.