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Where is Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis player who spoke out about the sexual assault?

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Since publicly accusing a former top Communist leader of coercing her into sex, Chinese tennis champion Peng Shuai has not given any sign of life. While the authorities are singled out, the mobilization is organized on social networks.

For a few days, le hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai (“Where’s Peng Shuai?”) Is blooming on social media. As Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has disappeared after accusing a leader of her country of rape, concern grows in the world of the little yellow ball and beyond.

Aged 35, the former world number 1 in doubles accused, in early November on social networks, a former top Communist leader of having forced her into a sexual relationship, before making her his mistress. This explosive accusation was briefly posted on November 2 on the official Weibo account (an equivalent of Twitter) of the specialist in doubles player and winner, in particular, of the Roland-Garros doubles tournament in 2014.


In a long text, Peng Shuai claimed to have had, three years ago, forced sex with former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, who was from 2013 to 2018 one of the most powerful politicians in China. . “I was very scared. That afternoon I initially refused. I kept crying,” she wrote. “In the grip of fear and confusion (…), I gave in and we had sex.” The player added that Zhang Gaoli’s wife knew about it and “was on guard outside”. She finally specified that she had then become the mistress of the former leader, until an argument at the end of October.

As of November 4, China blocked any reference to this message attributed to Peng Shuai. While censorship quickly wiped the message off the Chinese internet, screenshots spread like wildfire.

Since then, the player has not communicated or made a public appearance, and Zhang Gaoli has never publicly reacted to her accusations. According to Weibo data, the message was viewed more than 100,000 times before it was deleted.

“Is she safe?”

In the face of this silence, the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai was picked up by hundreds of people, including many tennis stars. “Yes, these accusations are very disturbing. I have known Peng since she was 14, we should all be worried, this is serious, where is she? Is she safe? Any information would be appreciated,” responded. , Sunday November 14 on Twitter, the former American champion Chris Evert.

The French Alizé Cornet also relayed this message on Saturday on her Twitter account, adding “Do not remain silent”. “I can’t believe this stuff is happening in XXIe century “, for his part lamented the British player Liam Broady.” The fact that Peng Shuai is missing is not only the problem of the WTA. We are all concerned “, added, still on Twitter, the French champion Nicolas Mahut while many pointed out the lack of reaction from the International Women’s Tennis Federation, which has made China one of its main markets. for the past ten years. In 2019, the country had hosted nine tournaments on the women’s circuit for a total of $ 30.4 million in bonuses.

The WTA finally spoke on Sunday in a statement through its CEO, Steve Simon, saying that “the recent events in China involving WTA player Peng Shuai (were) of great concern.” “His accusation concerning the conduct of a former Chinese leader, involving a sexual assault, must be treated with the greatest seriousness”, assured the American in this text, demanding that “justice be done”. “We expect this matter to be dealt with properly, which means that the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship,” insisted Steve Simon, without however referring to the fact that the player no. had not reacted or made a public appearance for ten days.


In an interview with the New York Times, Steve Simon said he had the assurance of the Chinese federation that Peng Shuai was fine and that she “was not subjected to physical threats”.

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he “was not aware of this issue” and had no further comments. According to him, “this is not a diplomatic question”.

Precedents in China

The disappearance of this tennis player is not an isolated case, however. In recent years, several Chinese personalities have suddenly disappeared from radar screens before reappearing.

In October 2020, billionaire Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce site Alibaba, had not given any sign of life after a critical speech against Chinese banks and financial authorities. The businessman resurfaced in January 2021 during an online intervention in which he praised the efforts of the communist regime to eradicate extreme poverty, President Xi Jinping’s flagship project.

The greatest Chinese actress, Fan Bingbing, known abroad for having played in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014), very active on social networks, had also remained silent for long months in 2018. According to the South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong daily, she was held in a house arrest after charges of tax evasion and corruption. After being ordered to pay 110 million euros, the star had apologized on social networks to her fans and the Chinese Communist Party.

More recently, The South China Morning Post also reported the disturbing disappearance of investigative reporter Sophia Huang Xueqin. Famous for her involvement in the #MeToo movement in China, she was arrested on September 19 in the city of Guangzhou along with labor activist Wang Jianbing. They were also reportedly placed under house arrest. According to a 2012 law, the Chinese police can indeed detain a suspect for six months, without legal aid or contact with his family, in particular in cases of corruption and terrorism.

With AFP and Reuters

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