After allegedly accusing retired Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of s*xual assault, tennis player Peng Shuai vanished. The Chinese authorities blocked information about her tale. After that, Peng disappeared from the public eye, appearing only in official publications, via email, or in interviews. She has since denied making any claims of s*xual assault.
The tennis organization, WTA, then decided that it would not organize competitions in China until Beijing provided a guarantee of Peng’s safety, claiming the issue was “bigger than business.”
WTA makes a return to China after Peng Shuai makes her comeback
Due to concerns for Peng Shuai’s safety after the Chinese player filed s*xual assault allegations against a senior Chinese government official, the WTA decided to halt events there in December 2021. Following assurances from individuals close to Peng that she was safe and sound and that “more progress could be made” by going back to China than by staying away, the WTA declared in April that it wanted to play in China this season.
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The Women’s Tennis Association will play seven tournaments over the course of the following six weeks as a part of the tour’s Asian swing. This will bring an end to the women’s tennis that has been absent from China for the past four years.
What did actually happen with Chinese star Peng Shuai?
In a post on the social media site Weibo on November 2, 2021, Peng claimed that former vice premier Zhang Gaoli had s*xually abused her. Peng said that during an on-off romance spanning years, the married lawmaker, who is 39 years older than her, “forced” her into having s*x.
Unverified post from Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, taken down from Weibo within minutes, in which she claims (again unverified) that she was assaulted by former Vice premier Zhang Gaoli, before willingly becoming his mistress. Highest public #MeToo allegation in China pic.twitter.com/lPU8fQ9vbx
— Emily Feng 冯哲芸 (@EmilyZFeng) November 2, 2021
The screenshots were re-posted on X which is now blocked in China. It enabled people all over the world to read the original post. Social media followers took screenshots before Peng’s tweet was quickly removed. On China’s carefully monitored Internet, those posts got censored immediately. She, however, never spoke up in public.
Her shocking disappearance after the statement
Following her original Weibo post, Peng vanished from the public eye for a number of weeks. That raised concerns throughout the world. The WTA demanded that Peng’s accusations “be fully, fairly, transparently, and without censorship” investigated.
A protracted period of silence later, the Chinese foreign ministry said that the case was being “maliciously hyped up” after the White House and UN voiced their opinions.
Chinese officials stated that ‘Everything is Fine’
China’s state-run CGTN allegedly sent an email to the WTA on November 17. It stated that Peng claimed her claims were “not true” and “everything is fine.”
From Chinese state media, “from” Peng Shuai. Deeply dubious. pic.twitter.com/XJkB169VD9
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) November 17, 2021
On November 17, CGTN published a screenshot of the email on Twitter. The odd phrasing and a cursor that was apparent in the screenshot immediately raised suspicions. Steve Simon, the head of the WTA, said it “only raises my concerns.”
WTA officially boycotts China
Due to ongoing worries about Peng’s safety, the WTA announced on December 1, 2021, that it was postponing every event in China, including those in Hong Kong. Simon claimed that the group had “no choice” until Beijing heeded its requests for an open probe into Peng’s claims.
Peng, however, claimed she had never vanished and denied any s*xual assault during an interview with the sports publication L’Equipe.
In the end, the WTA finally said, on April 13, that competitions would resume in China in September. “We have concluded we will never fully secure those goals, and it will be our players and tournaments who ultimately will be paying an extraordinary price for their sacrifices,“ the WTA said.
However, the decision was taken despite the fact that Peng’s position “has shown no sign of changing.” The sports organization stated that it would “hold firm” in its stance and that it hoped to once more host events in China.