China disappears, internet-blanks former tennis star after alleging sexual assault by a former top leader

Peng Shuai, a Chinese professional tennis player. (Photo courtesy: AFP)

(, Nov15’21) – China has disappeared a former tennis star and blanked her from the internet after she alleged sex assault against a former Chinese vice premier in a post on Weibo earlier this month. The development has prompted the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to call for Peng Shuai’s claims to be “investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship” in a Nov 14 statement.

Also, current and former players have taken to social media to express fear for the safety of the former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion.

Claiming ignorance of the situation and avoiding the issue when asked to respond to the mounting questions, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said earlier this month: “I have not heard of it and it is not a diplomatic question.”

The former world number one doubles player had posted on Nov 2 details about how former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her. That posting remains scrubbed from China’s Internet. Searches for their names on key portals come back empty, noted the AFP Nov 15.

China’s national tennis association has not responded to requests for comment.

The WTA’s chairman Steve Simon has, in his statement, said the events concerning Peng were “of deep concern” and called for her claims to be “treated with the utmost seriousness”.

In her Twitter hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai, Chris Evert, the 18-time Grand Slam winner, has called the situation “very disturbing”. “I’ve known Peng since she was 14; we should all be concerned; this is serious; where is she? Is she safe? Any information would be appreciated,” she has tweeted.

Peng, 35, reportedly wrote on Weibo that Zhang — who is in his seventies — “forced” her into sex and said they had an on-off relationship lasting several years. But her Weibo post ended up being quickly deleted, with herself being disappeared.

The report said China’s online censors moved rapidly to erase evidence of the reported allegations and Peng has not been heard from since.

WTA derives a large percentage of its income from China. There were nine women’s events in China in 2019 before Covid-19 intervened, noted the Nov15.

One possibility might be that Peng is being held under house arrest in Tianjin, the port city where she lives, as a punishment for challenging the regime. If so, there is a chance that pressure from the international community could help her, the report felt.

Zhang, 75, used to be one of seven men on the standing committee of the CCP Politburo – the body at the epicentre of the Chinese government. He was the country’s senior vice-premier from 2013 until his retirement in 2018.

In her Weibo post, Peng had said that she could offer no evidence to support her claims because Zhang had insisted on their relationship being secret.


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