(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)
(THE CONVERSATION) Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai’s apparent disappearance may have ended with a smattering of public events, which were carefully curated by state-run media and circulated in online clips. But many questions remain about the three weeks in which she was missing, and concerns linger over her well-being.
Peng, a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, had been out of the public eye since Nov. 2. 2021 when she penned a since-deleted social media post accusing former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct.
In the U.S. and Europe, such moments of courage from high-profile women have built momentum to out perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault and give a voice to those wronged. But in the political context of today’s People’s Republic of China (PRC) – a country that tightly controls political narratives within and outside its borders – something else happened. Peng was seemingly silenced; her #MeToo allegation was censored almost as soon as it was made.
As scholars ofChinese legal culture who have watched as the nation has become increasingly repressive under the premiership of Xi Jinping, we believe the mysterious disappearance – and brief reappearance – of Peng should be viewed within a broader sociolegal context. The episode shows that when presented with a potential pivotal #MeToo moment, Beijing is prepared to violate its own legal principles and respond with a state-media controlled operation aimed to chill any challenge to CCP authority.
Claim of a sexual assault
Peng’s Nov. 2 post on Weibo, the popular Chinese social media platform, reads like an open letter to Zhang, a retired but still powerful member of China’s Communist Party elite.
In it, the tennis star alleges coercion, duress and sexual assault. Peng wrote to the 75-year-old Zhang:“Why did you have to come back to me, took me to your home to force me to have sex with you? … I couldn’t describe how disgusted I was, and how many times I asked myself am I still a human? I feel like a walking corpse.”