Chinese tennis star missing after making sexual assault allegations against former government official

by mcardinal

Chris Lieberman, FISM News


Concern is mounting for the safety of tennis player Peng Shuai, as the star Chinese athlete has not been seen since making sexual assault allegations against a former vice premier.

On Nov. 2, Peng took to her Weibo social media account to accuse Zhang Gaoli, a former member of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the top decision-making body in the country, of sexually assaulting her. She then detailed an intermittent relationship between the two that followed over a ten-year span. In her post, Peng said that she did not have evidence for her claim.

“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,” wrote Peng in her post.

The post was deleted about half an hour after it was published. Peng has not been seen publicly since making the allegations.

On Sunday, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) called for the Chinese government to investigate these claims. Steve Simon, WTA Chairman and CEO, said in a statement, “Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored. Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness. In all societies, the behavior she alleges that took place needs to be investigated, not condoned or ignored.”

The Chinese government claimed ignorance about Peng’s allegations. At a press conference on Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded to a question about Peng by saying, “I have not heard of the issue you raised,” before adding, “This is not a diplomatic question.”

Simon told the New York Times on Sunday that he has received assurances from the Chinese Tennis Association that Peng is safe “and not under any physical threat.” However, the fact that she has been missing from the public eye for two weeks has led to skepticism of these claims. Many have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #whereispengshuai to question Peng’s whereabouts.

Stars across the tennis world and beyond have voiced their support and concern for Peng. 18-time Grand Slam winner Chris Evert tweeted, “These accusations are very disturbing. I’ve known Peng since she was 14; we should all be concerned; this is serious; where is she? Is she safe?” 

Another women’s tennis great, Billie Jean King, posted her support for the WTA’s call for an investigation on Twitter. Meanwhile, current no. 1-ranked men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic described Peng’s disappearance as “shocking.”

Peng’s allegations are one of the most high-profile cases of the #MeToo movement in China, which began in 2018. Unlike in the United States, government censorship in China has attempted to silence many of the women who have come forward with allegations of sexual assault, with the government’s attempts to scrub Peng’s claims from the internet just the latest example.

Peng, one of China’s greatest all-time tennis stars, achieved the rank of world’s No. 1 women’s doubles player in 2014 after winning Wimbledon and the French Open.