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Chinese Tennis Star Denies Making Sexual Assault Allegation Amid Concerns She Is Being Silenced

Photo: Mai Groves / Shutterstock & Wikimedia Commons
Peng Shuai and Zhang Gaoli

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has denied ever making any accusation of sexual assault after sparking global concerns about her safety and well-being.

In her first interview since she accused former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into having sex with him, Peng stated that there had been "misunderstandings" about the allegations.

"I have never said or written that anyone sexually assaulted me. This point must be emphasised very clearly," Peng stated, only further adding to concerns that she is being pressured into retracting original statements.

Is Peng Shuai being silenced?

Supporters of the tennis star and members of the Women's Tennis Association have raised concerns that Peng is being prevented from speaking out further.

On November 2nd, 2021, Peng boldly posted a statement on Weibo, a Chinese social media app that is commonly thought of as the Chinese Facebook that condemned one of the highest-profile officials in the Chinese Communist Party.

She was then not heard of publicly for three weeks 

Peng stated in her now-deleted Weibo post that Zhang Gaoli had an affair with her in 2011 and had forced her into having sex with him in 2018. 

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Zhang Gaoli was the Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China between 2013 and 2018, one of the highest-ranking positions in the party.

On its own, this would be extremely concerning and notable, that a national leader might have sexually assaulted a Chinese sports star and then potentially use his position in the party to cover it up.

However, this isn’t just any country’s high-ranking government official, Zhang Gaoli was a prominent member of the Chinese Communist Party.

It is well known that the Chinese Communist Party has an iron grip on speech in the country and will pursue and censor negative opinions with extreme prejudice.

Peng Shuai disappeared for three weeks after the allegations.

Within 20 minutes of the post being made, it was taken down, along with Peng Shuai’s accounts. The censorship was so thorough, that reportedly, even the Chinese word for tennis was censored for a time.

It is virtually unheard of for anyone in the country to publicly make any negative comments about the party or party officials.

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Peng would not be the first major Chinese public figure to vanish following disputes with the CCP. 

Jack Ma, known for flamboyant and energetic public appearances disappeared for three months at the end of November after making public criticisms of the Chinese financial system.

Then, weeks later, Peng was photographed in China in what is widely feared to have been a propaganda effort for the state to prove she was alive without giving her a chance to speak further.

The WTA has remained cautious for Peng Shuai's safety.

In spite of her recent insistence that she is free and is not being monitored, supporters of the tennis star have remained devoted to supporting her initial allegations.

The WTA, in response to her latest interview has said it welcomed her appearance "in a public setting" but that it did not "alleviate or address… concerns about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion."

"We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation… into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern," the WTA said.

Peng Shuai has a large following.

Peng's allegations will no doubt ripple through the populace, as she was said to be very popular amongst the Chinese people, which undoubtedly concerns the CCP, as her words will likely carry weight with her supporters.

Her post is the chilling stand of a woman that is loved by her people but knows that she is controlled by her government. The post includes a line that, when translated to English, reads, “But even as an egg hurled at a rock, a moth to a flame for self-destruction, I will speak the truth with you.”

In Shuai’s post, she seems to know that her words are dangerous and that by posting it she has resigned herself to the party’s twisted systems of control. Shuai knew that this would happen, she knew that by sharing her story she would be putting herself at risk.

The Chinese Communist Party is well-known outside of China for its anti-humanitarian actions. Reports on the effects of the one-child policy and forced abortions read like Orwellian horror stories, while stories of the Uyghur internment camps unerringly evoke images of genocides and concentration camps.

But all of the atrocities committed by the Chinese Communist Party are completely unknown or twisted beyond recognition to the people of China. The CCP’s strict control of media and speech is critical to its control of the Chinese populace.

Unfortunately for Shuai, no one is safe from the CCP’s efforts to maintain control of the national narrative.

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Dan O'Reilly is a writer who covers news, politics, and social justice. Follow him on Twitter.

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