The disappearance of Chinese tennis professional Peng may be part of Xi’s cultural repression

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai shows another example of a country intended for repression against anyone who poses a threat to the country’s cultural purity authority.

Tennis players around the world have demanded an investigation into allegations Peng made in a social media post describing sexual abuse she suffered from former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli. Peng, 35, claimed Zhang forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals after tennis three years ago. She further claimed that Zhang’s wife guarded the door during the incident.

The poster has disappeared from her controlled Weibo account, and China’s state-run media appears to have suppressed any reporting on the case. Peng has also disappeared from the public since he made the poster.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23: China’s Shuai Peng plays back during her women’s doubles first round match with partner Shuai Zhang of China against Veronika Kudermetova of Russia and Alison Riske of the US on the fourth day of the Australian Open 2020 at Melbourne Park.  on January 23, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 23: China’s Shuai Peng plays back during her women’s doubles first round match with partner Shuai Zhang of China against Veronika Kudermetova of Russia and Alison Riske of the US on the fourth day of the Australian Open 2020 at Melbourne Park. on January 23, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia.
(Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

World Tennis Association (WTA) CEO Steve Simon told TIME that no one at the group had spoken directly with Peng but that he had received assurances that she was safe and “not under physical threat”.

President of the Association of Tennis Professionals Andrea Guandenzi echoed those sentiments, adding that the organization was “satisfied” with those claims while also urging an investigation into the allegations.

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“In particular, we fully support the WTA’s demand for a full, fair and transparent investigation into allegations of sexual assault against Peng Shuai,” Guandenzi said.

Peng’s disappearance echoes similar events in the recent past that indicate the lengths Beijing can go to control any level of disagreement or poor reflection on Chinese culture.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma thanked the crowd after a speech in Hangzhou on May 10, 2013. Activists apologized to Ma for remarks in which he appeared to tolerate the bloody removal of Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma thanked the crowd after a speech in Hangzhou on May 10, 2013. Activists apologized to Ma for remarks in which he appeared to tolerate the bloody removal of Tiananmen Square in 1989.
(AFP / File)

Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been missing for three months since November 2020 after a controversial speech he made criticizing China’s financial system.

Ma accused the Chinese banks of operating with a “Lombard mindset”, blaming officials he implied for not being willing to regulate digital finance. His comments may have reached President Xi Jinping, who called on Ma for a meeting with regulators.

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Presented as the richest man in China at the time, shares in his company fell, wiping out $ 76 billion of its value. Ma did not appear for months after the meeting.

Rumors have indicated that authorities may have placed him under house arrest or otherwise arrested him, according to the BBC. Ma appeared in a short video address for a charity event on January 20, and experts have speculated that he may have simply kept a low profile over time.

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But more recently and concretely, Beijing has seemed to wipe out the country’s biggest film actress, Zhao Wei, from the internet as part of a possible crackdown on celebrity culture, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Photos, videos and even movie credits for Zhao have disappeared from Chinese websites.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission.  Xi is said to be China's most authoritative leader in decades.  (Photo by Wang Ye / Xinhua by Getty Images)

Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission. Xi is said to be China’s most authoritative leader in decades. (Photo by Wang Ye / Xinhua by Getty Images)
(Wang Ye / Xinhua by Getty Images)

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Other celebrities have faced similar “purges,” such as Zheng Shuang, an actress involved in a tax avoidance investigation, and Zhang Zhehan, an actor who visited a controversial shrine in Japan linked to World War II.

Peng has won 23 tournament doubles titles, including at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014. She was a semifinalist in singles at the US Open in 2014. Peng has not played at the top level since the Qatar Open in February of last year before COVID -19 restrictions were imposed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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