Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai hasn‘t appeared in public for weeks, since she charged former Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli of sexual abuse in early November. She’s not the first known sight where that happens in China. “It is not uncommon for prominent people to temporarily disappear from the scene in China,” says Ties Dams of research institute Clingendael. “The Communist Party is sending a clear signal: everyone can be addressed.”
Yesterday, a written statement was published via Chinese state media in which Peng would write that “stories about the sexual abuse are wrong”. The question is to what extent this statement really comes from the top tennis player.
The international tennis association WTA does not believe so. “It‘s hard for me to believe that Peng Shuai wrote the email we got,” said Steve Simon, the president of the professional league for tennis players, in a response.
The statement that would come from Peng:
Tennis players like Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic are also worried; Osaka says they are in shock and Djokovic hopes that the winner of the Wimbledon doubles 2013 and doubles at Roland Garros in 2014 will soon be found again.
Peng’s case is not the first metoo case in China; recently, a case of a former intern of state broadcasting CCTV against a well-known presenter has occurred. In this case, the court ruled that there was too little evidence; the trainee should have submitted a video or had audio heard of the offences. But that is not there in most cases.
Peng also has no evidence, she stated when she made her allegations. “There is no sound recording, no video recording, just my horrible, but very real experience.”
As mentioned earlier, Peng is not the first person in China to temporarily disappear. Jack Ma may be the best known sight. The founder of Chinese webshop giant Alibaba did not appear in public for months, after he had been very critical of the banking system in China in a speech last year. In the meantime, the entrepreneur has occasionally appeared in public and visited the Netherlands at the end of October, for a visit to Westland greenhouses.
Another known disappearance is that of Gui Minhai in 2016, who was a publisher from Hong Kong, of critical books about Chinese government officials and politicians. Months later, he appeared on Chinese state television and declared that he had declared himself for a conviction 12 years earlier. In addition, he would have been drunk behind the wheel and killed a female student in China.
The loss in 2018 of one of China‘s best-known movie stars, Fan Bingbing, also catches the eye. She didn’t appear in public for months, until she announced in a letter that she had been guilty of tax evasion. She said she was ashamed of her behavior: “Without the good policies of the Communist Party, the state and without the love of the people, there is no Fan Bingbing.”
“Prominent people are almost all resurfacing with a clear statement,” explains Ties Dams. “People are being dealt with in all walks of life. The fact that super rich like Jack Ma can happen to this also makes the warning to society stronger.”