Updated: Jan 3
New York, NY - August 22, 2019: Shuai Peng (China) returns ball during qualifying round 2 of US Open Tennis Championship against Christina McHale (USA) at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has come out after her past accusations of sexual assault against Zhang Gaoli, a former top Communist Party official of sexual assault, and said it all has been a misunderstanding.
Peng, who was formerly ranked No. 1 in the women’s doubles, has won titles in Grand Slams at Wimbledon in 2013 and 2014 at the French Open. She has won a total of 23 tour-level doubles titles combined for her career.
On Nov. 2nd a social media post attributed to her accusing the Chinese Communist Party official of sexual assault was quickly deleted. She then proceeded to go missing for several weeks following the post. The Associated Press, however, could not verify the authenticity of the post, which was posted by her verified account on Weibo, one of the most popular social media platforms in China. Along with the post being removed, users are now unable to find Peng’s account on Weibo.
This accusation is not the first to be brought to the public when concerning a prominent government official. A similar situation took place in 2018 when the #MeToo movement made ground in China but, was swiftly shut down by Chinese censorship. Accusations before then were confined to the media, advocacy groups, and academia in China, preventing stories from getting out.
Those familiar with censorship in China will find what Peng told the Associated Press about the situation. She said “First of all, I want to emphasize something that is very important. I have never said that I wrote that anyone sexually assaulted me. I need to emphasize this point very clearly," She called the events in question a “private matter.” Many find this questionable when reading the statements in her original post that detail the opposite of that. One of these statements describes an incident from a decade ago when she was in her 20s and Zhang at this time was in his 60s. This incident details her being cornered in a room by Zhang, she said she “never gave consent” to intercourse and that she was “crying the entire time.”
She later said that she ‘willingly’ entered an affair with Zhang, who is married.
The disappearance of the original accusation and her Weibo account has raised questions and concerns about Peng’s well-being with the Women’s Tennis Association.
The Women’s Tennis Association has suspended all tournaments in China due to the censorship of Peng’s situation. The WTA said that this calls for "a full, fair and transparent investigation without censorship into her allegation of sexual assault."
"It was again good to see Peng Shuai in a public setting and we certainly hope she is doing well," the WTA said in a statement, according to Reuters. "As we have consistently stated, these appearances do not alleviate or address the WTA's significant concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion," it said. "We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern," it added.