How Peng Shuai Moved From ‘Chinese Princess’ to Silent #MeToo Accuser

When Peng Shuai was a young tennis player in China’s national sports system, he fought and won with the authorities for control over his own professional career.

When he met one of China’s most powerful men three weeks ago, blame him She silenced her voice after the sexual assault, disappeared from China’s heavily controlled cyberspace, and smiled awkwardly. public appearances most likely intended to neutralize what had become an international scandal.

Ms. Peng, 35, is one of her country’s best-known athletes, a doubles champion at Wimbledon and the French Open, and a woman the state media once hailed as our “Chinese princess.” If there was anyone who could break the country’s icy resistance to the #MeToo allegations, it would be someone like him.

Instead, it has become another example of China’s iron dominance over politics, society, and sports, and an object lesson in the struggle faced by women who dare challenge Beijing—even those with a history of winning government praise.

His claim was that he was the first to enter the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest power summit in China. It was courage and perhaps despair that suffocated him inside China, resulting in an aggressive reaction.

Terry Rhoads, managing director of the talent management agency Zou Sports, which represented him in Shanghai for a decade until 2014, said, “Peng has always been a strong-minded person, or having an authority over his tennis.”

Over the weekend, the state propaganda apparatus released a series of photos and videos showing Ms. Peng carrying on as if nothing had happened.

All that was missing in the latest flurry of news was his own voice, once strong enough to compel the authorities to bow to his steely determination to control his own destiny.

The footage was in stark contrast to a statement he had made three weeks ago that he was like a “moth bursting into flames” to “tell the truth” about his relationship and mistreatment of Zhang Gaoli, a former deputy prime minister. He said he attacked him three years ago.

“The authorities have never liked feminists or #MeToo,” said Lijia Zhang, author of the novel “Lotus” about prostitution in China. “Those who dare to speak” were “muted,” he added.

A #WhereisPengShuai The campaign has taken root less than three months before Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics. Addressing Ms. Peng’s accusation only fueled criticism, giving ammunition to those calling for a boycott.

“These photos and videos can only prove Peng Shuai is alive, nothing more. They cannot prove Peng Shuai is free,” Teng Biao, one of China’s foremost civil rights lawyers, said in a phone call from his home in New Jersey. .

Women in China have long struggled for representation in the country, a situation many activists say has worsened since Mr. Xi took power nearly a decade ago.

Ms. Peng has built a professional tennis career, which means taking on officials trying to dictate who she can train with, what tournaments she can play in, and how much money she can spare.

However, the state has proven to be more resilient to change when it comes to accusations of sexual abuse. As soon as Ms. Peng posted the #MeToo allegations, Mr. Teng said, “She was barely protected by the law, and it was all politics that determined her fate.”

Born in the city of Xiangtan, where her father was a police officer, Ms. Peng was introduced to tennis by her uncle when she was 8 years old. At age 12, she required surgery to correct a congenital heart defect, which made people doubt she could continue playing tennis. Play.

“They thought I was going to quit tennis,” he said. Adidas ad campaign In 2008 “but surprisingly I didn’t give up. Maybe because I love tennis so much, I decided to have this surgery.”

After surgery, he was sent to Tianjin, where he was taken to China’s Soviet-style gym machine designed specifically to bring out international competitors at the Olympics. He eventually competed in the Olympics three times, starting with Beijing in 2008.

In the mid-2000s, Ms. Peng decided that she was no longer willing to give more than half of her earnings to the government. He and three other Chinese players decided to get out of state control, threatening to stop playing.

When he made the decision to “fly alone,” as he called it in Chinese, in 2005, a sports official criticized him because he was so selfish, because he left his “homeland”.

“Did she think she was Sharapova?” Referring to the official, he said: Russian actress For a time she was the #1 player in women’s tennis.

Ms. Peng knew how to play, with a desire to showcase China’s best athletes, despite continuing the decades-old sporting tradition. The head coach of the Tianjin Tennis Team, where he trained, took credit for “creating the foundation and conditions for Peng Shuai to fly solo.”

Ms. Peng later won the doubles title at Wimbledon in 2013 and again at the French Open in 2014. That year, while playing in singles, Made it to the semifinals of the US OpenHe peaked as the world’s No. 14 player. As his successes increased, officials praised him and other tennis champions. Li Na, the “golden flowers” of Chinese sports.

“He was so charming, always smiling and giggling, but he was also a great competitor,” former actor and commentator Patrick McEnroe said in an interview.

He might as well be calculating. In 2018, she was suspended from the Women’s Tennis Association for offering Alison Van Uytvanck a financial incentive to withdraw as a doubles partner after the 2017 deadline to register for Wimbledon. Ms. Van Uytvanck publicly criticized him at the time, but agreed. Other tennis stars have called for an investigation into the latest allegations.

a series of women media, NS universities and in private sector Featured on sexual assault and harassment charges in China – face-to-face only legal action themselves and harassment online.

According to a message Ms. Peng posted on her verified account on the Chinese ubiquitous social media platform Weibo on November 2, she first met Mr. Zhang when she was a rising star and Zhang was party secretary in the provincial Tianjin. Level port city near Beijing. This was a little before 2012. In 1999, at the age of 13, he moved to Tianjin to start vocational training.

Ms. Peng’s post described a conflicting relationship between playing chess and playing tennis with Mr. Zhang or feeling ignored by him and teased by his wife. He did not openly acknowledge the age and power difference between the two. “Romantic attraction is a very complex thing,” she wrote.

Mr. Zhang was promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee in 2012 and became deputy prime minister under Mr. Xi’s presidency. He resigned after a five-year tenure on the committee. Ms. Peng said that at that time, Mr. Zhang forced her to have sex. “I was crying the whole time,” she wrote.

His post was censored at 34 minutes, but it continues to resonate three weeks later. Those who know him from his professional tennis career continue to wonder if he is safe. Some human rights activists claim to have been forced to take part in staged situations in an attempt to deflect questions about what was going on.

During the weekend, in a news frenzy, most of which was not covered in Chinese state media, Ms. Peng was shown posing with stuffed animals, dining at a Beijing restaurant, taking part in a youth tournament, and making a phone video call. President of the International Olympic Committee.

“Can any girl fake such a sunny smile under pressure?” Hu Xijin, editor of The Global Times, a state media tabloid, wrote on Twitter, which is banned in China.

Ms. Peng no longer appears to be in control of her own messaging.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more interviews with Peng Shuai,” said Maria Repnikova, an assistant professor in the department of political communications at Georgia State University and author of a new book called “Chinese Soft Power.” sensitive issues.”

With reporting and research contributions Amy ChangChien, Claire Fu and Matt Futterman.

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