The Search for Peng Shuai


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Peng Shuai competes at the 2010 US Open.

Aneri Shethji, Staff Writer

When any famous figure goes missing, there is a natural uproar politically and in the media. Peng Shuai, a three-time Olympian and world-renowned Chinese tennis player, recently accused Zhang Gaoli, a former Chinese government official, of sexual assault, causing societal uproar in China.

Shuai boldly shared her narrative about her experiences in a long message she uploaded in November of 2021. “But even if I become like an egg striking on a rock and like moths destroyed in the flame, I will reveal the truth about you,” she said in a poignant plea.

The Chinese authorities promptly silenced Shuai, removing her social media posts in less than 20 minutes. The Chinese authorities worked feverishly to erase any traces of Peng Shuai, including censoring tweets with popular hashtags such as tennis. 

For two weeks, there was no sign of Shuai in public, prompting numerous tennis stars, including Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic, as well as organizations like the WTA, to seek proof of her safety. The Chinese authorities issued various comments, allegedly from Peng Shuai, over the course of two months, claiming that she never meant to accuse anybody of sexual assault, that she is secure, and that she would prefer her privacy.

Peng Shuai even claimed she was safe during a video conference with WTA President Steve Simons. Many bogus accounts were formed on Twitter to support the government’s story. Many of the accounts that repeated government official Hu Xijin’s  message regarding Peng Shuai had no followers, no previous activity, and used odd phrasing.

The government declined to investigate sexual assault charges against Zhao Gaoli when several countries requested it. When asked about Peng Shuai, Zhao Lijian, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, stated, “This isn’t a foreign policy issue. And I’m not familiar with the circumstances you stated.” Because the government was concerned about Shuai’s safety, it concocted dubious pictures of her.

As of now, there is still no update on the tennis player, and more evidence will hopefully turn up in the coming weeks of this ongoing investigation.