With the eyes of the world on China for the Winter Olympics, tennis star Peng Shuai appeared before the international media—assuring everyone that she had never actually accused a former top Chinese Communist Party official of sexual assault, and that the attention on her was an “It is a huge mistake.“
On Monday, her denial was in the form a controlled interview with the Beijing Olympic bubble. French sports paper L’EquipeShe was the latest of a string of retractions. repeating for months. In the interview, Peng—who is one of China’s highest-profile athletes, having won two Grand Slam doubles titles—also seemed to announce that she was retiring from international tennis competition.
Then, on Tuesday, she made an in-person appearance alongside International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach at the women’s big air event—the highest-profile moment yet of the 2022 Winter Games, in which star Chinese free skier Eileen Gu won her first gold medal, in dramatic fashion.
Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of China’s nationalist tabloid Global Times, summed up China’s expectations that Peng’s very public appearances ought to be the last word on the matter. “Western media should respect her own explanation, such as whether she was sexually assaulted,” he tweeted. “Peng’s own explanation is most credible.”
Hu blamed the West for having “maliciously interpreted” Peng’s post on Chinese social media in November, in which she said retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into having sex with him.
Learn more China Is Trying to Make Peng Shuai’s Allegations Disappear
Experts and activists, however, say that Peng’s denials only raise more questions about whether she is facing threats or repercussions from her accusation on social media. They argue that she cannot take her statements at face value. “Western media and the public at large easily and rightfully recognize that all the interviews and appearances are staged, not genuine,” Yaxue Cao, human rights activist and editor of Chinese resource website China Change, says.
China has a history of silencing voices that mar the Party image, and has kept a #MeToo groundswell at bay through heavy censorship of cases including Peng’s. As such, Peng should not be faulted for her public appearances, says Lu Pin, a prominent Chinese women’s rights activist based in New Jersey. “Blaming Peng for this falls into the trap set by a violent system once again,” she says. “We should refrain ourselves from blaming the victim, and from focusing on the victim’s right or wrong actions or words.”
Peng Shuai as a propaganda tool
When Xi Jinping became Chinese President, he emphasized the need to “Let the China Story be told well.” Controlling China’s narrative to the rest of the world became a key goal, and the surveillance stateIt has made it possible.
Peng’s appearances at the Winter Games, especially the interview with L’EquipeThis shows the severity of these restrictions. Interviewees detailed her restrictions when Peng was denied an interview through the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC). She was only to answer in Chinese—although She speaks English. All questions had to be sent in advance. In a format of question-and-answer, the interview was published in its entirety. A Chinese Olympic committee official also sat in on Peng’s interview and translated Peng’s responses in English. (L’EquipeThe company also employed an interpreter who translated accurately.
The limited appearances echoed those in November when she emerged on international Chinese state media following two weeks of silence when many outside China—including the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA)—raised concerns about her safety and wellbeing. Although her public appearances are now more prominent, she has remained strictly controlled.
“For China, the Peng Shuai incident is a political disaster for the Party at the worst moment possible, and censorship, denial, propaganda campaign are China’s ideas and methods of how to clean up this disaster,” Cao says.
The activists also noted that Chinese citizens were not allowed to witness much of Peng’s furore. Her post disappeared from Weibo—China’s Twitter-like platform—within 30 minutes. (Peng said L’Equipe that she was the one who deleted it, and that she did so “because I wanted to.”) Weibo has banned keywords related to Peng’s case. Her You can also open an accountAlso, all activity was removed. Some Chinese users managed to bypass censorship by resorting to the internet. Refer to coded sourcesTo keep the conversation alive.
IOC criticism continues
Critics have argued that the IOC, as the international organization that has interacted most with Peng, should demand an independent investigation into Peng’s allegations. The IOC claims that its power is limited. “We are a sporting organization,” IOC Spokesperson Mark Adams told reporters this week in response. “And our job is to remain in contact with her and, as we’ve explained in the past, to carry out personal and quiet diplomacy, to keep in touch with her, as we’ve done.” As to whether the claims Peng made against the retired vice premier should be investigated, Adams said the IOC cannot make that judgment.
Leta Hong Finncher, Author ofChina’s Feminist Awakening: Betraying Big Brother, accused the IOC of making Peng’s situation worse—and not better—with its involvement. “I believe the IOC is further traumatizing Peng Shuai by trotting her out for public appearances and staged interviews, trying to convince the public of her well-being,” she says. TIME was referred to by the IOC when asked about her comments. earlier statementShe described the meeting she had with IOC officials but did not mention her allegation.
Learn more Why the IOC Intervened on China’s Behalf in the Peng Shuai Controversy
The IOC has been accused of supporting China’s efforts to quell the controversy in the run-up to the Winter Olympics—repeating Beijing’s call against mixing sports and politics. In contrast, the Women’s Tennis Association, a global body which Peng was a member of, took a much harder stance: it It has pulled all its businesses out of ChinaThrow away any unused items $1 billion deal. Steve Simon, WTA CEO and chairperson has been seeking a probe. Peng can meet privately with you without any government helpBut, it was rejected.
Retire as a silent person
Peng was also quoted L’EquipePeng, who is 36 years old, has decided not to play again on the WTA Tour. This means that her career as a professional competitor tennis player will end. Peng was influenced by multiple knee surgery and the COVID-19 epidemic. Peng retired from competitive tennis at age 36. CompeteShe also said that she did not have the right to compete in the Tokyo Olympics 2021. “Even if I no longer participate in professional competitions, I will always be a tennis player,” L’EquipeAs she said,
However, activists were alarmed by her retirement. Lu thinks Peng’s career ended in “a cruel and hasty” manner. Peng also no longer has the opportunity to travel abroad, so she is not able to communicate freely. “Peng’s retirement clearly means that the international sports community, including the WTA and her peer athletes, can no longer hold the Chinese government accountable for her case,” says Lu.
Cao also stated that Peng being in China will help the government control her story.
China: The #MeToo movement’s future
Activists say the handling of Peng’s case has parallels with the chilling of #MeToo accusations across the country. China has removed all mentions of #MeToo, and the Chinese hashtag #WoYeShi, from its social networks. Peng Shuai issues have also been censored. According to WeChatScopeThe University of Hong Kong’s research team tracks Chinese social media censorship. Beijing wants to ban any criticism of the authorities or advocate for change.
The men accused of wrongdoing also fight back. Zhou Xiaoxuan was dismissed by a Beijing court last year. She claimed Zhu Jun, a TV personality in the state, had assaulted Zhou during an internship. The Beijing court did not have enough evidence to support her claim. Zhou was then sued by Zhu for defamation. Wang Qi (World Wildlife Fund employee) claimed that her boss forced Wang to kiss her during a 2018 work trip. She was then ordered by a court for an apology.
“[The] #MeToo movement in China is now going into a difficult time,” Lu says. “On one hand there are many people like Peng Shuai who are standing up and speaking out, on the other hand it is being suppressed like never before.”
Learn more Why the World Should Pay Attention to China’s Feminists
But Peng’s case was a milestone in calling international attention to the way that China’s political system can be intertwined with sexual violence, Lu says. The organizers of the Australian Open were astonished by how many people participated in it. Reversed the banAfter a massive outcry worldwide, Peng Shuai was supported by T-shirts. Lu thinks that #MeToo news has invariably reached survivors in China. “The end of her case, like many other failed cases in the #MeToo movement is both awakening and also making people feel angrily powerless,” Lu tells TIME.
Interview with L’Equipe, Peng said she didn’t understand the international attention on her, or questions about her wellbeing.
“I don’t think we need to suspect that our concern for Peng Shuai is excessive,” Lu says. “Even if we can’t imagine all the ridiculous things that can happen in China, we have to believe that it’s never wrong to worry about a person’s safety.”