Peng Shuai: What is known so far! | Sunday Observer

Peng Shuai: What is known so far!

5 December, 2021
Peng Shuai
Peng Shuai

One of China’s top tennis players, Peng Shuai, has accused former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her.

Since she posted the accusations on social media, there has been concern about the tennis star’s whereabouts. On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee said it had spoken with Ms Peng but questions about her wellbeing and safety remain.

Ms Peng, 35, is a prominent figure in Chinese tennis with almost $10m in career prize money. Introduced to the sport by her uncle when she was eight-years-old, Ms Peng made her WTA debut in 2001 and has since gone on to win 25 titles in singles and doubles. She has also competed at three Olympic Games.

In 2014, she became the first Chinese player to reach world number one in doubles. She has won two women’s doubles Grand Slams - at Wimbledon in 2013 and the 2014 French Open - both alongside Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei.

In 2006, Ms Peng and fellow tennis player Li Na started speaking out about China’s tennis programme. Under the system, the state kept a portion of their earnings. Ms Peng decided to become an independent player, away from the Chinese state system and has talked about how she has been able to have more autonomy.

“I am the decision maker and all the choices I have to make allow me to improve myself,” she told the Olympic channel in an undated interview.

In all of her interviews, her passion for sport shines through.

“I love tennis. I want to be on the court and fight. I just want to be happy on the court,” she said during an interview at the Australian Open in 2018.

Ms Peng has a strong social media presence, with half a million followers on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

In a 1,600 word post on Weibo earlier this month, Ms Peng said former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli had “forced” her to have sexual relations with him.

It is the first time such an allegation has been made against one of China’s senior political leaders. Mr Zhang has not responded to her claims.

“I know that someone of your eminence, Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ll say that you’re not afraid,” Ms Peng wrote in her post, “but even if it’s just striking a stone with a pebble, or a moth attacking a flame and courting self destruction, I will tell the truth about you.”

She said he had first coerced her after she visited his home to play tennis. “That afternoon I didn’t give my consent and couldn’t stop crying,” she wrote. “You brought me to your house and forced me and you to have relations.”

Ms Peng has acknowledged that she will not be able to provide proof to back up her claims.

“I have no evidence, and it has been impossible to leave any evidence... You were always afraid that I would bring something like a tape recorder, to record evidence or something... There is no audio record, no video record, only my distorted but very real experience.”

Mr Zhang has not commented on the allegations.

Mr Zhang, 75, served as vice-premier between 2013 and 2018 and previously was the top party official in Tianjin.

During his time as vice-premier, he presided over preparation meetings for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

He was also involved in China’s Belt and Road project and visited a number of countries as part of this. He also spoke as Xi Jinping’s special envoy at a UN climate conference in 2014. (BBC)