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14 Nov, 2021 13:46

‘Very, very scary’: Female tennis ace ‘disappears’ days after accusing ex-Chinese Communist Party chief of sexual assault

‘Very, very scary’: Female tennis ace ‘disappears’ days after accusing ex-Chinese Communist Party chief of sexual assault

Campaigners and concerned fans are pleading with tennis bosses to help after the reported disappearance of a tennis star who accused China's former vice premier of trying to force her to have sex with him.

In a lengthy, troubling open letter to the politician published on Chinese social media network Weibo last week, former world number 14 Peng Shuai said that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) member Zhang Gaoli had made her "afraid" when he allegedly took her to his home years after she claimed they first had sex.

The 35-year-old alleged that she refused to have sex with the 75-year-old as part of what she claimed was a bizarre, manipulative relationship that made her feel like a "soulless creature" and "embarrassed".

Despite alleging that Zhang had been worried she would use a recording device when they were together, Peng admitted she did not have any evidence of what she said had happened.

Now her post has disappeared and the former French Open doubles champion is said to have vanished.

A campaign is building on social media to find out what has happened to Peng, with many fearful fans arguing that the WTA, tennis leaders and high-profile voices within the sport are not doing enough to help track her down.

French player Alize Cornet joined the 'where is Peng Shuai?' hashtag and urged: "Let's not remain silent."

Using all capital letters, professional player Kennedy Shaffer asked: "Why aren't more people talking about Peng Shuai right now? This needs so much more attention."

A Chinese feminist activist shared a photo from an unverified source that purportedly showed an empty space where a picture of Peng had been hung to recognize her achievements at China's National Tennis Center.

"Peng Shuai's portrait was removed less than a week from her exposing former CCP high level official Zhang Gaoli's sexual assault," they added. "We are concerned about Peng Shuai's safety and wellbeing."

Although the 'me too' movement of speaking out about sexual abuse has been visible in China, reports say this is the first time that a high-ranking member of the CCP has been at the center of such claims.

A spokesman for China's foreign ministry refuted any knowledge of the situation, according to reports.

MailOnline, which reported that the post containing the allegations was taken down within 20 minutes, said that Peng's profile remained visible in Google but comments on all of her posts had been disabled.

The outlet also said that an error message about violations of 'relevant laws and regulations' appeared when an attempt was made to post about Peng or Zhang on Weibo.

Peng called herself a "hypocrite" and a "very, very bad woman" in what appears to have been a fiercely self-critical post, according to a translation.

"About three years ago, Zhang Gaoli vice president, you retired," she is said to have written, alleging that Zhang asked to play tennis with her in Beijing shortly afterwards.

"After we finished playing tennis, you and your wife, Kang Jie, brought me to your home.

"Then you took me into your room. Like what happened ten years ago in Tianjin, you wanted to have sex with me.

"That afternoon, I was very afraid. I did not expect this to happen... because nobody would believe that a wife would allow this.

"About seven years ago, we had sex. Then later on, after you got promoted to be a member of the Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing, you never contacted me again.

"That afternoon I didn't agree, and I kept crying. I had dinner with you and [Kang Jie] together.

"You said the universe is very very big. The earth is merely a speck of sand in the universe, and us human beings are smaller than even a speck of sand.

"You said a lot more than that, and the purpose was basically to persuade me to drop my guard. After dinner, I was still not willing to have sex.

"You said you hated me. You said in those seven years, you never forgot about me, and you will treat me well etc... I was terrified and anxious.

"Taking into consideration the affection I had for you seven years ago, I agreed... yes, we had sex [at the time]."

Peng said she had "renewed my love" for Zhang after they initially had sex, alleging that he was "very good" to her and claiming that he had educated her on history, economics and politics, as well as singing together and playing games including chess, table tennis, pool and tennis.

"We always had endless fun," she said. "It was as if our personalities fit perfectly together.

"On the inside, I am extremely deprived of love. In the middle of all of this, I never thought I was a good woman. I hated myself, I hated why I came to this world.

"You told me you loved me very, very much, and you said you hope in the next life, we can meet each other around the age of 20, or 18.


"You said you were lonely. You pitied yourself for being alone. We had endless things to talk about, never ran out of topics. You said in your position, it is impossible to divorce."

Zhang gradually introduced "so much unfairness and humiliation" into the relationship, Peng alleged, claiming that his wife "said so many ugly and hurtful things to me."

"When you were with me, she never said those things," she wrote. "It is similar to when we were together.

"When we were together alone, you acted one way, but when there were other people near by, you would act another way.

"I have told you this before, hearing those things made me feel very hurt and humiliated deep down.

"Since the first day when I knew you, I have never used a cent of your money, neither have I ever used you to obtain any benefits for myself, but this thing called reputation, is so important.

"Everything that has happened, I deserve it. I have brought everything upon myself.

"From the beginning to the end, you told me to keep our relationship a secret, and most importantly of all, I was to never tell your mom we were having sexual relationships.

"There were so many times where I thought, am I still a human? I thought I was a soulless creature, faking everyday.

"Which one is the real me? I shouldn't have come to this world, but I don't have the courage to die.

"You played with me and dumped me when you are done with me. You said there were no transactions between us.

"Yes, that is true: our affection towards each other had nothing to do with money or power. But I have a hard time finding closure for, and coming to terms with our three-year long relationship.

"You were always scared I would secretly bring a recording device, and leave evidence.

"That's right: other than me, I do not have any evidence to prove what happened, no audio recording, no video taping. The only thing I have is memory from my own messed up self.

"For someone as prominent as yourself, I know you said you are not afraid. But it doesn't matter if I'm hitting a rock with an egg, or being a moth that flies towards the flame, I am telling the truth about what happened between us.

"With your intelligence and wits I am sure you will either deny it, or blame it on me, or you could simply play it cool."

A fan on social media tagged the WTA and tennis greats Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova in one plea for help, saying they were "surprised" by the icons' "silence".

"Tournaments should be suspended in China and participation of China in any [competitions] ATP, ITF, WTA event until Peng Shuai appears with life," they added.

Another said: "This Peng Shuai thing is scary – very scary. Really hoping that she is OK and that she makes her presence known soon. WTA have said absolutely nothing about her disappearance, it seems?"

Former world number 24 Jamie Hampton wrote: "If the Peng Shuai situation is true and the WTA says nothing… I don’t even f*cking know."