November 20, 2021 7:20 AM   Subscribe

Tennis star Peng Shuai has not made a public appearance since she accused Zhang Gaoli, a former Chinese vice premier, of sexual assault, sparking off discussions of #MeToo allegations. While the post was removed within minutes, the attention surrounding her has only grown as her silence has gained international attention. A statement and a few photos posted to social media supposedly by Peng Shuai by an employee of Chinese state media was unconvincing to an international audience. High-profile tennis players such as Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, and Novak Djokovic are calling for proof of her uncoerced safety. In an unprecedented statement, the WTA CEO Steve Simon has publicly declared that he is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business in China if Peng is not fully accounted for and her allegations are not properly investigated. posted by toastyk (47 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
I am impressed that the WTA is pushing this so hard, especially when compared to the weaselly response from the Olympics. I hope they have success.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:05 AM on November 20 [43 favorites]

The NBA could certainly learn from how Steve Simon and the WTA are handling this, but they're too busy counting their blood money.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:23 AM on November 20 [14 favorites]

Good for the WTA.
posted by idb at 9:25 AM on November 20 [8 favorites]

Nice post, and I hope Peng makes a return.
posted by kfholy at 9:42 AM on November 20 [1 favorite]

I hope Peng makes a return.

posted by chavenet at 11:03 AM on November 20 [4 favorites]

Her photos on social media have a picture of Winnie the Pooh behind her. That's some very clear "I am not thrilled with this situation" signalling. Winnie the Pooh was banned in China when people started making comparisons between him and Xi Jinping.

Which is pretty awesome of her to do. Surprised it slipped past the censors.
posted by jragon at 3:19 PM on November 20 [7 favorites]

The latest "proof" is a couple of videos with Peng Shuai - neither posted from her own social media account - at a restaurant, having natural, unforced conversations with friends who just happen to mention the day's date a couple of times.

I wouldn't want to imply that the PRC isn't bad at producing convincing bullshit -- they're pretty ham-handed even in Mandarin, and it's not helping their case to be doing this in English for a non-captive audience -- but the contemptuous ham-handedness is the major part of the message. (Perhaps unavoidably, I'm also thinking of the Kyle Rittenhouse case along similar lines.) The message is not "Peng Shuai is fine" or "Kyle Rittenhouse has been proven innocent by an unbiased justice system;" the message is "fuck you, you get nothing, and we're not even going to pretend otherwise." Convincing people is a stretch goal: the main function of propaganda is to intimidate, atomize, and demoralize, and the PRC apparatus is extremely good at it.
posted by bokane at 5:09 PM on November 20 [36 favorites]

I am saddened that Twitter has allowed Hu Xijin to post these obvious propaganda photos and videos without any pushback. We have seen the same thing before - someone who had disappeared suddenly remerges to confess their crimes and/or perform some sort of "look how happy I am!" song and dance.* Because of course the best way to reassure everyone that you are fine is for a third party to re-activate their Twitter account and share odd and creepy photos and videos, like the absolutely normal one where your "friend" makes it a point to zoom in on the date written on the restaurant door. Rather than, you know, actually talk directly to people who are concerned.

This is all very upsetting. If this is how China is treating one of their own Olympians, I am not sure I would feel safe going there to compete. Good on the tennis world for making so much noise on this.

*Literally dancing, for some...
posted by gemmy at 5:47 PM on November 20 [7 favorites]

Just emailed the WTA to express my support for their position. Good on them for doing the right thing. A sharp contrast with the International Olympic Committee, which has once again exposed itself as lacking any commitment to human rights despite its blah blah blah.
posted by mydonkeybenjamin at 7:05 PM on November 20 [5 favorites]

Thanks for putting together this excellent and timely post. I made an FPP back in 2018 about MeToo in China (including the threat it posed to the ruling elites) and had thought about doing a new one in this case - it’s hard to overstate how huge this is, it’s a tennis star and Olympian accusing a former Vice-Premier and member of the Politburo standing committee, and it’s blown up internationally.

I’m not convinced that China has the toolkit to deal with this situation without making things worse. They seem unlikely to back down on the issue (at this stage their lack of international trust makes it hard to see how they even could, short of allowing Peng Shuai to leave the country, which seems vanishingly unlikely). And their external propaganda is very poor, hamfisted stuff, because they’re playing on easy mode at home where they have high levels of control over all forms of media.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 12:44 AM on November 21 [10 favorites]

I follow James Palmer on twitter and he opined having a substantial/loud/significant tankies (more politely, sympathisers) in the west that would visibly agree (and therefore provide good metrics in internal performance reports) could also be a factor for the institutional disinterest in developing any kind of externally tailored sophisticated messaging (i think he was also thinking of USSR similarities, more than current Russia).

In any case, I'm just observing these little cracks and chips, between what's going on in African politics, the Baltic states and their Taiwan overtures, Namewee's song(s), and now this. IOC being a body of no particular ethics is one thing, but arguably WTA is in a noticeably different historical period in China's political engagement with the world. Good for them for making the calculus and deciding on the side of Peng Shuai.
posted by cendawanita at 4:03 AM on November 21 [5 favorites]

it's a fascinating insight into western propagandists' morality that they pretend to care about someone who they think is missing, but when videos of her actually surface showing her safe and sound, their first reaction is not relief - but disappointment, anger and more suspicion
posted by Space Coyote at 5:41 AM on November 21

It's a known tankie tactic by now, when Ma Wen was missing then reappeared then the subsequent tankie message was how crazy the West must be, he was just laying low while being investigated by the state! What all bullies do is to show people their victims, or hostages, are not being harmed, but they never realize the issue is not superficial proof of a person's whereabouts or behavior but verifiable proof that a person is truly safe. And that bar would require the bully or authority to relinquish their power for the purpose of being examined. Authoritarians cannot see that.

The neoliberal West is awful and directly has a role in stewing anti-China sentiment. But universal dissent (which a new left international must strive towards) has the property of seeing through whataboutisms and the propaganda in service of either side in this.
posted by polymodus at 5:58 AM on November 21 [11 favorites]

It's not at all clear to me that Peng Shuai alleged that she was sexually assaulted. There's a translation of her entire weibo post here. I can't confirm the accuracy of the translation, but if it is accurate then it seems as though she is not alleging sexual assault.
posted by thedamnbees at 6:22 AM on November 21

The continuing situation and bad press may force the IOC to take a hard line with China as Beijing is slated to host the 2022 Olympics.

They’ll make noises to the western press, but no they’re not going to do that. Especially after how much money they, the IOC, lost on the delayed Tokyo games.
posted by jmauro at 6:45 AM on November 21 [1 favorite]

Even according to that translation, the first meeting from her point of view seems like she was at very least, coerced into having sex - she was lured into his house, stayed in a room, and there was a guard standing outside, and then he had sex with her and now, as is typical of many such victims, now blames herself for "being bad". She may not have technically identified it herself as rape, but I doubt she would have willingly had a relationship with this person otherwise.

Honestly found all that discussion of "is this really technically assault/rape" really gross, so big warning for anyone who wants to review that translation and the subsequent comments on Reddit.
posted by toastyk at 6:49 AM on November 21 [17 favorites]

Hey, theadambees, how is this not coercion?

That afternoon I didn't agree, and I kept crying. I had dinner with you and auntie 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.
posted by plant or animal at 8:04 AM on November 21 [9 favorites]

If there's nuance it's not in the situation where a sportsperson who owed her career cultivation to the state apparatus, who experienced circumstances where laid out (coercive sex by a higher ranked person is an institutionally hierarchical society), it begs sympathy for the CCP. IMO. Should we bring up the history of women athletes elsewhere too for comparative analysis?

And regardless, if it's that nuanced, then where is Peng Shuai?
posted by cendawanita at 8:13 AM on November 21 [7 favorites]

It seems she was at the opening ceremony of Junior Tennis Challenger Finals in Beijing.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:33 AM on November 21

It seems she was at the opening ceremony of Junior Tennis Challenger Finals in Beijing.

Those who are more into China-watching aren't convinced, i am seeing online (example).
posted by cendawanita at 9:01 AM on November 21

There is always some man who thinks it's incredibly important to debate whether the worst thing that ever happened to a woman "constitutes sexual assault".
posted by hydropsyche at 11:14 AM on November 21 [37 favorites]

I mean if she’s OK she should be able to have a live press conference with Western journalists or travel to any old random place she likes, right? If not that’s a huge indictment of the Chinese government which, despite my disappointment with the US now and in the past, is objectively worse from a human rights standpoint.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:53 AM on November 21 [8 favorites]

Here is also another native Chinese speaker's translation: "why did you come back to me, take me to your home and force me to have sex with you?"

Anyway, that's my last contribution to that specific digression.

Apparently the IOC president held a 30 minute phone call with Peng Shuai, in which she was accompanied by a Chinese sports official and scheduled a dinner for January.
posted by toastyk at 2:25 PM on November 21 [3 favorites]

Extremely not here for the "is this technically rape" discussion. Chenchen Zhang's reading, which toastyk linked, is correct: the verb at issue is 逼, and its semantic scope encompasses "pressured," "forced," "coerced," etc. There is just no way of reading this as a consensual encounter, and it's deeply distressing to see people who identify as leftists attempting to pretend otherwise. The goalpost-moving ("this video proves she isn't locked in a dark oubliette 24/7! Checkmate, western propagandists!") doesn't reflect well on the people doing it either.
posted by bokane at 4:32 PM on November 21 [24 favorites]

I saw plenty of tankies in the replies to the early comments on Twitter, whinging about "fake news". Not too impressed to see it here, too.
posted by tavella at 8:57 PM on November 21 [5 favorites]

OMFG thedamnbees, that’s some incredibly ignorant commentary. You seem to think that most sexual assault is committed by strangers or something?! Most sexual assault, like most relational assault in general, is committed by the victims’ partners, friends, or other trusted people that they otherwise have some sort of ongoing relationship with and complicated feelings about. And that person A had consensual sex with person B on other occasions doesn’t make a particular occasion of forced or coerced sex not sexual assault. Stop with the incredibly shitty minimization and apologism.
posted by eviemath at 2:17 AM on November 22 [12 favorites]

And my point is that if the description doesn’t sound like assault to you, you need to educate yourself much more extensively, because that’s a really ignorant (in the literal sense) read.
posted by eviemath at 4:49 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]

thedamnbees, you're acting shockingly gross in this thread.
posted by sagc at 6:11 AM on November 22 [17 favorites]

Coerced consent is not consent.
posted by Gelatin at 6:39 AM on November 22 [13 favorites]

thedamnbees: But I don’t know what happened and I’m not claiming that I do.

Then why are you continuing to assert your interpretation? When someone says what something "sounds like" (which is a quote from your comment) what they mean is "this is what it sounds like to me." Maybe you should ask yourself why it is so important to you to keep insisting that you don't think this is assault when there are a lot of people right here in this thread telling you that it "sounds like" assault to them.
posted by tractorfeed at 7:44 AM on November 22 [3 favorites]

Like I said, I hope we hear from Peng Shuai. I just don’t think we should be so eager to press her into service in a geopolitical propaganda war, which I very much doubt will ultimately serve her interests.
Anyway, i’ll go be an obnoxious contrarian somewhere else. I’m sorry to those who i’ve offended.
posted by thedamnbees at 8:55 AM on November 22

You're equating facts reported by Western news outlets with Chinese state propaganda but OK.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:09 AM on November 22 [1 favorite]

thedamnbees - the thing is that it's possible for more than one thing to be bad at the same time. There are growing forces on both sides pushing for conflict, I don't have a lot of faith in the US side, and it's hard to imagine things cooling down any time soon. And what's going on with Peng Shuai is fucked-up. (What's going on in Xinjiang, where the Party-member parents of Uyghur friends of mine have been locked up for the last few years? Also fucked up -- and also still being denied and sneered at by self-professed leftists, to their eternal discredit.)

"US Bad" does not equal "Non-US good," and the view that it does is just naive American exceptionalism turned upside-down. This is not worth defending.
posted by bokane at 9:29 AM on November 22 [12 favorites]

OMFG again. Recognizing a sexual assault as a sexual assault and saying that sexual assault is bad is not “press[ing] her into service in a geopolitical propaganda war.”

Don’t go be a harmful sexual-assault-misinformation-spewing ignoramus somewhere else. (You’re not a “contrarian” if you’re just spouting outright incorrect myths straight out of 1950s approaches to sexual assault.) Go read some educational material from one of the myriad sexual assault advocacy groups that have information online and educate yourself. To attempt to be absolutely clear, since you haven’t addressed it or indicated in any way that you understood: I’m not saying you need to dig into this specific case more. I’m saying that you are horribly, harmfully ignorant about sexual assault in general, and need to educate yourself on that.
posted by eviemath at 9:53 AM on November 22 [15 favorites]

Jesus H. Macy, thedamnbees - take a walk or something.
posted by djeo at 10:47 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]

Recognizing a sexual assault as a sexual assault and saying that sexual assault is bad is not “press[ing] her into service in a geopolitical propaganda war.”

Neither is drawing the fairly obvious conclusion that the Chinese government is silencing, or at the very least pressuring, Peng Shuai after she accused a prominent member of the government of sexual assault. Actions which, I might add, tend to be incriminating rather than exonerating.
posted by Gelatin at 12:49 PM on November 22 [3 favorites]

The part that doesn’t sound like assault is the part where she consents:

Taking into consideration the affection I had for you seven years ago, I agreed... yes, we had sex.

In the year 2021 I was under the impression that men on the left were aware that if you used verbal and emotional manipulation to pressure someone to have sex with you, finally extracting a "yes" at the end of it does not mean it wasn't assault.* Happy, healthy sexual encounters are not prefaced by someone wheedling sex out of someone else. Consensual sexual encounters do not involve guilt trips. A hallmark of date rape is the rapist putting the emotional pressure and guilt on the victim until they give up in order to get it over with. "We're friends", "you led me on", "we've done it before", "I really like you" . . .

Tip for men: if your sexual encounters do not involve enthusiastic, excited consent then you need to take a serious look at yourself. You do not get to tell yourself you didn't assault someone because you technically got a "yes" at the end.

*and that's even without there being a goddamn guard outside the door
posted by schroedinger at 1:06 PM on November 22 [17 favorites]

Like, honestly? I am glad you opened your mouth and spewed your nonsense because maybe you'll learn something and it will protect people down the road.
posted by schroedinger at 1:07 PM on November 22 [3 favorites]

Actually, thedamnbees, based on your comment history you are systematically resistant towards recognizing misogyny and gendered violence where it exists. It's pretty gross.
posted by schroedinger at 1:30 PM on November 22 [4 favorites]

Mod note: A few comments nitpicking on whether this is assault or not deleted. Coercion and consent should not be up for debate. Also, let me remind you of the content policy, specifically: Any kind of name calling directed at others in a conversation is not acceptable.
posted by loup (staff) at 2:04 PM on November 22 [1 favorite]

Mod note: I've gone back through and deleted a few more comments attempting to undermine or argue against Peng Shuai's claims of being sexually assaulted. This leaves the thread relatively holey, and I apologize for that. After a great deal of dithering, I have left up two comments from the user (the two least-gross ones) in the hopes that the thread is at least followable, although I'm not super-confident in this decision. With other threads needing a lot of babysitting (Rittenhouse, Waukesha), this one got out ahead of us in a way that's hard to clean up afterwards, so I've made a judgment call. For further concerns please hit the contact form.
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:10 PM on November 22 [6 favorites]

It's worth considering that not every single event being reported by Western media that paints China in a negative light is a step in some kind of an ever-lasting tango toward war between the East and the West. Like, it's possible that Chinese people can care about sexual misconduct, too, you know?

But they're being deprived of the ability to even have that conversation. I just looked up "Peng Shuai", "Zhang Gaoli", and "WTA" on Baidu, and there is not even a single result that mentions what has occurred (One result from 2013 did helpfully inform me that Peng Shuai does not recognize Taiwan as a separate country after all!) One would think that the threat of the WTA pulling out of China would at least prompt an angry response from...someone—but...nothing. What makes this even more of a farce is the fact that it shows me that one of the top related searches for "WTA" is "Who is the woman from TennisGate" (my humble attempt at translating 网球事件女主角是谁).

Like I'm sure people are discussing it on social media, but what this means is that only non-Chinese media is reporting on the story, which will arouse the suspicions of many Chinese people (and disgruntled leftists, I guess), making it easier to be ignored and forgotten—which is ultimately the point, I suppose.
posted by joethefob at 10:10 PM on November 22 [6 favorites]

And the thing with Shuai honestly to me is because this came after Xianzi two months plus ago, and this time even a respected Olympian gets memoryholed. Not to mention feminist organisations and groups were also victims of the recent crackdowns owing to their work to actually use #metoo to talk about sexual assault in China.
posted by cendawanita at 1:43 AM on November 23 [4 favorites]

Latest update: Steve Simon announces WTA decision to suspend tournaments in China.

While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.

None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable. If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.

posted by toastyk at 2:38 PM on December 1 [11 favorites]

Good for Steve Simon. We can't really do anything to help/save her, I suspect, but I'm glad he's not sending others there.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:14 PM on December 1 [3 favorites]

Some more context - Leta Hong Fincher, author “Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China” and “Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China,” - provides some more analysis:

Why Peng Shuai Has China's Leaders Spooked:

The upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party have been largely impenetrable to scandal and enjoyed relative respect from much of the population. But Ms. Peng’s allegations raise the specter that not all is well within the elite ranks and that maybe she’s not alone: More women could speak up. The floodgates could open. And the party can’t have that.

That might help explain the heavy-handed reaction to Ms. Peng’s allegations: They were a clear attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to protect itself and its legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

posted by toastyk at 9:54 AM on December 2 [2 favorites]

« Older "But then her tiny nostrils flared, and I knew I...   |   Regarding the Pain of Others Newer »

You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.