The Chinese tennis profile Peng Shuai (35) was not seen for more than two weeks, and the case has involved a whole world.
On November 2, Peng posted a message on social media Weibo, in which she accused China’s former Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. The post also said that the two had had an affair that was on and off, which Zhang tried to keep secret.
Shortly after she published the message, she disappeared. This weekend she appeared in connection with a tennis tournament in Beijing. She was also pictured at a restaurant, and told in a video call that she was safe and well at home in Beijing.
Nevertheless, there are many who are not convinced that everything is fine. And there has been a lot of speculation on social media, after a Chinese reporter posted a photo series of Peng Shuai on Twitter.
Peng Shuai’s WeChat moments just posted three latest photos and said “Happy weekend”.
Her friend shared the three photos and the screenshot of Peng’s WeChat moments. pic.twitter.com/tut8CEH6gu
— Shen Shiwei沈诗伟(@shen_shiwei) November 19, 2021
At first glance, it looks like normal photos, where Shuai poses with several teddy bears and a cat – among other things. But when you look a little closer at one of the pictures, you see the children’s book character Ole Brumm.
What’s so weird about Ole Brumm, you ask? Brumm has become a frequent target for the Chinese censorship apparatus after a series of viral “memes”, which joke that the teddy bear is similar to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In July 2017, the Chinese authorities tightened censorship of the WeChat and Weibu websites (equivalent to Twitter). They made it simply impossible to post comments containing the name “Ole Brumm”, and all posts comparing President Jinping with Brumm were removed.
In 2018, the film “Christopher Robin” was not shown in Chinese cinemas, and it was speculated that the censorship was due to the comparison with the President of China. China has never given a public explanation.
The Ole Brumm character is not banned in China, but the image in the background is enough for more people to react on social media.
Some speculate that the background image was a deliberate choice of Shuai, to focus on the president.
Others believe it may be a hidden message – and China critic Leta Hong Fincher believes the image is “an emergency signal”.
Others ridicule these conspiracy theories and think they are coincidences, and that China critics exaggerate when they think there is something more to it.
Nevertheless, the discussion is proof of how mysterious the whole matter is and has been.
– The concern and anxiety surrounding Peng Shuai’s case shows us how very little we know about her situation – and how very little we can know about her situation as well, says Dr Yeonphantong to ABC.
Did no one else notice that the WeChat Peng Shuai photos featured a Winnie the Pooh (!) in the background while she was wearing an Addidas shirt, a firm that was boycotted in China for refusing to use Xinjiang cotton? pic.twitter.com/UVMfQ11Q6y
— Jordan Schneider (@jordanschnyc) November 22, 2021
The EU now demands that China provide reliable evidence that Peng Shuai is doing well.
– We have seen Peng Shuai’s alleged statements and recordings from her public appearance. But the accusations of abuse and that she has not been seen in two weeks, are still very worrying, spokeswoman Nabila Massrali told the news agency AFP.
China, for its part, believes that the matter has escalated.
– I think some people should stop deliberately and maliciously “hype”, not least to politicize the matter, said a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian.
The head of the women’s tennis organization (WTA) Steve Simon has stated to CNN that they are ready to cancel all Chinese tournaments if Shuai’s allegations are not investigated.
– We are prepared to stop our business and deal with all the complications that come with this. This is bigger than money. Women must be respected and not censored, Simon told CNN.
In the 2021 season, 11 tournaments were planned on the WTA tour in China. The season finale was also to be played in China, but everything was canceled due to the corona pandemic. The season finale is scheduled to be played in China in 2022.
Last week, Chinese state media published a press release alleging that Shuai had sent a sedative e-post to Simon. The e-mail should state that she is not missed and that she is fine.
Simon is said to have questioned whether this email was true or not. He is said to have described it as “a staged statement of some kind”, since he received no answer after answering her shortly afterwards.
– Whether she was forced to write it or if someone wrote it for her, we do not know. But at this point, I do not think there is any validity in that, and we will not be comfortable until we get to talk to her, Simon said.
Several tennis stars also signed up, and the hashtag #whereispengshuai went viral on social media.
I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. #whereispengshuai pic.twitter.com/GZG3zLTSC6
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) November 18, 2021