With one lengthy post on Chinese social media site Weibo, tennis star Peng Shuai set off a chain reaction of events that profoundly changed global sports. In the post, published in November of last year, she accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex and maintaining an extramarital relationship with her.
Not long after, Peng disappeared from public view. Her re-emergence in staged settings provided the final justification for the U.S. diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics and led to the Women’s Tennis Association canceling its events in China. Her name remains censored on the Chinese internet.
Peng undoubtedly was aware from the start of the dangers inherent in speaking out. In the now deleted post, she described her actions as a moth to a flame, an egg to a stone, and a self-destruction. Her account has catapulted an unprecedented defense of women’s rights against authoritarian power. Her subsequent denial of her original claims suggests that she has not yet regained full autonomy—and may in fact be experiencing unspeakable cruelty.
Lü is a feminist activist and writer
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