FAKE NEWS | Switching Tack, China Now Asks: Who Is Peng Shuai?

By Shaun Tan

By Shaun Tan

Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and Staff Writer


Picture Credit: robbiesaurus (remixed)

BEIJING – In a daring move to counter accusations that it’s persecuting tennis star Peng Shuai, the Chinese government has now taken to completely denying her existence. All traces of her have been erased from the Chinese internet, and to challenge the trending hashtag, #WhereIsPengShuai, popularized by other tennis champions like Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, Beijing has unveiled a hashtag of its own: #WhoIsPengShuai.


“Who is this ‘Peng Shuai’ of whom you speak?” asked Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, in response to questions from reporters yesterday. “What proof do you have that there is such a person?”


Chinese state mouthpieces were quick to adopt this new tactic. “Why do so many Western busybodies keep asking about this ‘Peng Shuai’?” tweeted Hu Xijin, Editor-in-Chief of Global Times. “No such person exists: she is a character concocted by the CIA, in cahoots with the NED [National Endowment for Democracy], in cahoots with Taiwan separatists to incite hatred and make China look bad. #WhoIsPengShuai”


Peng Shuai is one of China’s most famous tennis players and an Olympic athlete. On November 2nd, she wrote a scandalous post on Weibo alleging a sexual relationship with former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli. Her post was widely shared before being scrubbed from the site some 30 minutes later. Shortly after, Peng herself disappeared from public view, leading to intense speculation that she was being detained by the state. Her apparent plight captured the attention of the world, with other tennis stars, the Women’s Tennis Association, and foreign governments demanding proof of her safety and whereabouts, and the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai trending on Twitter. Whilst the Chinese government has since responded to these demands by playing down the issue, denying that Peng exists entirely is a stunning change of tack.


“I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” said Zhang Gaoli, finally breaking his silence to address Peng’s allegations. “And, also, that woman doesn’t exist.”


The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has been under pressure to cancel the Winter Olympics, due to be held in Beijing next February, over this incident, was reluctant to comment on this development.


“The International Olympic Committee’s role is to work to unite the world through sport,” said IOC President Thomas Bach, when pressed for a response. “As you know, we don’t get involved in political issues, and as such we will not comment on whether an athlete by the name of ‘Peng Shuai’ exists or not.”


The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) was less reticent. “This is beyond ridiculous,” said WTA Chairman Steve Simon. “Peng Shuai is a Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion! The Chinese government knows full well who she is!”


Zhao, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, seemed unfazed. “Apparently this woman was a Chinese champion at Wimbledon and the French Open,” he said today, “and yet there is no record of her anywhere in China and no one here seems to know who she is? I’d think that if there was really someone like that, we would remember.”