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The Silent Storm: Peng Shuai’s Weibo Post

Weibo has completely silenced anything relating to Peng Shuai and Zhang Gaoli.

Manya Koetse

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UPDATE DECEMBER 20 2021: Please see our recent article for a full translation of Peng Shuai’s post and a timeline of events.

On the night of November 2nd, a Weibo post by Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai (彭帅) sent shockwaves across social media. In her lengthy post, the tennis star claims she was assaulted by former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli (张高丽) before starting an affair with him.

The 35-year-old Peng Shuai, who has some 574,000 followers on her Weibo account, addressed her post directly to the 75-year-old Zhang Gaoli, who served as China’s senior Vice Premier (2013-2018) and was also a member of China’s highest ruling council, the Politburo Standing Committee (2012-2017).

I know I can’t say it clearly and that it’s useless to say. But I want to say it anyway. I’m such a hypocrite. I’ll admit I’m not a good girl, I’m a bad bad girl,” Peng starts her post.

She then goes on to address what happened three years ago, after the tennis star played in Beijing.

After I had finished playing, you and your wife Kang Jie took me to your home. You took me to your room, and like what happened in Tianjin over ten years ago, you wanted to have sex with me. I was very scared that afternoon, I had not expected things to go this way.

Peng alleges that she had sex with Zhang once seven years earlier, and that she had never heard from him again once he was promoted to the Standing Committee.

I had buried it all inside me, and since you were not planning on taking responsibility at all, why did you come and look for me again, take me to your house, and force me into sex? I have no proof, and it would be impossible for me to keep any evidence. You denied everything afterward (..) That afternoon I originally did not consent and cried the whole time.

Peng goes on to describe how her emotions were complicated and that she began to open up to Zhang afterward, starting an affair with him. The two would play chess, sing, play billiards, and table tennis, and they got along well together.

You told me you loved me,” Peng writes at one point, later saying: “From beginning to end, you have always asked me to keep my relationship with you secret, let alone telling my mother that we were in a relationship.”

Peng describes how it sometimes felt as if Zhang’s wife was like an “empress” while she barely felt like a person anymore: “I felt like a walking corpse. I was pretending so much every day that I didn’t know who the real me was anymore..”

Peng’s post further suggests that the relationship between her and Zhang has now ended since a major dispute on the night of the 30th of October after which she would meet Zhang to talk on November 2nd, but that she was ghosted by him and that he “disappeared” as he did seven years prior to their affair. She posted her letter on that very same night.

Peng says she is left with nothing but her own memories of the past years and without any evidence of anything that has occurred between the two of them.

I know that for someone of your status, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ve said that you’re not afraid,” Peng wrote in her post, “But even it’s like striking a stone with an egg, and courting self-destruction like a moth to the flame, I will tell the truth about you.

Despite the fact that Peng’s post was deleted within thirty minutes after she posted it, screenshots of what she wrote were already flooding WeChat and Twitter.

The Silence after the Storm

Just two days after Peng’s post, Weibo has completely silenced the controversy.

Searching for the name of Zhang Gaoli, no results relating to the post appear. Comment sections on older posts relating to the retired Vice Premier have been shut down.

Peng Shuai, Zhang Gaoli.

Similarly, Peng Shuai only comes up in older stories completely unrelated to this week’s events. Her account also no longer shows up in search results, even though it is officially still online. All of the comment sections on her previous posts have since been restricted.

On other platforms, including search engine Baidu, Q&A website Zhihu, and social networking site Douban, the topic is also nowhere to be found. Baidu trends do show that there’s been a major peak in searches for ‘Peng Shuai’ on November 2nd, when the keyword was searched for nearly two million times.

Since the censorship following Peng’s post has been so strict, there barely is any room for discussion of the topic at all on Chinese social media. Underneath some posts relating to tennis events, netizens hesitantly wonder: “Can we also discuss the Peng x Zhang case here?”

Meanwhile, on Twitter and on English-language media, posts about Peng Shuai are running at full speed.

Most English-language media report about Peng’s story within the context of the global #MeToo movement, suggesting Peng’s post was a “MeToo post.” The tennis star did not mention ‘#Metoo’ in her own writings.

Chinese feminist activist Lü Pin (吕频) also published a ‘Feminist Comment on Pengshuai’s Case‘ via Twitter, in which she praised Peng and wrote that “Peng Shuai is not a member of the organized #MeToo movement, but she is a member of those connected through the effect from such echoes and demonstrations.”

Although there have previously been big cases in China involving women accusing men in powerful positions of sexual abuse, such as the Xianzi versus Zhu Jun case, they have never been as censored as this case is.

In this regard, this story perhaps says more about the person who is accused of sexual misconduct than about the actual account itself. The timing of its publication also matters in light of the upcoming key gathering of the highest-ranking members of the Communist Party – the sixth plenary session of its 19th Central Committee will be held from November 8 to 11.

At time of writing, nothing has come out in Chinese media nor on Chinese social media about Peng’s post. For now, it is the most silent storm Weibo has seen this year.

Update November 21, 2021: Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai Attends Fila Kids Junior Tennis Finals

UPDATE DECEMBER 20 2021: Please see our recent article for a full translation of Peng Shuai’s post and a timeline of events.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Godfree Roberts

    November 5, 2021 at 10:44 pm

    Rape committed by a senior official is punishable by death.

    There are precedents for senior officials’ relatives being executed.

    Remember that the first legislation Mao signed into law was the equivalent of our failed Equal Rights Amendment.

  2. Avatar

    Jin

    November 6, 2021 at 10:25 am

    very good blog, super information for expats in China , help them to understand what happen on internet.
    Contrats Manyia.
    I share your website on my facebook, hope it can help.

  3. Avatar

    Steven Su

    November 25, 2021 at 6:05 pm

    She said a lot more about that afternoon.. She originally refused but then the man said he never forgot her. That he wants to take care of her. She wrote that she eventually agreed to have sex after considering she never got over him and still had feelings from 7 years. Then she wrote thar she felt they were good together until she couldn’t handle being a secret mistress.

    The full Weibo translation on reddit shows the entirety of what she wrote yet it’s disappointing to see biased journalism distort what she wrote in full.

    Her reason to write that post was because she was still in love with him and couldn’t handle him ignoring her. Yet no media seems to talk about that for obvious reason to spin.

  4. Avatar

    Jeremy

    December 20, 2021 at 7:01 pm

    If you actually understand Chinese, it is very obvious she was writing out of frustration of not being able to be with him. She wasn’t accusing him of sexual assault or anything remotely like that. She was in love with him 7 years ago and she still is till these day.

    This post read more like a lover’s rant than anything else.

  5. Avatar

    MTMT123

    December 26, 2021 at 4:07 am

    politicising-sensationalising a clearly lover-spat just to smear china – well done, western media – how low and hideous can you go ???

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China Insight

“Chinese Spy Balloon” Versus “Chinese Civilian Airship” – The Chinese Words That Matter in the Balloon Incident

On Chinese social media, the Chinese balloon is seen as a weather device that ended up measuring the temperature of China-US relations.

Manya Koetse

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A day after the U.S. military shot down a Chinese balloon off the Carolina coast, the ‘balloon incident’ is a hot topic on Chinese social media, as official media are publishing about the incident and social media users are discussing it.

At 8:17 in the morning on Feb. 5, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its response to the shooting down of the Chinese balloon on Weibo.

They expressed “strong discontent and protest” over the American use of force to attack the “civilian unmanned airship” (民用无人飞艇) after Chinese officials recurringly informed the U.S. side that the balloon – described as a weather device, – had accidentally entered the U.S. and did not pose any threat to the U.S. whatsoever (#外交部就美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇发表声明#).

On Chinese social media, as also described in our earlier article on the incident, the balloon has come to be referred to as the “Wandering Balloon” (流浪气球) in the context of the box-office hit The Wandering Earth II.

At the same time, China celebrated the Lantern Festival (元宵节) which marks the first full moon of the Chinese New Year. It is tradition to eat glutinous rice balls and enjoy lanterns floating in the sky.

The balloon incident set the Chinese social media meme machine in motion, in which the balloon, The Wandering Earth II, and the Lantern Festival all came together in various images that circulated on Weibo and beyond.

The balloon, featured in ‘The Wandering Balloon’ movie produced by ‘US Government’, wishes everyone a happy Lanern Festival.

Another meme titled “Wandering Balloon” drawing comparisons between the ballloon and rice balls traditionally eaten during Lantern Festival.

The Weibo hashtags used to discuss the incident were mainly initiated by Chinese (state) media outlets, such as “The U.S. Side Claims to Have Shot Down Chinese Unmanned Airship” (#美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇#); “America Uses Military Force to Attack Civilian Unmanned Airship” (#美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇#); “The U.S. Side’s Insistence on Using Force Is Clearly an Overreaction” (#美方执意动用武力明显反应过度#).

“Is it a balloon or an airship? The American official and media side all claim it is a spying balloon; the Chinese side claims it is an civilian unmanned airship,” one blogger wrote, showing the different media contexts in which the incident is being discussed and emphasizing the importance of the vocabulary used.

Words matter, and at a time when there is a lot of speculation about the incident, the seemingly humorous way in which Chinese netizens have responded to the international dispute also relates to the language that is being used to describe the event.

On Chinese social media, the majority of commenters see the balloon as a weather device that went wandering and, unexpectedly, ended up measuring the temperature of Sino-American relations – which turned out to be icy cold.

Some examples of the kind of phrasing that matters in the Chinese media context:

Civilian Unmanned Airship
民用无人飞艇 Mínyòng Wúrén Fēitǐng

The balloon in question is described as a “civilian unmanned airship” in Chinese official and state media texts. The word ‘civilian’ (民用) is included in the clarification about the balloon being a civilian meteorological balloon, and thus not serving any military purposes (民用 ‘civilian’ versus 军用 ‘military’).

Attack [on] Civilian Unmanned Airship
袭击民用无人飞艇 Xíjí Mínyòng Wúrén Fēitǐng

The U.S. military shooting down the Chinese balloon is also phrased as an “attack” (袭击) in many Chinese media reports as well as in the official Foreign Ministry post.

Completely by Accident
完全是意外 Wánquán Shì Yìwài

The expressions “completely by accident” (完全是意外), “unexpected circumstances” (意外情况), and “force majeure” (不可抗力) are used in official Chinese media texts describing the balloon incident to underline that the circumstances in which the device floated into American skies was not only unrelated to military / government purposes, but that it was also unintentional.

Stay tuned for more updates.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China Insight

Press Conference on Chinese Student’s Death: Hu Xinyu Left Message on Voice Recorder

These are the most important details shared during the 2.2.23 press conference on the disappearance and death of Hu Xinyu.

Manya Koetse

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The disappearance and death of the Chinese 15-year-old Hu Xinyu has become one of the biggest topics on Chinese social media recently, with dozens of hashtags related to the story receiving millions – sometimes even billions – of views.

Hu Xinyu went missing from school on Oct. 14, 2022. The boy’s whereabouts were a mystery for 106 days, during which family, friends, police, and dedicated search teams searched for the student all across the Yanshan County region in Jiangxi Province and beyond.

On Jan 28., 2023, Hu’s remains were found by a local guard on the premises of a grain warehouse not far from the school. For a full timeline of Hu’s disappearance and the details surrounding his death, see our previous article here.

A voice recorder was also found near Hu’s remains, but the data on the small 4GB recorder initially seemed to be unretrievable, and it was sent back to the manufacturer for analysis.

On the morning of Feb. 2, 2023, local authorities and the dedicated task force organized a live-broadcasted press conference on the case and the latest findings.

The most important pieces of information provided in the press conference on February 2nd are as follows:

◼︎ Hu Xinyu’s death has been ruled a suicide by hanging. Hu used shoelaces, which were removed from the shoes found near Hu’s remains.

◼︎ As previously reported, Hu was found at a nearby grain warehouse. It has now been clarified that the area where Hu’s remains were found is a grain reserve depot area. The grain reserve depot area is prohibited to enter and is guarded 24/7. It is a very large plot of land that includes a zone (over 8000 square meters) with twenty buildings on it – including warehouses and living quarters, – and a forest area of approximately 9300 square meters. Although the area is encircled by a wall, some parts of the wall are lower due to uneven ground. Hu’s body was found in the wooded area, hanging from a tree near the wall, close to one of the spots where the wall height was significantly lower.

School area (top circle) and the grain reserve depot area (lower circle).

◼︎ The location where Hu’s remains were found is just 226 meters away from the Zhiyuan Middle School and it had been searched before, not only through the use of thermal drones, but also by search teams on four different occasions in October and November of 2022. Although all the buildings in the area were searched along with other parts of the zone, the specific wooded area where Hu was later found was not searched. There were also no clues that led search teams to believe Hu Xinyu had walked a specific route through dense vegetation surrounding the grain depot area.

People’s Daily released a 3D video visualising the situation in the area where Hu’s remains were found. Due to uneven ground / piled-up mud, the high wall is relatively easy to jump over from outside. Inside the wall (which is on the grain reserve depot grounds) there is a wooded area.

Hu Xinyu’s body was found hanging from a tree at the interior of the wall, in a place that was not clearly visible.

◼︎ The voice recorder plays a major role in this case. It was previously known that Hu Xinyu had purchased a voice recorder and that it could not be located after Hu Xinyu went missing. Although earlier reports stated that the data on the recorder could not be retrieved as the device had been exposed to sun, rain, moist, etc., it has now been announced that the audio files have been retrieved and that Hu Xinyu recorded two messages on Oct. 14, 2022, at 17:40 and 23:08, in which he expressed the will to commit suicide.

◼︎ The involved experts in this case have also concluded that through analysis and based on Hu’s own notes and other evidence, the 15-year-old boy was struggling with his mental health and emotional disorders related to loneliness, insecurity, and lack of communication. Hu also experienced additional stress when he was getting lower grades, and he suffered from insomnia, difficulty concentrating, abnormal eating patterns, and an overall sense of hopelessness.

During the press conference, reporters were allowed to ask questions related to the case. In response to a question related to the many rumors the Hu Xinyu case has attracted over the past months, one official declared that at least two persons have been arrested for fabricating videos and purposely spreading false rumors about the case.

After Thursday’s press conference, it has once again become clear just how big the social media attention is for this case. The hashtag “Content of Hu Xinyu Voice Recorder” (#胡鑫宇录音笔内容#) received over 390 million views on Weibo; the hashtag “Hu Xinyu Expressed Will to Commit Suicide on Voice Recorder” (#胡鑫宇录音笔中音频表达自杀意愿#) received over 640 million views; the hashtag “Hu Xinyu Died due to Self-Hanging” (#胡鑫宇系自缢死亡#) received over 950 million views.

Among the many responses, there are those who argue that schools should offer more channels to provide support to students dealing with mental health issues. Others hope that Hu Xinyu can now finally rest in peace.

 
For information and support on mental health and suicide, international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
 

By Manya Koetse 

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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