As the Australian Open moves into the quarter finals, it has been announced that those in attendance will be able to wear T-shirts with the phrase “Where is Peng Shuai?” provided they behave in a respectful manner.
Peng Shuai (彭帅) is a Chinese tennis star that accused former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli (张高丽) of sexually assaulting her. After, she disappeared for some time, eventually appearing in a few awkward videos posted to social media and at a few public events. Since then she has largely vanished from public view again. The whole episode has raised more questions that it has answered and seems to show the dangers of speaking out in China, especially for allegations of women accusing powerful men in China of sexual impropriety (though this has been painfully clear since the Feminist Five, on through Huang Xueqin, and numerous others involved in the #MeToo/Feminist movement in China.
Peng’s disappearance resulted in #WhereisPengShuai trending on social media and becoming a sort of slogan to help garner increased recognition and justice for the tennis star. Now with the Australian Open currently underway, many tennis fans took the opportunity to spotlight this issue and push for transparency and support for Peng.
Initially the fans were ordered to remove the shirts. This quickly resulted in a backlash and an even more resolute push by activists to create and distribute even more “Where is Peng Shuai?” shirts. After the backlash the Australian Open quickly relaxed the policy.
This move came as many stated that, while the Open has long had a ban on political slogans, being that this is an issue of human rights, there is no basis for forcing attendees to remove their shirts.
Many in the tennis world have been supportive of Peng and the movement to ensure her safety. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has been at the forefront of this, going so far as to cancel billions of dollars worth of events in China to protect their athletes. Many famous tennis stars have also spoken up. Recently tennis legend Martina Navratilova called the move to ban these shirts “pathetic”.
Hopefully these shirts can bring additional awareness to Peng’s plight, however genuine change will require much more. Corporations will need to put human rights and players’ welfare before profits and governments must hold China accountable for its horrendous record on human rights, especially when it comes to female activists and the #MeToo movement in China.