Peng Shuai 彭帅

By Beata Desselle

戴蓓雅

NANJING, CHINA — Peng Shuai was not the first Chinese celebrity to suddenly disappear and likely won’t be the last. 

中国,南京 —— 彭帅不是第一个一夜之间就消失的中国名人,也不会是最后一个。

On November 2, 2021, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who is widely regarded as one of the best doubles players of all time, wrote an emotional post on the Chinese social media platform Weibo in which she described an affair she had with Zhang Gaoli, China’s former Vice Premier, appearing to accuse him of sexual assault. Although her original post never directly accused Zhang of sexual assault, many have read into the experience she chronicled as such, mostly due to the post’s details including a description of how Zhang forced, pressured, or pressed for her to have sex with him (the direct translation depends on how you translate the character 逼.)The post only survived about 20 minutes before being taken down by censors. Weibo accounts that discussed the post were suspended, and Weibo disabled the ability to search for Ms. Peng’s account.

2021年11月2日,中国的网球明星彭帅,网坛公认的最优秀的双打选手之一,发布了一篇情绪化的微博。在这篇微博中,她描述了她跟中国前副总理张高丽之间的不正当性关系,也似乎指控张对她实施性侵犯。虽然她的微博并没有直接指控性侵犯,但是很多人推测是这样,因为彭帅的微博中说张“逼”彭帅与他发生性关系。这篇微博仅出现了20分钟就被审核员撤下。与此同时,讨论彭帅的帖子的微博账号被禁,微博上也不能再搜索到彭帅的账号。

After disappearing from social media and the public eye for a few weeks, the athlete has gradually resumed making public appearances. Along with these re-appearances, there have been efforts to walk back the contents of her Weibo post. Two weeks after her original post, a letter supposedly written by Peng Shuai was posted on Twitter by CGTN, an English-language arm of Chinese state media. This letter, widely dismissed as one not written by Ms. Peng herself, contradicts the contents of her original post and states that she is safe and not missing. She has also recently been seen in a video stating that she has “never said or written that anyone sexually assaulted” her. Many, including the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), are not taking this video as actual proof that no sexual misconduct happened or that Ms. Peng is completely free from state censorship and control. Most recently, at the beginning of the 2022 winter olympics, Ms. Peng told the French news outlet L’Equipe that she would be retiring from tennis.

从社交媒体和公众视线中消失几个星期之后,这名运动员逐渐重新出现在公众面前,并试图否认她的微博中的内容。原贴发出两周后,CGTN在推特发布了一封据称是彭帅写的信。很多人认为这封信不是彭帅写的,因为这封信中内容与她此前的微博内容有冲突。同时,这封信还声称彭帅现在是安全的,并没有失踪。彭帅近期也在一个视频中现身,称她从未说过有人对她实施过性侵犯这样的话。很多人,乃至于国际女子网球协会(WTA),都不认为这段视频能够证明性侵犯没有发生或者彭帅已经摆脱了政府的监控。最新的消息是,2022年冬奥会开始时,彭帅告诉一个法国的新闻媒体她会从网坛退役。

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence in China. Celebrity disappearances orchestrated by government officials are becoming more and more salient. Fan BingBing, an actress, model, and singer who had been listed by Forbes as China’s highest-paid celebrity for four years in a row,  is a high-profile example. She completely disappeared from the public eye for four months in 2018 after being investigated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for tax evasion. 

很遗憾,类似彭帅的遭遇在中国并不罕见。名人被当局雪藏的事件正变得越来越让人难以忽视。范冰冰的消失就是一个非常引人注目的例子。范冰冰是一名演员、模特与歌手,她曾连续四年蝉联福布斯中国名人收入榜榜首。2018年,她被中共查处偷税漏税以后,从公众的视线中完全消失了四个月。

More broadly, celebrities regularly face backlash for politically contentious work. Movie star Zhang Zhehan was deemed insensitive due to pictures of him posing for a photo at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, resulting in his social media profiles, films, and TV series being wiped from Chinese websites. Zhao Wei, a billionaire actress regarded as one of China’s biggest movie stars, was blacklisted and scrubbed from China’s internet in 2021. Ms. Zhao, who owns the public relations agency representing Zhang Zhehan, hired a Taiwanese actress for one of her films in 2016 and, back in 2001, wore a dress that featured a Japanese military flag. A more serious example of someone who actually criticized the CCP is social activist and China’s most famous modern artist, Ai Weiwei, who, after speaking out about China’s human rights violations, was imprisoned by the government for 81 days in 2011.  

一般来说,名人们往往因为他们具有政治争议的行为而被针对。影星张哲瀚在日本的靖国神社的照片造成他的社交媒体资料,电影,和电视连续剧被从中国网站上抹去。赵薇,亿万富翁女演员,也是中国影响力最大的影星之一,在2021年被中国互联网列入黑名单。原因是赵薇在她2016年的电影中聘请了一名台湾女演员,同时,她还在2001年穿过一件印有日本军旗的连衣裙。也有人因为批评共产党而受到惩罚。社会活动家、中国最为著名的现代艺术家艾伟伟就在2011年因为发表关于中国人权侵犯问题的言论而被政府监禁了81日。

Why does the Chinese government censor these stars from public view? These stars are invariably charged with tax evasion, promoting unhealthy or unnationalistic values, or some charges which are not able to be corroborated.

为什么中国政府要雪藏这名人? 这些明星往往是被指控逃税、 推动不健康或非民族主义的价值观或者其他未经证实的指控。

The basis for these disappearances is rooted in fears of the public developing allegiances to not only the wrong values, but also to the wrong people. China’s fan economy is projected to reach $1 trillion by the end of 2023, and China’s fan culture and “idol economies” can be seen as symptoms of a fame-obsessed society. Celebrities have immense power to influence their fans; Chinese authorities are well aware of this. This could explain the disappearances of celebrities who didn’t seem to directly oppose the regime, such as Fan BingBing or Zhao Wei. They have amassed too much influence, potentially able to steer their millions of adoring fans in the wrong direction, and they must be checked before they act on that potential. This is why censorship rules are in place, blurring out or completely erasing creators who have promoted the wrong values.

政府雪藏这些名人不仅是因为他们担心公众会相信名人所宣传的错误的价值观,更是因为担心公众对错误的人建立忠诚度。到2023年底,中国的粉丝经济规模预计将达到一万亿美元。中国的粉丝文化与“偶像经济”可以被视作是一种痴迷于名声的社会的症状。中国政府清楚地知道,名人有巨大的粉丝影响力。 这可能解释了一些似乎没有直接反对政权的名人的失踪,例如范冰冰或赵薇。这些名人积累了太多的影响力,他们有潜力把粉丝引向错误的方向。所以在她们发挥这种潜力以前,政府必须限制住这些名人。这就是中国存在审查制度来在公共舆论中模糊或完全抹除那些推动了错误价值观的人的原因。

According to Bochen Han, human rights researcher and Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC) alumnus, Chinese authorities view these celebrities as having “too much power” in the form of collective action potential.“You never know what they could do” with all the influence they hold, so Beijing tries to “nip it before it actualizes,” she said.  

韩博晨,人权研究员同时也是中美文化研究中心(HNC)的校友,认为,中国当局认为名人们在促成集体行动方面有“太多权力”。名人们拥有很大的影响力,“你永远都不知道他们可以用这些影响力做什么”,所以北京必须 “防微杜渐”, 她说。

Many people in the West were shocked to hear about Peng Shuai. The hashtag #whereispengshuai flooded social media feeds after having been posted by tennis superstars and cultural celebrities Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams. The WTA canceled all tournaments in China indefinitely with support from the Association of Tennis Professionals. Even President Biden brought attention to the issue, calling for “verifiable proof” of Peng Shuai’s safety. 

很多西方人听说了彭帅的故事之后,感到很震惊。在网坛巨星Naomi Osaka和Serena Williams在社交媒体上发布#whereispengshuai (彭帅在哪里)的话题标签后,西方的社交媒体充斥着这一话题标签。在网球职业协会的支持下,WTA无限期取消了所有在中国的比赛。甚至,拜登总统都注意到了这个问题并要求(中国政府提供)可以证明彭帅安全的“可验证的证据”。

Peng Shuai’s case generated far more shock among international audiences than news of even bigger Chinese stars. Peng Shuai’s case resonates with Western audiences who have been embroiled in the #metoo movement for several years. Thus, her case is topical and seems especially egregious. In addition, the world of tennis may be one that allows for more connections between China and the rest of the world, compared to the film and music industries which operate very differently in China and the West. After all, without the attention drawn to her situation via social media by her famous tennis peers in other countries, the news of Ms. Peng’s disappearance likely wouldn’t have spread so quickly through Western media outlets.  

相较于许多比彭帅更有名的中国明星,彭帅的失踪在国际社会产生了更大的冲击。她的情况引起了已经参与#metoo运动多年的西方观众的共鸣。因此,彭帅的失踪很具话题性也特别令人发指。此外,相比电影、音乐等中西方运行方式差异巨大的行业,在网球的世界中,中国和世界上的其他国家的联系更为密切。毕竟,如果不是西方那些著名的网球运动员在社交媒体上的关注,彭帅失踪的新闻在西方的国家可能不会那么快地传播。

Peng Shuai’s case has allowed international audiences to become more knowledgeable about Chinese celebrity disappearances, but what about Chinese audiences? Beijing wants China’s domestic population kept in the dark about the human rights abuses committed in China in order to maintain a loyal and nationalistic population. When asked about the Peng Shuai case, a Chinese student at the HNC said, “Who is Peng Shuai and what happened to her?” She explained that because of the internet firewall in China, a lot of political information cannot be accessed on the internet. What’s more, her friends who have VPNs not only don’t care about stories like these but  rather view them  “as a rumor or lie made up by Western media.”

彭帅事件让国际社会对中国的名人的失踪更为了解,可是中国的观众呢?为了保持民众的忠诚与爱国,北京当局把百姓们蒙在鼓里,不让他们了解中国境内发生的这些人权侵犯事件。在被问到彭帅的情况的时候,一名HNC的中方学生说“彭帅是谁?她怎么了?”这个学生说,因为中国的互联网防火墙,在网上很多政治信息不能找到。更重要的是,她有VPN的朋友们不仅不在乎这样的信息,甚至认为这样的信息是“西方媒体编造的谣言或谎言”。

The reality is that the domestic criticism about these abuses cannot be as strong as the international outcry. The Chinese population at large doesn’t have access to comprehensive information, and even folks with heightened access tend to interpret the abuses as exaggerated stories made up by Western media outlets obsessed with China-bashing. Beijing plans to keep it this way; as Ms. Han explained, “international attention and a reaction matters much less than Chinese public opinion or other Chinese interests.”

现实是,中国国内针对这些人权侵犯的批评不可能像国外的一样强烈。大部分中国人都不能获取完整的信息,甚至,有更高访问权限的人往往认为中国的人权侵犯问题是痴迷于抨击中国的西方媒体所编造的夸张故事。北京打算保持现状,就像韩博晨所说的那样:“国际社会的关注和反应都不如国内舆论或别的中国的利益重要”。

Despite the international outrage at this situation, as well as other violations of human rights in China, Beijing is unlikely to change its ways until the people within the country are allowed full awareness of these issues and demand better from their government. Although pressure from international audiences cannot necessarily secure freedom for disappeared celebrities such as Peng Shuai, such outside pressure usually ensures their physical safety.

但不论国际社会对于彭帅失踪事件抑或是中国的其他人权侵犯事件有多么愤怒,在中国人民能够完全地意识到这样的问题的存在并向政府提出更强的诉求之前,中国政府不太可能改变处理这类问题的方式。虽然国际社会的压力不见得能保障被雪藏的名人的自由,但至少外部的压力通常能确保他们的人身安全。

Beata Desselle is reporting from New Orleans, Louisiana. 

蓓雅,报道于路易斯安那州新奥尔良市。

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