TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Swedish cartoonist created this illustration to demonstrate Beijing's "unsportsmanlike" conduct against Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai (彭帥).
On her official Weibo account on Nov. 2, Peng alleged that she had been coerced into having sex by former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli (張高麗) before becoming his mistress. The post was quickly scrubbed from the Chinese internet, and Peng was not seen or heard from for over two weeks.
On Nov. 17, state-run media posted a dubious email purportedly written by her, but it was quickly dismissed by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), which called for "independent and verifiable proof that she is safe." On Nov. 19, photos of Peng surfaced on Twitter, which is banned in China, followed by a video of dinner with "friends" on Nov. 20 and a staged appearance by the embattled athlete at a tennis tournament with empty seats on Nov. 21.
Later that evening, IOC President Thomas Bach posted a still image of a video chat he claimed to have had with Peng. The video was not released to the media or public, and the WTA was noticeably excluded from the conversation, after which Bach provided scant details on her well-being and did not mention the sexual assault charges against Zhang.
A WTA spokesperson on Monday responded that it was good to see photos and videos of Peng, despite the fact that "they don't alleviate or address the WTA's concern about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion." The spokesperson added that a video call with the IOC "does not change our call for a full, fair, and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern."
Swedish journalist Jojje Olsson that same day on his news blog Kinamedia posted an article titled "Satire: Unsportsmanlike Beijing" and included an illustration by Swedish artist Niklas Eriksson (@KluddNiklas). Olsson wrote that the "Chinese propaganda apparatus is now in full swing to convince the outside world through pictures and videos that everything is fine with Peng Shuai."
He asserted that the apparatus had managed to "take advantage of the always eagerly willing International Olympic Committee" by offering an exclusive video call with Peng. The journalist observed that Beijing had not only marshaled its own resources to muzzle Peng but also recruited international organizations such as the IOC.
"All this heavy cavalry against a lone female athlete — talk about unsportsmanlike!" quipped Olsson.
In the illustration, a Peng can be seen holding a tennis racket on one side of a red clay court as a massive People's Liberation Army (PLA) tank points its barrel directly at her from the other side. The image is an homage to the iconic Tank Man photo taken during the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
The original photo of Tank Man was taken a day after the massacre when an unidentified Chinese man stood in front of a column of tanks to block them from proceeding down Chang'an Avenue on the north edge of Tiananmen Square. As the tanks were departing the square after shots were heard, the man suddenly walked in front of the lead tank, causing the driver to stop the vehicle. Like all images of the massacre, the photo is strictly banned in China.