Peng Shuai: What Causes High-profile Disappearances in China


The Disappearance of Tennis Star Peng Shuai in China, following her sexual assault charges against a former senior Communist Party official, has shed light on similar cases involving political dissidents, artists, businessmen and others who have come into conflict with the authorities.

Take a look at those cases and the background of such actions.


Despite protests in the tennis world and global media, Chinese officials have not responded directly to the accusation posted online by Grand Slam doubles champion Peng more than two weeks ago. Peng said she was sexually assaulted by Zhang Gaoli, a former deputy prime minister and member of the all-powerful standing committee of the party’s Politburo.

Peng, 35, is a former No. 1 women’s doubles player who won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and at the 2014 French Open. She also competed in three Olympics, which made her disappearance even more visible after Beijing was supposed to host the tournament. The Winter Games will kick off on February 4th.

On November 2, Peng wrote in a large social media post that Zhang forced her to have sex three years ago, despite her repeated refusals. The post was quickly deleted from her verified account on Weibo, China’s leading social media platform, but screenshots of the explosive accusation quickly spread across the Chinese internet.



China says it is a nation “governed by law,” but ultimately the Communist Party is in power and there are large gray areas of coercion. Controlling the press and social media allows the authorities to hide information about disappearances and discourage criticism, although such news often gradually emerges through clandestine and foreign sources.

Among Chinese celebrities in the entertainment world, disputes with authorities can kill their careers. For business leaders, this can mean loss of status, market access and possible jail time. In the case of political dissidents, this often means disappearing into a vast, secure state with no access to family or legal protection.

Even before coming to power in 1949, the Communist Party experienced numerous rounds of violent civil clashes in which the losers were liquidated without due process of law. Cultural Revolution 1966-76 Has led to the fact that politicians, teachers and musicians were imprisoned for many years, often in solitary confinement.

Today, the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection is addressing most of the serious allegations against high-ranking officials, who may disappear from sight for months before a brief statement is released that they are under investigation for “serious violations of rules and regulations.” Harsh sentences are later announced, with little or no details of the charges or evidence against them.



Notable people who have disappeared from view under mysterious circumstances include business leader Jack Ma and celebrity actress Fan Bingbing.

Ma, China’s best-known entrepreneur and founder of the Alibaba Group, the world’s largest e-commerce company, has stopped appearing in public after criticizing regulators as being too conservative in October 2020.

Days later, the government ordered Ma’s Ant Group, a financial services firm that grew out of Alibaba’s online payments business, to suspend its planned debut on the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchanges.

Rumors on social media have cast doubt on Ma’s detention. Ma’s friends reportedly said they did not detain him, but after criticizing his comments, they decided to remain silent. Ma reappeared two months later in a video posted by Alibaba in January 2020, but did not mention his disappearance.

Fan disappeared for three months before news broke that the tax authorities had ordered her and the companies she represented to pay taxes and fines totaling $ 130 million.

People can disappear from the map if they are involved in disputes with politically well connected ones, including business and reputation.

Businesswoman Duan Weihong disappeared in 2017, and her husband Desmond Shum said he did not hear from her for four years while he was preparing to publish a book about corruption among Chinese elites. Noise told Time magazine that his wife pleaded with him over the phone not to publish his book, Red Roulette.

Duan, also known as Whitney Duan, was quoted by The New York Times in 2012 in a series of articles on the family wealth of then Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, China’s No. 2 leader. It remains unclear what exactly caused her disappearance.

Real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang disappeared from the public eye in March 2020 after criticizing President Xi Jinping’s actions over the coronavirus pandemic. Later that year, Wren was sentenced to 18 years in prison on corruption charges.



In a rare, publicly disclosed case, Swedish citizen Gui Minghai disappeared in 2015 when he was believed to have been kidnapped by Chinese agents from his seaside home in Thailand.

He and four others, who worked for the same Hong Kong company that published books criticizing the Communist Party, went missing around the same time and were detained by the mainland police a few months later.

Later, a court in eastern China sentenced him to 10 years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence information overseas.”

China has also kidnapped some foreigners.

Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained in China in December 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, following a US extradition request. China delayed announcing their arrests for several days and then denied a link to the arrests. The two were released in September after Meng was allowed to return to China.

Even the gene-editing scientist He Jiankui disappeared from the public eye for nearly a year after announcing his controversial research at a conference in Hong Kong. Finally, in December 2019, he was convicted of practicing medicine without a license.

Accompanying the news of Pen’s disappearance, the wife of the former President of Interpol, who was taken into custody during a trip to China in September 2018, told The Associated Press that she and her lawyers have been unable to contact him since that date.

State media reported that Meng Hongwei confessed to accepting bribes, but Grace Meng said her husband was the victim of a political vendetta.

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