Chinese Dissident Ai Weiwei Dismissed Tennis Star Peng as Party ‘Soldier’
(Bloomberg) -- Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei dismissed tennis star Peng Shuai as a “soldier” of the Communist Party, at a time when she appeared in state-media footage released to quell global concerns over her safety after she made allegations against a former top official.
“What she did is nothing to do with brave,” Ai said in a Dec. 8 interview on Bloomberg Quicktake’s “Emma Barnett Meets,” which debuts on Thursday.
Ai was referring to the 1,500-character essay Peng posted to her verified Weibo account in November detailing a decade-long sexual relationship with the party’s former No. 7 official, Zhang Gaoli. That account included an episode that raised concerns she had been coerced into sex, something Peng denied in comments later in December after the Bloomberg interview.
“She feels she has been mistreated and posts on her own personal blog,” Ai said at the time, “then later she performs according to the state’s will.”
“She is a sports person, which is like being a soldier in the army,” Ai said of Peng, whose career was heavily supported by the government, according to state media. “Any person in sport is considered as property of the party. So what she did I don’t think is that brave.”
Peng fell silent for several weeks after posting her essay, prompting leading tennis players, the White House, the European Union and United Nations to raise concerns over her whereabouts. China’s Communist Party officially bans cadres from having extramarital relationships, making her rare allegations particularly explosive. They also came right before a key Communist Party as calls increased in the West for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics.
Chinese state media journalists led the response to the international outcry, posting photos and videos of Peng to their accounts on Twitter, which is blocked in China. The tennis star also purportedly sent an email to Women’s Tennis Association head Steve Simon declaring that “everything is fine.” The WTA said those efforts didn’t satisfy its concern for her wellbeing in China, which has a track record of coerced confessions, and that it couldn’t get in touch with her.
In her first media interview since the scandal broke, Peng last month denied she had accused Zhang of sexual assault. “First, I would like to stress a very important point: I have never said nor written anything accusing anyone of sexually assaulting me,” the former world doubles No. 1 said in an eight-minute video interview with the Singapore-based Chinese-language Lianhe Zaobao newspaper published on Dec. 19. “I would like to emphasize this point very clearly.”
Peng added that her movements hadn’t been curtailed. “I have always been very free,” she said while attending a cross-country ski competition in Shanghai.
The Chinese Tennis Association didn’t respond to Bloomberg Quicktake’s efforts to reach Peng for a response to Ai’s comments. After Peng’s denial of the sexual assault allegation, Ai told Bloomberg he didn’t want to add to his previous comments.
Born in 1957 in Beijing, Ai is one of the world’s best known Chinese artists. He was part of a team that designed the Bird’s Nest stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and he created the Sunflower Seeds installation at London’s Tate Modern. In 2015, he fled China after his criticism of the ruling party saw him briefly jailed and then banned from international travel for four years.
‘Do Not Go Back’
In the interview, Ai acknowledged that Peng is in a “horrible situation,” saying he knew many people in China who had been disappeared. “She seems to now only perform on the same line as the state,” he said. “And, of course, is being forced.”
Ai also said he has no plans to return to China.
“I talk to my mum almost daily,” said the artist, who now lives in Portugal. “And the last sentence she always tells me is: do not go back.”
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