Commentary: Even folks who don’t follow tennis now know who Peng Shuai is, and may be contemplating what her situation means for international relations and democracy.
Peng is a veteran professional tennis player from the Peoples Republic of China, who was briefly ranked No. 1 in doubles in 2014.
November 2, Peng alleged that a former PRC senior vice premier sexually assaulted her three years ago. Within twenty minutes that tweet (on Wenbo) disappeared. So did Peng. Worried friends and tennis officials reached out to her. Nothing. State-controlled media aired unconvincing videos of Peng and said she wanted to spend time with her family and hoped people would respect her privacy.
An International Olympic Committee official says he talked to Peng by video, with a Chinese olympic official. He says she’s fine. Of course, the IOC’s overriding priority is to hold the Winter Olympics in February as smoothly and grandly as possible. In Beijing. Unsurprisingly, the IOC statement omitted Peng’s allegations, which Chinese media euphemize as “the things people talk about.”
A former U.S. president and a former New York governor wish they could so easily disappear harassed women and silence those pesky reporters.
Peng is being “reeducated.” Uighurs and Tibetans get reeducated by the thousands. (Traveling around China long ago, we passed through a remote area experiencing plague. When we reached Lhasa, a young British man sent a story on the plague to the newspaper he worked for. The government came for him. For days, they kept him all day in the police station, until he confessed his error. He had embarrassed China. They couldn’t do to him whatever they’re doing to Peng; and they can’t do to Peng, probably, what they are doing to tens of thousands.
You can’t dissent. You are better off if you are Han, not some lesser ethnicity. Whether from racism or some misguided view of communism, the PRC is destroying the ethnic culture and religions of Tibetans, Uighurs, and others – reeducating them in camps.
We should contemplate Peng’s fate. Our country should reconsider helping the PRC use the Olympics to glorify China. We should ask whether “business as usual” is appropriate. (These are tough issues. If we’d boycotted the 1936 Berlin Olympics, we’d never have seen video of Jesse Owens leaving Aryans in his dust.)
Contemplating Peng reminds us of how different China is from us – and how we’re similar. We too are still battling to outgrow racism and sexism. We laugh at how ludicrous the Chinese government’s lies sound; but you can get away with a lot, if you’ve silenced independent journalism. Here, it’s different; but we just had a president who rarely deigned to make his lies plausible, and who largely got away with absurd falsehoods. On January 6, and since, in state capitols around our nation, our democracy has been under attack.
If you’re a Republican, maybe you sympathize. Some Republicans believe, as firmly as some Chinese officials believe in their Party, that they’re doing the right thing for our country by limiting citizens’ participation in democracy. They’re “patriots.”
But democracy is critical. Ours is endangered. Yes, the electoral college, corruption, gerrymandering, and voter suppression have substantially limited democracy; but what we have matters. Without it, we are China. Or Brazil. We can’t let even “our side” toss it aside for short-term partisan gain.
We have much to give thanks for; but if we sleep we could quickly lose much.