Gracie Kreth


Peng Shuai, China’s star tennis player, logged onto the Chinese social media platform Weibo in November 2021 and posted a description of her relationship with Zhang Gaoli, a powerful Chinese leader and former Vice Premier of China. Shuai alleged in her post that after a consensual relationship with Gaoli, he sexually assaulted her. She described her feelings from the trauma and the suicidal thoughts that followed. Within minutes, the Chinese government scrubbed the post from the internet — but it was still quick to spread, battling the “Great Firewall.” Shuai’s profile essentially disappeared online; along with Shuai in the real world. For weeks, tennis officials and fellow players attempted to contact Shuai with no success. Chinese internet users were unable to search for her online and the Great Firewall worked furiously to scrub the internet of all discussions related to Shuai. Shuai disappeared from the public eye until the release of several pictures of a video call she had with the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, followed by a suspiciously controlled video of an interview with French sports newspaper L’Equipe a few weeks later. As a large outpouring of support grew in China and ballooned throughout the world for Shuai, the Chinese Great Firewall worked hard to quell China’s citizens freedom of assembly of online and, with it, their freedom of speech rights.