Update 12:40 p.m. to provide more information.
A lawyer for China’s most famous women’s tennis player, Peng Shuai, said his client is safe and not a victim of attack after the player received threats via social media of a bad injury.
Lawyer Xu Qing said in a video call from Hong Kong that Peng is not sure what is happening. “But for the time being it’s safe,” he said.
Last week, Peng posted a photo on her Weibo account of her 6-foot height and weight (she stands 5 feet 6 inches and weighs 165 pounds). The caption of the photo noted that she uses racquets with “little stones,” poking fun at the treatment the leading men’s players receive in relation to their ranking.
On the internet, however, the message was not benign. Critics pointed out that her advice to do something as simple as upping her clothing size may be of use, as it’s important to improve the size of her racquet heads.
The image attracted mention from Chinese commentary sites, which translated the post into English and added insult to injury by hyperventilating over its potential ramifications.
One site questioned whether Peng should have posted the image at all, or even attempted to explain the matter. Others argued that even if it could be viewed as bullying, Peng’s post was reasonable.
“Many people would have given those [players] a dressing down for the absolute lack of decency,” one account posted.
Within days, Peng’s Weibo account was being banned, with new comments blocked and the account suspended from the search function.
The government and police haven’t commented on the matter since the security issues were first discovered, although state media on Monday published a brief article that said the government’s anti-harassment program had helped hundreds of people avoid online bullying since the summer.
It’s unclear who is responsible for the bullying in this case. Public officials in China have come under fire in recent months over their reaction to a data privacy scandal involving Baidu, China’s biggest search engine.
Internet users in China have launched campaigns in recent years against misogynistic treatment of women, and President Xi Jinping’s government says it is making efforts to improve social relations. An online petition opposing a law to protect women from harassment was signed by more than 500,000 people this year.
But recent statements by prominent figures in China show that such assertions don’t always take into account some of the underlying problems, and may be contributing to them.
The wife of one state media executive, who is also chairwoman of the National Association of Journalists, posted a long essay earlier this year discussing the sensitive issue of female members of Chinese media.
“The constant association of women with vice and blame their misdeeds on men seems to be pervasive,” she wrote. “Even when [in] cases like rape or abusing children, the thought that women might have done it … has become nearly irresistible.”
Xi Jinping, meanwhile, said he wants equality between the sexes, but his administration has cracked down on feminist or sexual-freedom campaigns for women. In 2017, one advocate was thrown in jail for posting an online image of himself holding a “spanking bag” filled with feathery toys for children.