Chinese tennis star Zheng Jie has yet to be heard from since her swift return from a four-week absence following allegations of physical assault. Meanwhile, the main feminist groups have commented on the global #MeToo movement, urging greater inclusion of women in sports.
Although China’s preparations for next month’s Davis Cup championship have seen such star-studded names as Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal vying for matches, the country has endured a scandal of its own in the wake of a minor domestic incident.
Zheng Jie, 28, a countrywomen of the previous generation of greats, had been on the comeback trail following the birth of her first child, having won a few tournaments and undergone a LTA “cultural induction” in the United States with the country’s Sports Minister, Fu Ziying.
A few weeks after those events, a Beijing newspaper reported that on 13 January, Zheng had clashed with a former agent over a housing subsidy fund of $15,000. The confrontation was captured on video and both parties later confirmed it to the paper, which aired the footage and called for criticism of the “aggressive” behavior.
While admitting the use of violence was not acceptable in her eyes, Zheng later confirmed that she has “never had any problem” with her former agent.
The conflict came in the wake of a published account of a massage therapist who was warned off Zheng Jie in mid-2016. According to the massage therapist, Zheng abused her and once slammed her against a wall after a grueling summer training camp.
The therapist, Wei Rui, has alleged that after the incident, six months passed without Yang Jiwei, the tennis professional who runs the women’s racket division at the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA), contacting her or even speaking to her. When she finally spoke to Wei later, she was told that Yang had once again personally apologized to her.
Wei urged the CTA to investigate further, and even reported Yang to police. Ultimately, she was told the police would not take the case since Yang was not named as the suspect in the case.
Local media have speculated that the anonymous complaint was planted by trolls, but nothing has been proved. Additionally, the employee was fired for threatening to report the incident to state media outlets if Yang did not give up the fight, according to the CTA’s own official report.
While Yang has not commented publicly on the incident, media have alleged that she was in fact the injured party in the massage dispute, citing the massage therapist as a “major witness”.
While the young women’s rights movement has been behind the recent focus on abuse of domestic violence and abuse at the hands of other women in a number of high-profile cases (including the Danish actor and activist Freya Mavor), there has been muted comment in local media about the alleged physical assault on Zheng.
Though two feminist blogs, each with millions of followers, responded to the news of the incident with a wide-ranging range of posts about how women and girls are treated in society, with a failure to include men, transgendered people and domestic abuse survivors, both on the charge of domestic violence and abuse.
One blog that discussed the controversy at length: the Chinese Feminist Forum, a group set up by feminists and followers of high-profile activist Feng Shucheng that demanded the appointment of a woman as a member of the CTA board following her suicide last year after one of her members slammed her on Facebook for allegedly participating in anti-establishment “witch hunts”.