Celebrities who disappeared in China after speaking out about the Communist Party or powerful people

5 min read

Shuai Peng seen at the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia

Peng Shuai has not been heard from since she accused a top Chinese official of sexual assault. The 35-year-old tennis player is one of China’s biggest sports stars.

In a post on November 2 on Weibo, Peng alleged the former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex and that they had an affair. Afterward, the post was taken down and references to Peng were blocked on China’s internet, the Guardian reported.

She hasn’t been heard from or seen since.

US tennis star Noami Osaka voiced her concerns over Peng’s disappearance with a tweet on Tuesday using the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai.

“I was recently informed of a fellow tennis player that has gone missing shortly after revealing that she has been sexually abused,” Osaka tweeted. “Censorship is never ok at any cost, I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok. I’m in shock of the current situation and I’m sending love and light her way.”

Zhao Wei was blacklisted from social media and her whereabouts were unknown after the government cracked down on pop culture influences.

zyoi woi
Chinese actress Zhao Wei.

The whereabouts of Chinese actress Zhao Wei became a mystery in August after she was apparently blacklisted from social media by the Beijing authorities, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The actress was also removed from popular streaming sites.

The Wall Street Journal reported that it was part of an effort by Beijing to target the pop-culture industry for what it sees as “unhealthy influences for young people.”

Rumors spread that Zhao fled to France with her husband, where the two own a vineyard outside Bordeaux. Zhao denied the rumors in a since-deleted Instagram post, claiming she was with family in Beijing, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Artist Ai Weiwei was disappeared and detained for months after he criticized the government.

Ai Weiwei
Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei waves from the entrance of his studio after being released on bail in Beijing.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has long been considered a dissident who has been critical of China’s government. He published criticisms of the Chinese government on a blog that was eventually taken down and was later assaulted by Chinese police in 2009, according to Britannica.

The artist was disappeared in April 2011 after he was accused of tax evasion and police detained him for almost 3 months, according to Human Rights Watch. He couldn’t speak with his lawyer, and his wife was permitted to visit him once, HRW reported.

After protests in his name, Ai was released in June 2011. The government said he was let go “because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from,” Reuters reported.

E-commerce billionaire Jack Ma disappeared from public view after he criticized the Chinese financial industry.

Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma.
Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma.

Jack Ma, a high-profile Chinese entrepreneur and e-commerce billionaire, disappeared from public view after he criticized the Chinese financial industry in an October 2020 speech in Shanghai.

Days later, the Chinese government ordered probes into Ma’s companies, Alibaba and Ant Group, and tightened regulations. It was seen as an attempt by the government to regain control over tech giants that wield economic and political power.

After vanishing for over two months, the entrepreneur reappeared in a January 2021 video that made no mention of his disappearance. Forbes contributor George Calhoun said Ma was “uncharacteristically flat and subdued” in the video. Subsequent sightings of Ma were scattered and unconfirmed, and the Financial Times later reported Ma was merely “lying low.”

In October 2021, Ma was seen in Spain, taking his first trip outside of China since the fallout with the government began.

Billionaire businesswoman Whitney Duan vanished and wasn’t heard from for 4 years until her ex-husband, tycoon Desmond Shum, was about to publish a book on corruption in China.

Whitney Duan and her ex-husband Desmond Shum were closely tied to China’s elites and involved in several large developments in Beijing, Time magazine reported. In 2017, Duan, who also goes by Duan Weihong, disappeared in Beijing without a trace.

It came after she spoke with The New York Times during a 2012 investigation that found many of the relatives of then-Prime Minister Wen Jiabao became exceedingly wealthy during his political career, controlling at least $2.7 billion in assets. Duan herself was implicated in the scandal, although she denied having financial ties to the prime minister.

After Duan’s disappearance, Shum told Time he couldn’t get in touch with her for four years. He left the country and hasn’t returned since his ex-wife’s disappearance.

Then, in September 2021, Shum told Time he got messages from Duan urging him to call her. He did, and for the first time in four years, her line wasn’t dead. Shum said Duan begged him not to publish his recent book “Red Roulette: An Insider’s Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption, and Vengeance in Today’s China“, which details corruption in the Chinese Communist Party.

“She asked me to stop the book launch, saying: ‘How would you feel if something happened to our son? And what would happen to our son if something happened to me?’ I took that to be a threat,” Shum told Time.

Forbes reported a disturbing pattern that saw several billionaires and wealthy moguls had vanished from the public sphere for a period of time. Some reportedly were detained to assist with investigations.

Real estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang vanished after he criticized the Chinese government for its handling of the pandemic.

Ren Zhiqiang.
Ren Zhiqiang went missing after he criticized the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Real estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang disappeared in March 2020 after he wrote an essay criticizing the Chinese government for how it was handling the COVID-19 pandemic, referring to President Xi Jinping as a “clown.”

Shortly afterward, his friends told The New York Times he went missing. He was later sentenced to 18 years in prison after a court found him guilty of a litany of financial crimes, but his peers said the sentence was a result of his essay.

“Very clearly this was punishment for his words, that’s going to be obvious to everyone,” sociologist Guo Yuhua told the Times. “Those economic problems — this one, that one — can be concocted whenever you want.”

Human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was detained amid a crackdown on Chinese activists in 2015.

Wang Quanzhang.
Human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was detained for several years.

Wang Quanzhang, a Chinese human rights lawyer, was detained with 200 others in 2015 amid a crackdown on activism in the country. He was found guilty of “subverting state power” in a closed-door court with no journalists or foreign diplomats present, according to BBC.

For three years, his family did not know of his whereabouts or whether he was even alive.

“I don’t know whether he’s alive or dead,” his wife Li Wenzu told BBC’s John Sudworth in 2017. “I have had no information at all. He has simply disappeared from the face of the earth. It is so scary, so brutal.”

Li added that Wang wasn’t “allowed to meet the lawyer that we have employed for him, and he has no right to communicate with the outside world.”

Wang was released in April 2020.

Source: Insider

Tony Simon

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