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Was Peng Shuai’s ‘Winnie the Pooh’ selfie a distress signal? Social media users obsess over it

Peng last week uploaded a series of photos on WeChat, including one with Winnie The Pooh in the background. The cartoon character is used as a derogatory nickname for President Xi.

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New Delhi: Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who earlier this month accused former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault, has left some social media users shocked with her latest selfie.

Last week, the three-time Olympian uploaded a series of photos to Chinese social media app WeChat, playing with her cat while surrounded by stuffed animals in what appeared to be her bedroom. State TV employee Shen Shiwei later shared the photos on Twitter.

In the following days, social media users have obsessed over one photo — which features a picture of the fictional bear Winnie The Pooh in the background — and speculated that it is a “distress signal”.

“Did no one else notice that the WeChat Peng Shuai photos featured a Winnie the Pooh (!) in the background…?” asked one user.

China-born human rights activist Jennifer Zeng suggested the selfie implied that Peng is in the hands of the secret police in China and “Winnie the Pooh is behind” it all.

‘Winnie the Pooh’ is a common derogatory nickname for President Xi Jinping, who has been compared to the cartoon character’s body shape in the past. From 2017 onwards, internet users in China have been banned from posting memes comparing Winnie the Pooh to Xi.

Last year, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also triggered speculation after tweeting a photo of his dog playing with a stuffed Winnie the Pooh toy. He later denied that the picture had a hidden message.

This comes at a time when China is gearing up to host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Selfie appeared after #WhereIsPengShuai trended

The photos on WeChat came after weeks of speculation that Peng had gone missing, following her accusation against the former vice-premier. Last week, the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai started trending on social media, and tennis stars from across the world, like Serena Williams, spoke out.

The Women’s Tennis Association had also threatened to withdraw all events from China next year if it did not receive proof that Peng is safe.

(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)

Also read: China can’t use sports as soft power for long. 2022 Winter Olympics looks set to fail

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