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.
Did no one else notice that the WeChat Peng Shuai photos featured a Winnie the Pooh (!) in the background while she was wearing an Addidas shirt, a firm that was boycotted in China for refusing to use Xinjiang cotton? pic.twitter.com/UVMfQ11Q6y
— Jordan Schneider (@jordanschnyc) November 22, 2021
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.
Hidden #SOS message in this photo of #PengShaui: Panda is China's “national treasure”, or Guobao 國寶 in Chinese. Secret police is National Security, which sounds Guobao 國保 too. So she is probably saying: I am in the hands of secret police, Winnie the Pooh #XiJinping is behind pic.twitter.com/ofzUTnfsN2
— Jennifer Zeng 曾錚 (@jenniferatntd) November 24, 2021
‘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.
I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. #whereispengshuai pic.twitter.com/GZG3zLTSC6
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) November 18, 2021
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)
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