A Chinese tennis pro named Gao Zhisheng vanished without a trace this week. Meng Qinghong, the 15-year-old who entered this year’s Wimbledon junior singles championship, is also missing. According to The China Daily, Deng Ruihuan, director of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), told the Shanghai Daily that the two disappeared when the China Tennis Association canceled their WTA tournament training camp in Zhejiang. Both had been charged with missing after attending a tennis lesson in Beijing earlier this month.
News that the pair had vanished amid a broader trend of “modern-day kidnapping” might seem like an afterthought, but the women’s pro-tennis community has a long history of taboo in China.
They were known as the “original Sunflower Girls,” and their efforts in 1996 to prevent the government from shutting down college dormitories have since become one of the most famous incidents of resistance against Chinese censorship.
Still, the disappearances, if related to the crackdown on arts and celebrities that is believed to be occurring as part of an extensive effort to scrub the internet of information critical of President Xi Jinping, could have far-reaching consequences.
The government is so “bullish” on the idea of propaganda, said Wang Dehua, a writer who studies the history of China’s media, that the struggle to get information out via the internet in China has been framed as “a struggle between heaven and earth.”
If the crackdown of artists and other prominent figures increases, there may not be anyone left to pressure the government to uphold the truth in China.