Even while Chinese state media outlets continue to share footage of tennis star Peng Shuai in a bid to prove that she is alive and well, the country's leading social media platform remains devoid of content related to her.
Peng vanished for three weeks after making a post on November 2 on the Chinese social media site Weibo, the country's version of Twitter. The now-deleted post accused the country's former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her in 2019.
Insider ran a search of Peng's name on Weibo that yielded only two results from this year, one featuring a tennis training camp in September — which had the comments section locked. The other visible post containing Peng's name was one from the French embassy in China calling for transparency in Peng's case. That post saw hundreds of comments from angry Chinese web users telling the French to "mind their own business" and not interfere in China's domestic issues.
Peng's own Weibo account, akin to a blog, had the comments section locked on every post. The latest entry available was an automated posting announcing her birthday this past January.
Peng is considered one of the country's most famous athletes, but only two clips were available on the platform — one from a tennis match in 2020, and an old video from a match at Wimbledon.
Following Peng's disappearance, an unverified email claiming to be from the missing athlete was published on state media outlet CGTN. But the email prompted more concern over Peng's welfare, with President Joe Biden, Naomi Osaka, and Serena Williams joining the chorus of voices to call for proof of Peng's safety.
However, content and discussion about Peng appear to still be largely absent on Weibo. It is unclear if the platform is actively censoring content about Peng. Weibo did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
This week, a reporter from China's state media shared what he claimed to be recent snapshots of Peng that showed her posing with a cat and stuffed animals. An influential state-media editor, Hu Xijin of the Global Times, later shared videos of Peng supposedly having dinner with her coach, where they repeat the date multiple times in the same clip. Separately, the International Olympic Committee said on Sunday that it had made contact with Peng via video call and that she appeared to be "relaxed."
The Women's Tennis Association is still pushing for verifiable proof of Peng's safety.
Other instances of high-profile disappearances have been documented in China. Alibaba founder Jack Ma dropped off the radar for three months after making a controversial speech critiquing China's financial system.
In Ma's case, he stopped posting on Weibo abruptly and did not make public appearances. Bloomberg reported that Weibo removed Ma's name from the platform's top topics (similar to Twitter's trending topics), but his name was not censored on the platform.