Written by By Yuto Yamada, CNN Beijing, China Contributors Partyy Liu, CNN Beijing, China Contributors Mimo Ayano, Nicole Beyers-Walsh, CNN
Elusive national hero Peng Shuai? Yup, still a puzzle to the unwary. This week, as Chinese fans flocked to social media to query if the twice-defending women’s badminton doubles world champion would defend her title at the 2018 Winter Olympics, the burgeoning PengfuHer blogosphere re-shuffled itself.
Lost over the long Lunar New Year holiday, where many traveled home to their hometowns, several social media users stumbled upon Peng’s fictious celebrity — so much so that she was becoming an unlikely problem for online censors in China.
In a February 1 article, China’s People’s Daily cited official information that the 2012 Olympic gold medallist was “further away” than those who were competing, thus falling below the official stipulation.
A post shared by Peng Shuai (@pengshuai) on Feb 1, 2018 at 10:27am PST
But it’s not the first time PengFuHer and its legion of followers have found ways around censorship — whether it’s censored selfie shots or reality television outings, the annual Huayi (literally “breadcrumbs”) social media tradition says it all.
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So much so, that the hashtag #WhereIsPeng was a symbol of Chinese fans’ eagerness to unearth information about the “Superwoman” — enough to spread across thousands of posts, out of the country’s total 140 million social media users.
That said, censors appear to be cracking down on the chatter. In fact, the hashtag soon morphed into one that merely asked “Where Is Peng Shuai?”
This now typical expression has generated nearly 2 million “likes” in less than a week on Weibo, and even became the tagline of the Beijing Guoan team’s official Weibo account in reference to the Olympic track and field competition.
The Olympic woes of two Chinese athletes are slowing taking their toll, as six of the 12 gold medals awarded so far at the 2018 Winter Olympics have gone to Chinese athletes. What’s more, the country has yet to score any golds in ice hockey, which has been dominated by Sweden, Canada and the Czech Republic.