BEIJING – Chinese authorities have shut down almost all online discussions about allegations of sexual assault allegedly made by a Chinese professional tennis star against a former top government official, showing how sensitive the ruling Communist Party is to such allegations.
In a long post on social media that disappeared quickly, Peng Shuai wrote that Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier and member of the party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals after a round of tennis three years ago. . Her post also said they had sex once seven years ago and she had feelings for him after that.
Peng is a former top-ranked doubles player, taking 23 tour-level doubles titles, including Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.
The Associated Press was unable to verify the authenticity of her post, which was made late Tuesday night by her verified account on Weibo, a major Chinese social media platform. The post was removed shortly thereafter, and a search on Weibo for Peng’s account is now unsuccessful. Neither she nor Zhang could be contacted for comment.
The indictment is the first against a prominent government official since the #MeToo movement came to power in China in 2018 before being largely ousted by authorities the same year. Earlier allegations were limited to the media, activist groups and academia.
The Communist Party’s response illustrates its decision to control public discourse and curb social movements it cannot be sure of control. While social media has become ubiquitous in China, it remains firmly under party control.
Screenshots of the post circulated on Twitter, which is blocked in China, reviving discussion on that platform on sexual relations in China, where men dominate the top levels in politics and business.
In the poster, Peng, 35, wrote that Zhang, now 75, and his wife arranged to play tennis in Beijing about three years ago and that he later brought her into a room at his home where the attack took place.
“I was so scared that afternoon, never thinking this thing could happen,” the poster says.
Rumors and overseas reports on issues between younger women and leading officials have long been foundations of Chinese politics, starting with the founder of the People’s Republic, Mao Zedong.
Cases filed against current and former officials under the ten-year anti-corruption campaign of party leader and president Xi Jinping also often feature allegations of “lewd lifestyles,” along with bribery and abuse of their positions.
Zhang retired in 2018 and has largely disappeared from public life, as is usual with former Chinese officials.
Peng has not played at the top level since the Qatar Open in February 2020. In singles, she reached the semifinals of the 2014 US Open and the Round of 16 at the subsequent Australian Open, but did not progress beyond the third round at any major since Wimbledon in 2017.
The Communist Party has been increasingly on strike against civil society, including the #MeToo movement, which struggled to gain power in the country.
Zhou Xiaoxuan, a former intern at Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, was pushed by bystanders in September when she went to court in a case against a notorious presenter.
Since then, the movement has been largely shut down by authorities because activists found their online posts censored and faced pressure from authorities when they tried to hold protests.