Former Wimbledon and Roland Garros doubles champion Peng Shuai, 35, accused retired Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli on Tuesday of pushing her into having sex, screenshots from a post deleted from Peng’s verified account on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social network. media platform.
CNN could not independently verify the authenticity of the over 1,600 word message and contacted Peng for comment, as well as the Information Office of the State Council of China, which handles press inquiries for the. central government.
In the post, which reads like an open letter to Zhang, she alleges an intermittent relationship that lasted for at least 10 years. Peng says she opened her heart to him.
“Why did you have to come back to me, take me to your place to force me to have sex with you?” Yes, I had no proof, and it was just impossible to have proof, ”she wrote.
CNN was unable to reach Zhang, 75, who served on the seven-person Politburo Standing Committee of the ruling Communist Party, the country’s supreme body, from 2012 to 2017 during Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s first term. He retired as Deputy Prime Minister in 2018.
In China, senior executives of Zhang’s reputation remain inaccessible and private even after his retirement, making it virtually impossible to reach him to comment on this story.
China’s fledgling #MeToo movement has targeted academics, NGO workers, and celebrities in the past – with varying results. But this is the first time that he reached the highest echelons of the Communist Party.
“We have to realize how remarkable it is for Peng Shuai to choose to speak out. Few people would have the courage to do it, because it could come at the expense of your safety and that of your family, ”said Lv Pin, a prominent Chinese feminist now based in New York.
Adding to political sensitivity, the scandal also came just days before a crucial meeting of party elites in Beijing, which is expected to pave the way for Xi Jinping is preparing for a third term.
As Peng’s claims made waves online, censorship unleashed with speed and ferocity unheard of in any of the country’s previous #MeToo cases.
His long post, published shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday, was deleted in less than 30 minutes. Screenshots of it originally had circulated widely on social media and in private newsgroups, but they were quickly censored as well, along with other articles discussing the case.
Peng’s verified account, which has more than half a million subscribers, remains on Weibo Wednesday night. But he was blocked from research. All comment sections under his previous posts have also been closed.
As a sign of the unprecedented level of censorship, even a Weibo tennis discussion page has been closed for comment. And obscure references to the scandal have also been removed.
On Douban, the IMDB-style movie reviews site in China, the page for the Korean romantic TV show “The Prime Minister and I” was censored, after users discussed Peng’s case in its review section.
The swift and thorough censorship contrasts sharply with the response to other recent high-profile #MeToo cases, such as the rape allegations against Chinese-Canadian pop star Kris Wu.
This scandal was allowed to gain traction on social media, dominating the hottest topics on Weibo for days, as state media amplified the accusation, blaming Wu for his moral decay.
Wu was later arrested on suspicion of rape. Prior to his arrest, Wu had denied the allegations on his personal Weibo account. Her company said it was pursuing legal action against its accuser, calling the charges “malicious rumors.”
Soon after, the government unleashed a sweeping crackdown on the entertainment industry, quashing a host of “celebrities who misbehave.”
Peng claimed in her post that she first had sex with Zhang over 10 years ago, when Zhang was the Communist Party boss in Tianjin, a coastal city southeast of Beijing. But Zhang broke contact after being promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing, the post said.
He did not explain the circumstances of their first sexual engagement.
Then, one morning about three years ago, after Zhang retired, the post alleges that Peng was suddenly invited by him to play tennis in Beijing. Subsequently, she writes, Zhang and his wife took Peng back to their home, where Peng claimed that she had been pressured into having sex with Zhang.
“That afternoon, I didn’t agree at first and cried all the time,” Peng wrote. After dinner with Zhang and his wife, and after convincing Zhang a lot, she gave in, according to the message.
Like Zhang, his wife Kang Jie remains closely protected by the government and could not be reached for comment.
“I was panicking and scared, and accepted with my feelings for you from seven years ago,” the post said.
Peng said that she then entered into an extramarital affair with Zhang, but suffered “too much injustice and insults.” She claimed that they had an argument last week, and Zhang refused to meet with her and disappeared.
Peng said she did not have any evidence to prove her claims, and claimed that Zhang was still worried that she was recording things.
“I know that for someone of your eminence, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you said you were not afraid. the truth about us, ”she wrote. CNN cannot independently verify Peng’s claims.
Information surrounding the personal lives of senior Chinese officials is generally shrouded in secrecy, with even some of the most basic biographical information considered taboo. Under Xi, however, the extravagances and alleged misdeeds of some disgraced officials caught up in his anti-corruption campaign have been widely publicized, providing a rare window into their privacy.
“She is a truly exceptional woman”
Despite the censorship, many social media users have expressed their support for Peng, often in vague terms.
“How desperate and helpless she must have been,” posted a popular tennis blogger with over 200,000 subscribers. “Hope you stay safe. “
“I don’t know what to say other than to pray that she is safe. We have accepted by default that this incident disappear from the Internet – the message will disappear, the account will disappear, justice will disappear; only the pain that plagues the victim will not go away, only the fear of the next victim will not go away, ”said another comment.
Both messages were then deleted.
Survivors of sexual assault have long faced strong stigma and resistance in China, both officially and among the public. But in recent years, a growing number of women have rallied to the victims who have spoken out, as the #MeToo movement has gathered momentum.
Lv, the feminist activist from New York, said that Peng had garnered wide public sympathy in part because of her successful professional career.
In 2013, Peng won the doubles championship at Wimbledon with his partner Taiwan. In 2014, the duo won the double titles at Roland Garros. Peng was also a former US Open semi-finalist.
“She is a truly exceptional woman, the glory of China, a person of world renown. Even women like her would be trapped in a situation like this, ”said Lv. “It shows how Chinese women have to overcome many obstacles in their quest for equality and independence. “
“Everyone is worried about her. No one knows what would happen to him. I think the public’s attention on the case is its greatest protection, ”she added.