World

Chinese tennis star accuses former top communist party leader of sexual assault

Peng Shuai, a professional tennis player in China, shared on social media her story of sexual assault from a high-ranking Communist Party leader. 

The post, which was censored and then deleted, was originally posted on Weibo on Tuesday. It included allegations of an extrimarital affair and sexual assault, of which Peng was the victim. Authorities deleted the tweet and blocked Peng’s account, but not before it was widely shared. Screenshots continued to be spread throughout the country and the world after the post’s removal.

Peng, 35, alleged that she had been part of an on-again, off-again affair with Zhang Gaoli, 75, for several years. Gaoli, now retired, was at one point a vice premier on China’s Politburo Standing Committee, rendering him one of the most powerful people in the country behind the president. As such, he was worried that Peng would record one of their encounters and stopped all communication with her until three years ago.

At that time, he invited her to his home to play tennis with him and his wife. While inside the house, Gaoli allegedly sexually assaulted her. “I was so scared that afternoon,” she wrote. “I never gave consent, crying the entire time.”

This allegation marks one of the largest #MeToo stories in China. In an attempt to hide that since it could make a shaky reputation go from bad to worse, the post was taken down and any searches for related terms, such as “Peng” and “tennis” were blocked, as well as her profile or other users’ ability to comment on her posts.

Zhou Xiaoxuan was previously the face of the #MeToo movement in China after accusing a state-run TV host of sexually assaulting her in 2018. She lost the case and is being sued by the host for slander. However, by publicly sharing her story, she motivated others to share their stories too. Regarding Peng’s story, she wrote, “I hope she’s safe and sound.” 

During a press briefing on Wednesday, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, Wang Wenbin, stated, “I have not heard of this issue, and it is not a diplomatic question.” Journalists from several U.S. publications have attempted to contact Zhang, Peng, and the Chinese Tennis Association, but were unable to.

“I know that for someone of your stature, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you have said that you are not afraid,” Peng wrote online earlier this week. “But even if it is like throwing an egg against rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, inviting self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you.”

ARTICLE: RITA VOGT

MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE

PHOTO CREDITS: CBS 46

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